Changing Careers to Health Informatics
October 07, 2022
The fast-growing field of health informatics is attracting professionals from all fields, including career changers from healthcare, computing, and business. Are you ready for a switch?
A byproduct of high-power computing, health informatics exploits big data and data analytics to improve patient outcomes, predict future public health concerns, enhance clinical research, and focus more on individualized preventative care. Once considered a subdiscipline relegated to information technology wonks, health informatics today constitutes a critical component of healthcare infrastructure.
Substantial growth in health informatics has led some professionals to ponder a career move to this flourishing field. Jobs for clinical informatics professionals are projected to grow substantially in the coming years, with mid-level professionals earning six-figure salaries.
So, what does it take to change careers to health informatics? Read on to explore pathways for business, tech, and healthcare professionals alike. We'll cover:
- What is health informatics?
- What skills do you need to succeed in health informatics?
- What career changers switch to health informatics?
- Starting your career in health informatics
What is health informatics?
Health informatics is an expanding, evolving field focused on using data analytics to improve patient care, health outcomes, and healthcare cost management. It's no secret that physicians, researchers, and administrators generate a massive amount of medical records and data, but until relatively recently this data wasn't properly harvested and analyzed for insights.
When leveraged effectively, healthcare informatics transforms the ways in which physicians and clinicians diagnose patients and administer treatments. Informaticists who possess the right mix of skill sets and knowledge can earn above-average salaries while also helping change the trajectory of healthcare.
What skills do you need to succeed in health informatics?
In-demand health informatics professionals possess a blend of technical and managerial skills alongside knowledge of clinical procedures and medical operations. Because data plays such a significant role in health information, understanding how to process, clean, organize, and mine big data is essential. Similarly, competency around technology, including the various types of software and database management systems, is also required in any health informaticist role.
Some health informatics professionals work specifically on the development side. They must know how to use various programming languages to design databases, systems, and software while also performing maintenance as needed.
In terms of healthcare-specific requirements, informaticists should have an operational knowledge of medical terminology, an understanding of HIPAA and other privacy regulations, and clarity on how health information systems can be used by medical professionals. Experience working with electronic health records (EHR) also proves valuable, as these often form the backbone of health data.
In addition to hard skills discussed above, soft skills also play a critical role. Understanding how to communicate with a wide spectrum of healthcare providers and health informatics professionals ensures maximized use of health data. A compassionate approach helps everyone remember they are working with data collected from real humans with very real health concerns.
What career changers switch to health informatics?
Professionals from many different disciplines move into healthcare informatics for various reasons. Those who previously worked in healthcare settings—or who possess existing knowledge and experience in data analytics—are particularly well-suited to these jobs. Some career-changers commonly seen in health information management positions include:
Health care administrators
Health care administrators understand the intricacies of hospital and clinic operations as well as the myriad benefits electronic health records can provide. After working in day-to-day management of health facilities, some may decide that the portion of their job focused on data management and health IT provides the most fulfillment.
Because they already possess knowledge of healthcare settings and advanced administrative skills, these professionals can easily make the jump to health informatics with additional training.
Data analysts spend their days working with data at every step, ranging from identifying the type of raw data that needs collecting to interpreting established data sets to glean valuable information. Well acquainted with the particulars of working with big data, these professionals possess the skills needed to design database structures, identify trends and patterns within data, and create visualizations accessible to multiple audiences.
While data analysts can work in many different industries, some may want to use their skill sets to help affect positive change within patient care. With big data and cloud technology set to continue playing a vital role in the healthcare industry, these professionals can find many different job opportunities.
Because health informatics pulls from healthcare, information science, and computer science, those with a background in computer science already possess a key source of knowledge when transitioning to work as health informatics professionals. They already understand programming languages, database administration, and software development, making them a prized option for hiring managers.
As health informatics looks to artificial intelligence and machine learning for the next phase of growth, computer scientists experienced in these areas will be in demand.
What they may lack, however, is an understanding of how their skill sets can transfer to health information systems. By learning more about the healthcare system, EHRs, and the needs of physicians and administrators alike, computer scientists can make valuable contributions.
While computer scientists focus on designing and developing systems like databases and software, IT professionals work with systems in their completed forms to manage data sets, keep sensitive data secure, and provide training on individual systems. IT professionals' knowledge proves valuable in health information management, as they possess a thorough understanding of how to work with data and use it effectively.
Like computer scientists, IT professionals may not initially understand the intricacies of the healthcare system but can easily glean this knowledge via educational programs available in the field of health informatics.
Emergency medical technicians (EMTs) understand the importance of informed patient care given that they work in emergency settings where little data exists. Individuals working on the front lines of healthcare can experience high levels of compassion fatigue, causing some to consider alternative career paths.
For EMTs to transition to the world of informatics, they must learn more about health information technology, data analytics, and electronic health records. Many decide to pursue a health informatics degree, as this covers all educational requirements.
Nurses, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants
Like EMTs, nurses, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants are well acquainted with the healthcare system. These professionals spend their days working directly with physicians and patients, as well as medical records. They see firsthand the role that data analytics can play in providing improved patient care, but may lack knowledge on how to leverage data analytics.
Professionals in this arena looking to make a career jump can focus their educational efforts on health information technology, nursing informatics, and data management to transition into positions as health informatics consultants or informatics managers.
Any business curriculum worth its salt underscores the importance of efficiency, effectiveness, and project management in improving bottom lines and enhancing outcomes. A recent study on wasteful spending found that the U.S. healthcare system loses between $760 and $935 billion per year, a statistic that those with business knowledge may be able to address. Professionals working in business settings may also have a working knowledge of big data and data analytics, but typically know less about the healthcare industry.
For those who already hold a bachelor's degree in business, completing a master's degree in health information management can provide the knowledge and credentialing required to start working as a health informaticist.
Starting your career in health informatics
Transitioning careers into health informatics makes sense for business, tech, and healthcare workers alike, particularly if they want to join a continually expanding field that values creative problem-solving and a dedication to ensuring better patient outcomes.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that jobs for medical and health services managers will grow by 32 percent between 2020-2030, creating nearly 140,000 new positions by the end of the decade. Similarly, roles for health information security analysts are projected to expand by 33 percent, leading to more than 47,000 new jobs.
Earn a Master of Science in Health Informatics
Completing a Master of Science in Health Informatics provides graduates with the knowledge, skill sets, and credentials required to compete for several different informaticist roles. Curricula vary from program to program, but common course topics include health terminology and classification systems, data science in health informatics, digital health, and data analytics and machine learning in health science.
Universities commonly offer these master's degrees both online and on-campus to provide flexibility for students juggling personal and professional responsibilities alongside academic requirements.
Learners can typically complete an MSHI degree in two years, though some programs may allow for accelerated learning. The online MSHI at the University of Pittsburgh takes between 16 and 24 months to complete.