Health informatics encompasses the use of computer and information sciences to benefit and advance the healthcare industry, public health, and individual patient care. Health informatics also involves the storage, organization, protection, retrieval and analysis of healthcare information from a variety of sources. The results of the data analyses can then be used to make real-world changes at healthcare facilities.
President Barack Obama signed the American Recovery Reinvestment Act of 2009 into law and created the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act. The HITECH Act incentivizes healthcare providers and organizations to use electronic health records (EHRs). The goal was to encourage healthcare organizations to store and use electronic data in evidence-based decisions and improve patient care.
Reaching this goal, however, requires professionals who are knowledgeable and skilled in both information technology and the healthcare industry.
Health Informatics vs Health Information Technology
Healthcare informatics is not the same as Health Information Technology (health IT). Health IT is the use of technology tools by medical professionals and other healthcare organizations to gather, store, analyze, retrieve and share information. Electronic health records (EHR) are a part of health IT.
Healthcare informatics overlaps with health IT, but there are distinct differences. Health informatics applies information concepts and processes to everyday situations to improve health outcomes at an individual or population level.
Types of Health Informatics
Health informatics is a growing field, with quite a number of sub-disciplines, including:
- Medical informatics
- Clinical informatics
- Pharmacy informatics
- Public health informatics
- Biomedical informatics
Learn more about how to become an informatics nurse.
These sub-disciplines focus on subsets of healthcare data. For example, nursing informatics uses nursing-related data to improve patient-centered care. Public health informatics uses population-level data to promote public health, outbreak management, prevention and more.
Should I become a Healthcare Informatics Specialist?
The healthcare industry is rapidly evolving, in no small part because of information technology. The industry generates a great deal of data from patient records, physicians’ and nurses’ records and notes, pharmacy records, insurance company records, personal electronic devices, and other sources. This data needs to be organized and categorized so that healthcare facilities and organizations can analyze the data to draw conclusions about current processes and outcomes, and improve efficiency, from cost to quality of care to patient outcomes.
That’s where healthcare informaticians come in — they make sure that data is organized and can be easily translated.
If you are interested in pursuing a career in the healthcare or the medical industry that doesn’t entail direct patient care, the healthcare informatics specialist may be a good fit for you. In this role, you will have the opportunity to influence how the healthcare industry functions or help a hospital or private practice provide more effective care.
What are the benefits of Healthcare Informatics?
The potential benefits of healthcare informatics are significant. They include the following:
- Sharable knowledge: By reviewing and coming to understand the information in healthcare data, medical providers learn more about conditions and effective treatments. This information can then more readily be shared among providers.
- Patient education: Health informatics gives healthcare providers and organizations more information, which can then be provided to patients and the public. Evidence-based education can help prevent diseases and reduce the risk of injuries.
- Patient participation: By transferring patient files from hard copies in the doctor’s office to online, patients have better access to their own records. This increases patient participation and might empower patients to be more involved in maintaining their health. It also is important when patient self-monitoring is essential to the management or treatment of a condition.
- Treatment coordination: Many patients require multiple providers and insurance companies to communicate. EHRs and information systems allow several organizations and parties to communicate efficiently, effectively and quickly.
- Fewer mistakes: One of the significant benefits of EHRs and data analysis is improving treatment plans for individual patients. Providers can quickly access patient data and reduce the risk of miscommunication and mistakes, which might have occurred with disordered and handwritten patient files.
- Improved outcomes: The goal is that evidence-based decisions can improve patient outcomes and population health.
- Lowered costs: Providing healthcare is expensive, and there are many inefficiencies and redundancies that cost patients and providers money. Data can help providers become more cost-efficient — savings that could be based on patients.
Roles and Responsibilities of a Health Informatics Specialist
A healthcare informatics specialist’s duties can differ depending on their position. Their duties can also differ based on a sub-specialty and whether they work in a clinical, government, research, academic, or other setting. Duties may also vary depending on whether a specialist is at a managerial level.
Healthcare informatics professionals often work in environments where patient care is delivered, though they are not involved in patient care directly. These professionals often work with physicians, nurses and other healthcare and medical professionals. It is a collaborative field, and healthcare informaticists will be expected to work with different departments and healthcare and medical professionals regularly.
There also are a diverse range of job titles. A healthcare informatics professional may work as a data analyst, an information officer, an information technician, or an informaticist.
Healthcare informatics professionals must be knowledgeable regarding medical coding and billing, medical database operations, and HITECH and other federal health and privacy laws. They may be responsible for building and improving databases. They may be required to maintain data security, including preventing and responding to cyberthreats. These professionals may be responsible for finding sources of data, gathering data, and organizing and categorizing data so it can be easily retrieved.
These professionals design and implement various analyses of the available data to measure healthcare issues, which can include staffing costs and efficiency, equipment and inventory purchasing, patient wait times, patient care, patient outcomes, medical errors, malpractice, and much more.
Health Informatics Specialists Salary & Career Outlook
The medical records and health information technician field also is expected to grow faster than average, according to the BLS. The 2018 median annual salary for medical records and health information technicians was $40,350.