Health informatics is an emerging discipline that utilizes big data and data analytics to improve diagnosis, treatment, and cost management in healthcare. It's a growing health services management field leading to careers for healthcare data analysts, data specialists, systems analysts, informatics quality and process improvement specialists, IT managers, and privacy officers.
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that the number of jobs related to medical and health services management will grow by more than 30 percent over the decade, projecting on average 51,800 new openings each year. If you're wondering how you can make an impact in the healthcare industry without attending medical school, a career in health informatics may be worth considering.
The starting salaries for a career in health informatics are impressive, although salary expectations vary based on roles and responsibilities, education and experience, and location. Payscale lists the average base salary at $64,000 for an informatics professional with a bachelor's degree. Salaries increase with additional experience and credentials; master's degree holders earn close to $110,000 annually.
Health informatics professionals rarely interact face-to-face with patients; they spend their days immersed in data and the apps that help interpret them. However, their day-to-day responsibilities play a vital role in patient care, patient safety, and patient data.
So why is health informatics important, and how can you explore this as a career? Here's what we'll cover in this article:
According to the American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA), health informatics is "the science of using data, information, and knowledge to improve human health and the delivery of healthcare services." As this new discipline continues to evolve, so will its definition.
Most health informatics professionals, also known as informaticists, fall into one of three role types:
Health informatics professionals hold jobs in various healthcare systems, including public health organizations, insurance companies, research labs, and other healthcare networks. The field takes big data to another level by combining data and medicine to analyze and inform best practices and insights that will impact the healthcare industry for years to come.
Because health informatics deals with patient data and electronic medical records, it's often confused with health information technology. Health IT professionals have experience building and maintaining information systems but don't need domain knowledge as informaticists do.
Health informatics professionals such as nursing or clinical informatics specialists sort through a wide range of data, including public health data, healthcare information, patient data, and more. Knowing how to set up proper systems to store data is one thing, but understanding what it means to analyze it propels the field of health informatics to another level of expertise.
Health informatics plays a role in collecting, storing, organizing, and most importantly analyzing data to benefit patients, clinicians, and healthcare providers alike.
Healthcare costs continue to rise. However, the ability to gather big data in secure cloud storage has proven cost-efficient and helpful in lowering costs associated with healthcare. In addition, health informatics helps decrease fraud, errors, and financial losses, such as no-show appointments and delayed patient care. Patient no-shows cost the US up to $50 billion annually, which has a trickle effect on the quality of care.
Health informatics helps streamline administrative tasks that healthcare professionals usually handle, such as filing paperwork, processing billing codes, and verifying insurance information. Health informatics also reduces medication errors to ensure patients receive accurate prescriptions based on the information found in patient records. Having these processes automated through quality information systems managed by informaticists decreases error, making care more effective and efficient.
Data analytics constitutes the critical core of health informatics. Automated data sorting can help drive preventive care, enabling clinicians to more readily identify patients with higher risks so they can provide proper assessment and treatment before a more severe health concern occurs. Healthcare data analytics offers a trifecta that impacts the quality of care, reduces medical errors, and streamlines the workflow between healthcare administrators and insurance companies.
Having the necessary tools to detect early patient risks can help the clinician provide treatment without requiring extended hospital stays. Informatics systems maintain data that equip healthcare providers with access to real-time patient records and medical information, driving critical decision-making to provide the best patient care.
Telehealth services allows patients to hold non-emergency appointments with their primary care provider or specialist virtually, facilitating easier, more convenient healthcare delivery that affords service to more patients. Telehealth began to boom during the pandemic as patients needed access to their clinicians to keep up with their routine appointments. Now established as effective medical care, this option will continue to benefit patients with limited mobility, limited access to reliable transportation, or limited access to nearby healthcare facilities.
Thanks to technology, patients also have real-time access to their health information. With mobile applications available, patients can carry all the information they need in the palm of their hands, e.g., digital versions of their health insurance card and their latest health data. Some even allow messaging services directly to their clinician, offering a convenient way to access their doctor without scheduling an appointment or sitting in a waiting room.
If you love data analytics, a background in technology can get you started in health informatics; a bachelor's degree in computer science, data science, information science, or information systems can steer you in the right direction to become an informaticist. Some informatics roles require experience in health services, meaning a bachelor's degree in health administration or health sciences can also prove beneficial.
Entry-level career opportunities include analytics and technology roles include:
Health informatics leadership requires a multidisciplinary approach where experience with health information management, patient data, and technical skills is necessary. That's where a master's degree in health informatics comes in.
Pursuing a Master of Science in Health Informatics (MSHI) will open the door to many opportunities to combine your knowledge of big data and health information systems. It doesn't take years of medical school to impact healthcare. Health informatics master's degree programs can take as little as one year to complete (full-time) or three years (part-time).
Many programs offer a part-time format. Some deliver self-paced programs, like the online program at the University of San Francisco, where students who work full-time could benefit from the program's flexibility. Students enrolled in the MSHI program at the University of Pittsburgh's School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences have the option of online or on-campus learning. Courses include:
The University of Pittsburgh's MSHI program also offers four tracks to tailor courses to a specialization in:
Health informatics is a growing field in high demand with rapid job growth projected in the years to come. Whether you desire a role in analytics, technology, or leadership, obtaining a Master of Science in Health Informatics is a gateway for success at the intersection of IT and medicine.
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