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What Is Health Informatics?

According to Indeed, “Health informatics is the application of information and communication technologies to manage medical records and improve patient care.” This area of medical care is exploding, leading to a wide variety of potentially lucrative careers. Professionals interested in this area of work can gain the advanced skills and knowledge to succeed in the field through a specialized Master of Science (M.S.) in Health Informatics program like the one offered fully online by Northern Kentucky University (NKU).

Here is a look at health informatics and its potential impact on those considering healthcare careers.

Health Informatics 101

Health informatics is technology that helps medical professionals manage healthcare information

Health informatics, or healthcare informatics, is where healthcare, computer, cognitive and information sciences meet to help doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals manage information to improve patient care and patient outcomes. Recent years have seen rapid growth and development in health informatics. But the modern field is decades old, early electronic health records (EHRs) appeared half a century ago and people have documented medical knowledge, practices and information for several millennia.

What really spurred development over the past decade and a half was the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH Act) of 2009, including the federal government’s investment of billions in driving the purchase and use of health information technology by providers — EHRs being a main component. The goal is to provide better care, improved outcomes and lower costs.

Incentives for Health Informatics Growth

Health informatics provides the foundation to change the healthcare delivery model to a value-based system. In this model, payments are based on patient and population outcomes, not encounters. Value-based care approaches are increasingly common, partly driven by Medicare — the largest single payer in U.S. healthcare, dwarfing insurance companies.

To support value-based care, nurses, doctors and other healthcare professionals must share and analyze patient information across care settings and deal with various data types ranging from clinical measures to social determinants of health. Health informatics provides the infrastructure, tools and knowledge to make this work.

Following the passing of the HITECH Act, hospitals, clinics and other care facilities across the country had to suddenly adjust to new technology. Doctors and other medical professionals not only had to learn to use this technology but also had to do so while simultaneously providing the best possible medical care. Administrators had to determine the most effective and efficient ways to manage mountains of data.

Enter the Health Informatics Specialist

The surge in health informatics created the need for a new type of expert, one well-versed in both medicine and information technology.

Designing a health informatics system precedes successful implementation. People need to be able to not only collect data but also study and interpret that data. Well-designed systems help doctors and nurses use their time more efficiently without bogging them down and taking time away from patients.

Thus, new career opportunities developed and are now critical to U.S. healthcare. Roles include clinical informatics directors, EHR implementation leads, data analysts and many others.

Preparing for a Career in Health Informatics

As noted earlier, the need for health informatics experts impacted the world of education as well. Innovative universities and colleges nationwide created health informatics degree programs to help students take advantage of these new opportunities — NKU’s affordable, 100% online program being a prime example. It is now common for well-established doctors and other seasoned medical practitioners to seek out health informatics knowledge to advance their careers.

Certain courses, particularly at the graduate level, provide the skills and knowledge needed to implement and enhance health informatics systems. Graduates proficient in areas such as process and quality improvement, healthcare data analysis and project management are indispensable in modern healthcare.

Further, the study of emerging developments is central to quality health informatics programs. For instance, students in NKU’s program gain cutting-edge knowledge of innovations in areas like informatics, analytics, data visualization and data-driven decision-making in healthcare settings. Understanding ongoing innovation is key to success in the field, as technological advancements — many driven by artificial intelligence — rapidly change and improve health informatics practices, applications and impacts.

Training is also available in designing and maintaining healthcare databases, multimedia applications, computer networks and other applications.

Putting a Health Informatics Degree to Use

The health informatics space provides a wide range of opportunities and areas of specialized work for people new to the medical field, as well as seasoned veterans. These are just a few examples:

  • Clinical informatics
    This role typically involves looking at data to help improve the delivery of care to patients. For example, someone in this position may look at data involving patient falls to determine fall-prevention strategies. They may also operate systems for storing and sharing records, such as ultrasound scans and X-rays.
  • Database Management/Programmers
    Professionals in this area work to make it easier for healthcare practitioners to access critical patient information. They help locate and retrieve information such as case notes and create electronic summaries of patient histories.
  • Data Analytics
    This includes retrieving and analyzing health data, as well as interpreting and presenting that data. Information management staff members will often analyze patient information to help determine whether different modes of treatment are effective. Data analytics and information management professionals may also be responsible for tasks like overseeing required electronic quality measure reporting, analyzing population health and providing end-users like nurses and doctors with data visualization tools to inform treatment decisions.
  • Project management
    Health information project managers are typically responsible for developing and/or implementing new systems and applications. They look at methods to improve those systems as well.
  • Entrepreneurs/Startups
    As a field, health Informatics is at the root of many new startup companies and opportunities, especially given the rapid advancement in technologies (hardware and software) and new healthcare applications. These include mobile apps, remote monitoring, wearable technologies, telehealth, social media, personalized medicine, artificial intelligence/machine learning and others.

A Burgeoning, Critically Important Profession

The field of health informatics is expanding at a rapid pace, providing new, potentially lucrative opportunities. More importantly, however, health informatics is helping healthcare evolve — and improving patient care as a result.

Learn more about NKU’s online M.S. in Health Informatics program.

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