The modern doctor's office is practically a technology showroom. From digital thermometers and blood pressure cuffs to diagnostic machines like x-rays and MRIs to the ever-present laptops on which doctors and nurses record every observation, nearly every moment of a medical appointment is touched by technology. The days of paper records and manilla folders are over.
Health informatics occupies this intersection of medicine and technology, ensuring that medical professionals have safe and secure access to all the data they need. This relatively new field brims with potential professional opportunities, particularly for those who seek to improve the healthcare industry. It offers jobs to those with little more than a high-school diploma and those with extensive graduate education. As medicine—a discipline that has been analog for literally centuries—moves into the digital age, informatics professionals are there to ease the transition.
Find out how to make a living in a fast-growing career field by discerning your professional future among the many health informatics jobs available. In this article, we address the following questions:
Health informatics focuses on the use of technology and data to assist in, and improve, the delivery of healthcare. Health informatics professionals often have a background (or at least some knowledge) in both technology and medicine. They utilize technical skills to collect, organize, analyze, and move the data that helps the medical community perform their jobs more effectively.
Some job duties in health informatics include:
Health informatics jobs are available at all levels. You can secure an entry-level position with just a bachelor's degree, associate's degree, or even a certificate. You also do not necessarily need a graduate degree to advance within the informatics field; experience is valuable and a plus. However, you will likely need a graduate degree to get a top health informatics job. Luckily, there are more than 70 graduate degree options to choose from, according to US News & World Report.
Some of the best majors for those who want to pursue a health informatics career path include:
They may seem distinct, but health informatics and computer science are compatible. A computer science program gives you the skills necessary to collect and analyze data to improve patient care. You can even pursue specialized education in health informatics through a computer science program, especially at the graduate level.
A data science background can help you build models to collect and process data. Analytics, which is the more common bachelor's degree, can help prepare you to analyze collected health data.
In a health information management program, you'll learn how to utilize and safeguard medical information.
This degree program teaches students to maintain computer systems, such as entire databases or cyber security programs. Most industries require information systems professionals, and you'll need programming skills to excel in this field.
You also might decide to obtain a degree in health or medicine, such as nursing or health sciences. At Rutgers University, you can complete a bachelor's degree in health information management through the health informatics department.
Having the right bachelor's degree can be important if you plan to earn a master's degree. For instance, the University of Washington prefers candidates with degrees in business, health information, or related subjects.
Graduate programs in health informatics primarily teach students how to manage health systems, which means learning how to identify the proper data management technique for a situation or even creating and maintaining programs yourself. Most master's programs take two years to complete, though part-time degrees can take longer. Some schools offer an online master's degree or a hybrid option that combines in-person and online content delivery.
Because health informatics is still a developing field, graduate degrees can be structured very differently. For instance, Duke University offers its health informatics program through the nursing department. Other schools, like Yale University, offer it through the school of public health. The type of degree that you earn also varies from program to program. The University of Minnesota offers a Master of Public Health (MPH) in Public Health Informatics, while Yale University has a Master of Science (MS) concentration in informatics. Can't decide? You can complete a joint degree option that confers both an MPH and Master of Science (MS) in health informatics at Northeastern University.
An MS is perhaps the most common way to earn a health informatics graduate degree. Universities providing this option include:
Designed for working professionals to complete within three years, this program prepares graduates for early or middle-level knowledge management careers in healthcare. In addition to studying health informatics, you'll complete classes in leadership and research.
Pitt's unique degree "combines data science, health informatics and analytics with a nationally recognized program in health information management." The program teaches students to "develop data and technology-driven informatics solutions" in one of four tracks: data science general health informatics, health care supervision and management, registered health information administrator.
At Cornell, which partners with Sloan Kettering, you'll develop your research skills, in addition to healthcare delivery and data management coursework. Students complete a research project during their degree.
Health informatics offers a broad range of professional opportunities. Level of education plays a significant role in determining the positions you qualify for. For instance, an electronic health record (EHR) specialist, who is generally the one to organize and maintain patient records and ensure that the billing process is smooth, may only need a bachelor's degree. A clinical analyst, who uses data to help all kinds of medical organizations (including insurance companies and doctors' offices) set prices, will generally have an MS in health informatics.
Your training will impact your options. For instance, the Duke MS program is designed specifically for nurses. It equips them with the tools to become informatics nurses who shape a nursing department's information technology (IT) systems and create better avenues of documentation for patient data. These professionals are considered clinical informatics specialists. In contrast, the University of Minnesota's program focuses more on leadership and designing and maintaining public health databases. They can impact health services from a macro perspective.
Health informatics is a broad field that overlaps other healthcare areas; earning a master's in health informatics is not the only way to attain a job in the profession. Conversely, healthcare administrators need a certain amount of health informatics know-how in their day-to-day job duties, even if they don't hold an informatics degree. A home healthcare administrator might have a Master of Science in Healthcare Administration. However, someone with a health informatics degree can still work in healthcare administration (say, as a health informatics officer).
That said, some potential careers for those with a degree in health informatics (or a closely related subject) include:
In this position, you'll focus primarily on developing and maintaining IT systems and training teams. As an executive position, the pay is excellent—a national average of nearly $140,000 per year, according to ZipRecruiter.
Analysts use data analysis to assist healthcare professionals in the decision-making process. Other duties may include maintaining technical processes and ensuring the organization stays current with laws and regulations. The average analyst earns nearly $71,000 per year.
These professionals protect and organize patient information. According to Salary.com, the average annual salary for a clinical data manager is nearly $114,000.
In this role, you'll typically identify issues and implement systemic improvements to healthcare providers' informatics systems. You may work as an independent contractor or as part of a consulting company. According to ZipRecruiter, these professionals earn over $100,000 per year on average.
In this role, you'll ensure employees and technology mesh in a mutually beneficial way. That means ensuring the flow of information is efficient and accurate. According to Salary.com, the average health informatics director earns over $167,000.
Technicians catalog and maintain health data. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects an average job outlook for this career until 2030 and says professionals can expect to earn around $45,000 in a health information specialist role. You may only need a college-level certification for this position.
You'll ensure large health information technology projects are completed effectively. PayScale says the average annual salary for project managers is over $100,000.
Specialists provide IT solutions for electronic medical records and ensure databases run safely and efficiently, a process that could include building record systems. According to Glassdoor, you can expect to earn around $72,000 in this position.
Additionally, you might decide to earn the Registered Health Information Administrator (RHIA) credential, which confers holders' ability to collect and manage data at all levels of a healthcare system and use it to make decisions and communicate. Professionals with this credential also are able to perform financial and interpersonal management functions and understand standards and terminology.
What you make with a job in health informatics depends on your education, experience, and job title. For instance, an informatics nurse (a career Duke's degree program might prepare you for) earns an average annual salary of over $102,000, according to ZipRecruiter. This job requires a master's degree and the requisite nursing experience and credentials. On the flip side, health information technicians, who typically earn around $45,000, may not even need a degree. Keep in mind, the higher paying the job, the greater chance there is that you'll need a master's degree to get it.
The good news is you don't need to make the decision now. Attending graduate school is an excellent way for professionals to advance their careers regardless of their long-term plans.
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