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Computer technology has had a major impact on healthcare over the past several decades. It has allowed for faster communication between healthcare professionals, created more uniform ways to keep medical records, and helped to improve patient care standards. It has also created a need for professionals who can manage this technology, create new programs, and make sure patient information stays secure. This field is known as health informatics.
Health informatics is a broad term that covers a variety of job titles. All are healthcare roles, but you won’t have any direct patient interaction working in this field. Instead, you’ll use a mix of medical and technical knowledge to ensure that patient data is handled appropriately and used to create better healthcare outcomes.
Health informatics roles blend healthcare and technology.
“Health information professionals have an extraordinary impact. They are the link between clinicians, administrators, technology designers, operations, and information technology professionals,” says John Richey, MBA, RHIA, FAHIMA, director of academic education services for the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA). “These professionals affect the quality of patient information and patient care at every touch point in the healthcare delivery cycle.”
Steps to Getting a Job in Health Informatics
Working in health informatics is a great fit for people who are interested in both technology and healthcare. If you’ve been considering a career in healthcare but aren’t sure patient interaction is for you, health informatics could be the right fit. You’ll need to take a few steps to get started.
Determine your desired role.
There are a few directions you can take in the field of health informatics. You can work to ensure patient privacy is protected, help create new information technology programs, gather and analyze data, and more.
Pursue a degree.
The right degree for you will depend on your career goals and the role you want to pursue. Health informatics degrees start at the associate level. You can also earn bachelor’s or master’s degrees, or post-master’s certificates in the field.
Earn practical experience.
Some degree programs might require you to do some fieldwork as part of your education. If your program doesn’t require it, your first few years on the job can help you sharpen your skills and advance your career.
Certification is highly recommended but not required in the field of health informatics. Certification is a great way to prove you have the knowledge and dedication needed to succeed in the field. Plus, many employers require or prefer candidates who’ve earned certification.
Health Informatics vs Nursing Informatics: What’s the Difference?
Health informatics looks at data and uses it to improve administrative concerns such as security, privacy, and compliance. It’s part of a hospital or healthcare system’s operations management. Nursing informatics is focused on patient care and the technology used directly by nurses and other clinical professionals. This includes patient monitoring and electronic medical record programs. So, a nursing informatics professional might implement a new program to keep track of patient oxygen saturation levels in an ICU, while a health information professional would be responsible for how that data was stored and communicated.
Health informatics education can be earned at several degree levels. You can jump into the field with an associate degree or gain the advanced knowledge you’ll need to take on a leadership role with a master’s degree.
“Different job titles and responsibilities can require a bachelor’s degree or even a master’s degree if you want to go into an upper-level management position,” Richey says.
An associate degree can prepare you to take on roles such as health information technician and other entry-level informatics roles. Your degree program will help you gain the basic skills and knowledge you’ll need to work in the field. Coursework will cover medical topics such as medical terminology and anatomy and physiology as well as technical topics such as data analysis and electronic records management. Online associate degrees in information technology are available and most associate programs can be completed in about two years.
People interested in roles such as clinical systems analyst or health information manager should consider earning a bachelor’s degree. A bachelor’s can help you gain an understanding of topics like healthcare law and policy and program implementation that you can use in your health informatics career. A bachelor’s degree program can be completed in about four years and online degree options are available.
Advanced roles in health informatics require advanced education. A master’s degree will allow you to take on high-level leadership jobs such as healthcare IT project manager. Your degree program will teach you to analyze data and use it to create, implement, and oversee new programs and systems. You’ll study advanced healthcare administration and systems management. You can earn a master’s degree in health informatics online or on campus in two to three years.
A post-master’s certificate in health informatics is designed for students who already have a master’s degree in another area. Earning this certificate can help professionals transition to health informatics and add new skills to their resumes. For instance, someone who has a Master of Business Administration degree who is interested in working in healthcare administration might pursue a post-master’s certification in health informatics. Most post-master’s certificate programs can be completed in less than a year. Online options are offered by many universities.
Health Informatics Certification
Certification is a smart idea for health informatics professionals. While there are no national or state certification requirements, many employers do require certification. Even when employers don’t require certification, it can make your resume stand out. It’s a great way to demonstrate your skills, knowledge, and education.
Certification isn’t required by states, but many employers require it.
There are several certification options for health informatics professionals. The four most common certifications in the field are offered by two certifying bodies, AHIMA and the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS). There is a certification available for all levels of education and experience, so there’s no need to wait to pursue a credential.
AHIMA certifications include:
- Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT):
- You’ll need at least an associate degree in health information to earn this entry-level certification.
- Registered Health Information Administrator (RHIA):
- You’ll need at least a bachelor’s degree in health information to earn this advanced certification.
HIMSS certifications include:
- Certified Associate in Healthcare Information and Management Systems (CAHIMS):
- This entry-level certification only requires a high school diploma and the knowledge needed to pass the exam.
- Certified Professional in Healthcare Information and Management Systems (CPHIMS):
- There are several ways to qualify for this advanced certification. You can apply with 10 years of experience, a bachelor’s degree and five years of experience, or a master’s degree and three years of experience.
Salary and Job Outlook
Healthcare is one of the fastest-growing industries in the country. Demand and job security are both high. This trend is expected to continue as American’s largest generation—the baby boomers—continues to age and the need for healthcare services increases. Health informatics is no exception.
“As healthcare advances, health informatics provides the patient data needed to successfully navigate the changes,” Richey says. “As a result, health informatics professionals can expect to be in high demand as the health sector continues to expand.”
You can get a closer look at some popular roles in health informatics below. All salary and job outlook data is from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Keep in mind that these salaries represent averages. Your education, experience, location, certification, and employer can all make a difference in your salary.
Health Information Technologists/Specialist
Clinical Informatics Analyst
Nursing Informatics Specialist
Electronic Health Records (EHR) Implementation Manager
Health Information Manager
Healthcare Project Manager
Is Health Informatics Right for Me?
Health informatics could be an ideal career for people who enjoy using data and technology to achieve outcomes. Richey says you might be a great fit for health informatics if you:
See yourself in a career that offers diverse opportunities
Want to work in healthcare, but not directly with patients
Have an aptitude for science and also enjoy management, law, and computers
Enjoy working with physicians, nurses, lawyers, administrators, and executives
Want a career where you can choose to work on your own, with others, or some of both
With professional insight from:
John Richey, MBA, RHIA, FAHIMA
Director of Academic Education Services, American Health Information Management Association