What Is Health Informatics?

Doctor working with health informatics on laptop

If you’re passionate about healthcare and interested in information technology (IT), plenty of career options might appeal to you. One such career path to explore is health informatics, which exists at the intersection of healthcare and IT.

Health informatics is a specialty discipline that is concerned with the management of patient information via health information clinical decision support systems and clinical databases. This specialty discipline encompasses various niche areas, such as public health informatics, consumer health informatics, clinical research informatics and clinical informatics. Continue reading to learn more about all the options within this field.

A Closer Look at Health Informatics

From remotely monitored pacemakers to virtual reality simulations in medical schools, healthcare is rapidly becoming more digitized than ever before, with health informatics as the leading edge of this trend. What is health informatics exactly? Quite simply, health informatics is the blending of computer science, data science, data analytics and health information management with healthcare.

One of the main examples of health informatics in action is electronic health records (EHRs). In the past, healthcare providers kept track of patient information and medical charts using paper files. However, this system was slow and hindered efforts to share information with providers in other offices.

Today, many healthcare providers have switched to EHRs, which digitize patient information. An EHR can contain much more information than a patient’s medical history, however. These digital health records can be updated in real time to include details about the patient’s immunizations, treatment plans, medications, lab results, and medical images. This not only facilitates greater collaboration among providers but also allows patients easier access to information.

What Are the Subspecialty Fields in Health Informatics?

In addition to public health informatics, many other subspecialties comprise the health informatics field. They are as follows:

  • Public health informatics: This subspecialty focuses on preventive wellness and data science to protect entire communities from diseases, injuries, and other medical problems. These professionals use information technology to facilitate public health research, track health trends, and overcome public health challenges with data-driven decisions.
  • Clinical informatics: Also known as “healthcare informatics,” this subspecialty primarily focuses on the management of EHRs and their use in clinical settings. Because all patient information must be kept strictly confidential, those who specialize in clinical informatics are experts in data security. Some professionals choose to specialize further — for example, by focusing on dental informatics.
  • Research informatics: As the name suggests, research informatics focuses on biomedical and health research. Experts apply breakthroughs in computer science to facilitate medical research and, consequently, improve patient outcomes.
  • Biomedical informatics: Also known as bioinformatics, this subspecialty focuses on healthcare at the cellular, molecular, and genetic level. It applies breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, data science, and similar disciplines to seek novel cures for diseases.
  • Consumer health informatics: Not all healthcare is delivered in a clinical setting, such as a hospital or nursing home. In fact, patients can receive quality healthcare right in their own homes. Consumer health informatics explores the use of technology to improve health literacy and support patient involvement in their own care.

Exploring Career Options in Health Informatics

Health informatics is a relatively new field, and different organizations may use different job titles for the same role. The following are some examples of specific careers that you might consider pursuing within the field:

  • Health informatics specialist: These professionals may also be called “health informaticists” or “health information management specialists.” These are catchall terms that generally refer to health information experts who work with clinical data and patient records. Possible employers include hospitals, clinics, pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies, and medical device manufacturers.
  • Clinical informatics analyst: This role is generally positioned at a slightly higher level than that of a health informatics specialist. These professionals are experts in analyzing clinical health data. Seeking to optimize patient care, they use their findings to recommend changes to their organization’s procedures and practices. For instance, a clinical informatics analyst might work to reduce hospital readmission rates among surgery patients.
  • Health informatics consultant: A consultant may work for a healthcare provider on a contract basis, or they may work for a healthcare consulting firm. Their specific role will depend on the needs of the organization. For instance, a consultant may help a clinic make the transition to digitized health records.
  • Health IT project manager: As the title suggests, health IT project managers are responsible for overseeing health IT-related projects throughout the project lifecycle. This is an ideal role for people who are adept at focusing on both the larger picture and the smaller details of a project.
  • Chief medical information officer: A health informaticist might aspire to this C-suite role after earning a graduate degree and gaining many years of experience in the field. This top-level senior position is responsible for managing all of the healthcare organization’s health informatics programs with an eye toward the organization’s long-term growth strategies.

Earning Your Undergrad Degree

There is no one universal health informatics degree that all students aspiring to enter the field must earn. Rather, students can choose from a few options. For example, you might earn a Bachelor of Science in Public Health or a Bachelor of Science in Health Information Management.

If you plan to focus specifically on public health informatics, then a public health degree would be a great choice for you. This program would allow you to acquire core competencies in both data science and healthcare. Although the specific curriculum will vary from one school to another, you can generally expect to study public health topics, such as the following:

  • The promotion of preventive wellness through health literacy and community advocacy
  • The impact of environmental health issues, including workplace health, emergency preparedness, and organizational policies
  • The application of technology to manage health data systems, including surveillance data, disease registries, and geographic information systems

Alternatively, you might decide to major in health information management. This type of program offers a stronger focus on data science, health information, and computer science.

Regardless of the specific degree you choose, you can further bolster your resume by seeking hands-on learning opportunities during your years in college. For instance, you could pursue summer job opportunities in healthcare settings. During the school year, you might consider volunteering on a part-time basis at a nursing home, hospital, or similar organization.

Getting Your Master’s Degree

Although you could break into the field with just a bachelor’s degree, many employers prefer or even require a master’s degree. A master’s degree also opens the door to senior positions within healthcare organizations and allows you to develop the in-depth knowledge required to excel in your field. The curriculum of a master’s program can vary, depending on the program you choose. However, you can generally expect to study the following topics:

  • The fundamentals of information technology as it applies to the healthcare field
  • The implementation, optimization, and assessment of electronic health records, including an emphasis on security protocols for patient confidentiality
  • The application of data analytics to the healthcare field with an eye toward specific organizational objectives

With a master’s degree in health informatics, you will be well prepared to help your organization streamline its operations, improve patient outcomes, and make data-driven decisions.

Grand Canyon University aims to provide an exceptional academic experience for every student. If you would like more information about GCU’s nursing and healthcare programs, including the Bachelor of Science in Health Information Management program and the Master of Science in Health Informatics program visit the College of Nursing and Health Care Professions or click on the Request More information button at the top of this page.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.

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