Like many other areas of our lives, the healthcare industry is being transformed by the power of big data and the information technology revolution. The discipline of health informatics exists squarely at the center of this macro trend, harnessing vast data streams from sources including online healthcare portals, electronic medical records, bioinformatics from wearable devices and other digital data collection tools, and more. And, as we are seeing from the COVID-19 pandemic, the proper analysis of this data is essential to understanding the spread of illnesses and helping to prepare healthcare systems for their impacts.
Practitioners in health informatics use techniques from computer science, information science, and cognitive science to collect, manage, and analyze all of this health data. The goal is to help healthcare science practitioners conduct critical research, deliver better outcomes for patients, and protect public health more effectively. There are further specializations within health informatics that focus on specific areas; for instance, nursing informatics focuses more specifically on the collection and use of data relating to the role of nurses in the healthcare setting.
Regardless of the focus of a career in the realm of health informatics, professionals in this field play a critical role in the advancement of healthcare - particularly in the midst of a crisis like COVID-19. The insights provided by health informatics are central to the analysis of global pandemics as well as the development of new approaches to healthcare provision, which offer the potential to deliver breakthroughs in the diagnosis and treatment of novel illnesses like COVID-19 as well as genetic disorders, cancers, and other challenging diseases.
Pursuing a career in health informatics is a great choice if you enjoy working with computers and data but also want to make a difference in the world by improving healthcare as well as by analyzing big public health challenges like COVID-19. Indeed, the U.S. Department of Health and Human services states that “health IT now plays a crucial role in the collecting and reporting of COVID-19 data,” and can help facilitate effective strategies to combat this epidemic.And, while health informatics sounds like a highly specialized field, in reality it encompasses many interrelated types of jobs to match your specific interests.
For example, clinical informaticists are responsible for collecting and managing patient data at the level of individual medical practices and hospitals; pharmacy and nutrition informaticists monitor patient intake and reactions to medicine and/or dietary changes; healthcare IT project managers ensure that the data infrastructure required for health informatics is fit for purpose and built cost-effectively; and nursing informatics specialists focus on optimizing the role of nurses in healthcare.
In addition to being a diverse and rewarding field, health informatics is also a fast-growing career path - and not just because of the current pandemic. First, as in other industries, there are vastly more opportunities to generate health data for analysis than even a few years ago, due to the increasingly widespread use of online health portals and medical records as well as the capabilities of new wearable devices and other digital data collection tools to harvest more useful data than ever. Furthermore, healthcare policies, particularly in the U.S., are incentivizing or even requiring- the increased use of these digital recordkeeping tools. This ensures that this trend will only become more widespread in the long term.
Online courses are a great way to learn all kinds of computer science skills, and that includes launching your career in health informatics. Pursuing an education online is a particularly good option if you are currently working part-time or full-time, as it allows you to take courses on a flexible schedule. Learning remotely via online courses is often also much less expensive than on-campus counterparts, which is another major advantage.
Although anyone can learn health informatics, it helps to have a good grasp of basic computer skills. Knowledge of general health, health care, and technology concepts can help prepare you. During your coursework, you can expect to gain skills in health informatics, including digital health, information technology planning, and health care. Like other aspects of the health care and technology fields, having a strong background in mathematics and knowledge of statistics is helpful before you start learning health informatics.
If you're passionate about taking charge of the data created within the health care industry, a role in health informatics might be for you. Those who thrive in this field have strong interpersonal, communication, and problem-solving skills. They also have a good foundation in programming knowledge, with familiarity of programming languages like SQL or Python. People looking for a career in a fast-growing field and the adaptability to roll with changes in laws and regulations are well suited to these types of roles.
There are several career paths open to someone with a background in health informatics, including clinic informatics specialists, informatics nurses, and consultants. Clinical informatics specialists work on the administrative side of medical facilities, creating processes to improve procedures and overseeing documentation. Informatics nurses combine technical and clinical sides of medicine to improve efficiencies and provide clinical IT training. Consultants typically install monitoring systems and software, working with medical facilities to make sure they're cost-efficient while meeting federal guidelines. The typical career path starts by completing a degree program and gaining experience in the field. Some people start out with a degree in health care and extensive work experience in their field before completing their education in health informatics.
Some of the main places that employ people with a background in health informatics include general medical/surgical hospitals, doctor's offices, clinics, outpatient care centers, medical and diagnostic laboratories, and pharmaceutical companies. Additionally, technology companies that work with electronic health records may also hire someone with this type of background.