Health Care Informatics

Health Informatics vs. Health Information Management: Key Differences and Similarities

What is the difference between health information management and health informatics?

The answer to this question is actually evolving as new technology continues to change both the way health care is delivered and the methods used to ensure that vital health records are accurate, secure and accessible to both patients and clinical caregivers.

The ongoing changes affecting the closely related disciplines of health informatics (HI) and health information management (HIM) are especially important for practitioners in both fields, as they affect current and future job roles, responsibilities and career prospects.

HIM and Health Informatics [Traditional Definitions]

Health information management is the practice of acquiring, analyzing and protecting digital and traditional medical information vital to providing quality patient care. It is a combination of business, science and information technology, according to the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA). Working to accurately and securely manage patients’ medical data, HIM professionals work in a diverse set of roles that affect the quality of patient information and patient care at every touch point in the health care delivery cycle.

Steve Wretling, chief technology and innovation officer for the Health Care Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), explains that HIM professionals are responsible for ensuring that “the right information is available when and where it’s needed, while at the same time making sure it’s the highest quality data, it’s confidential and it’s secure.”

Health informatics is focused on “the science of how to use data, information and knowledge to improve human health and the delivery of health care services,” according to the American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA). As the digital age results in the collection and availability of far more health-related data than ever before, health informatics professionals apply “principles of computer and information science to the advancement of life sciences research, health professions education, public health and patient care.”

Health Information Management Health Informatics
Definition
  • The practice of acquiring, analyzing and protecting digital and traditional medical information vital to providing quality patient care.
  • The science of using data, information and knowledge to improve human health and the delivery of health care services.
Key Focus of Responsibility
  • Focuses on Management of personal health information in hospitals and other health organizations to enhance the quality of care delivered to patients.
  • Processing of medical records related to billing, patient privacy, data governance and regulatory compliance

Emphasizes tasks related to terminology, coding, transcription and overall records management related to the business of health care.

  • Focuses on the design, development and implementation of  data-driven applications across a broader range of health information systems; and the creation of systems that support information exchange between clinical applications.
  • Emphasizes a more robust mathematical foundation that involves developing interactive health information systems intended to improve clinical workflow and overall quality of individual patient outcomes, as well as the health of entire populations.
Common Job Titles
  • Billing coder
  • Records technician specialist
  • Insurance claims analyst
  • Clinical coding specialist
  • Coding manager
  • Patient information coordinator
  • Medical records manager
  • Patient information coordinator
  • Privacy officer/manager
  • Compliance officer
  • Health information management director
  • Clinical analyst
  • Informatics nurse
  • Health data analyst
  • Health care IT project manager
  • Health informatics consultant
  • Nursing informatics specialist
  • Digital transformation consultant
  • Clinical informatics data scientist
  • Health care informatics integration engineer
  • Health informatics director
  • Director of clinical informatics
  • Chief information security officer
Roles/Duties
  • Organize and manage patient data
  • Code health information for reimbursement and research
  • Process health data for billing and reporting purposes
  • Ensure patient and organizational data meets regulatory compliance
  • Comply with all relevant standards regarding health information
  • Protect the privacy and security of patient health information (HIPAA)
  • Develop information systems/processes that improve quality and efficiency of care
  • Build, optimize and maintain electronic health record (EHR) systems
  • Design, develop and evaluate emerging technologies
  • Provide data management, analytical and leadership skills
  • Design and maintain medical databases, computer networks and applications
  • Evaluate impact of IT on clinical workflow and outcomes
  • Develop data analysis and utilization protocols
  • Develop data management, privacy and security policies and systems
Potential Employers
  • Hospitals
  • Clinics
  • Private practices
  • Nursing homes
  • Medical groups
  • HMOs
  • Health insurance organizations
  • Pharmacies, laboratories and other ancillary providers
  • Hospitals
  • Clinics
  • Medical groups
  • HMOs
  • Health insurance organizations
  • Medical research laboratories
  • Medical technology and software vendors
  • Health information technology suppliers
  • Medical consulting organizations
  • Pharmacies, laboratories and other ancillary providers

Key Differences between Health Information Management and Health Informatics

Though there are many similarities between the fields of HIM and health informatics, there are also significant differences. Both disciplines relate to health information technology and electronic health records (EHRs), but one key difference is this:

  • Health information management professionals are specifically focused on the management and governance of such records.
  • Health informatics professionals are more focused on the science of optimizing the value offered by EHRs and other medical data.

Health Information Management focuses on the management of personal health information within health care organizations, including billing, coding, data governance/security, record keeping, regulatory compliance and patient privacy; connected to the delivery of services to the public.

Health Informatics focuses on using current and emerging information technology systems to leverage the data processed through health information management to create knowledge that can be used to boost efficiency, reduce costs and ultimately improve patient outcomes.

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How Health Informatics is Creating New Opportunities for Health Information Management Professionals

For health information management professionals, many of whom perform records management job duties connected to billing and coding, the field of health informatics holds great potential for advancing their career in roles that require a higher level of analysis and technical skill.

This is an exciting prospect for many working in health information management because the HIM field traditionally has been one that could feel somewhat limiting in terms of possibilities for moving up the career ladder.

While the medical world’s ever-greater ability to collect and analyze data, and use it to improve human health, is common to both the health information management and health informatics professions — the expanding impact of digital technology in modern medicine has created significant demand for professionals equipped with advanced education in informatics.

For those who aspire to position themselves for success in the evolving HI vs. HIM employment landscape, the need to develop new skill sets is paramount.

[RELATED] How Health Informatics is Shaping Future of Health Information Management >>

This point is also strongly emphasized by the American Health Information Management Association. In fact, in a report titled HIM Reimagined, AHIMA has developed a 10-year “blueprint for transforming the HIM profession.”

Educational Opportunities for Transitioning from HIM to Health Informatics

One of the core initiatives emerging from the AHIMA report focuses on advanced education. “Gaining the skills to fill future roles takes education and a commitment to lifelong learning,” as well as expanded opportunities “to earn graduate degrees in HIM and health informatics,” AHIMA explains in its HIM Reimagined video.

AHIMA is so committed to helping HIM professionals grow into health informatics roles that it is now offering scholarships to assist its members who are seeking to expand their skills by advancing their education.

A master’s degree in health informatics typically focuses on developing a high-level understanding of the intersection between health care and information technology with curriculum that integrates health care and IT, health system leadership and business knowledge/skills.

As the science of informatics continues to revolutionize health care, graduate degree programs such as the University of San Diego’s M.S. in Health Care Informatics have embraced the mission of helping to train current and future generations of health information management and health informatics professionals.

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