What is Health Informatics? [Definition + Jobs and Salary Information]
Fast-Growing Field of Informatics is Transforming Health Care, Creating New Opportunities for Medical and IT Professionals
What is health informatics?
Ask some of the major organizations that specialize in the field of health informatics, health information technology and health information management, and the answers don’t necessarily tell the whole story.
While the professional associations don’t completely agree on a common definition of health informatics, two things are certain:
- Health informatics is revolutionizing the practice of health care (from caring for individual patients to improving the health of entire populations).
- Health informatics is one of the nation’s fastest-growing job sectors, with well-paying career opportunities for those with the right experience and training.
The past decade has been a time of incredible growth for the field of health informatics, fueled in large part by the adoption in 2009 of the federal HITECH Act, which mandated a nationwide transition from old-fashioned paper medical records to electronic health records (EHR). Of course, the adoption of electronic health records, along with advancements in cloud storage and analytics capabilities, has led to far greater availability (and sharability) of health data.
According to the Public Health Informatics Institute, “Informatics is the process by which raw data turns into information and, subsequently, knowledge.” In the continually evolving field of health informatics, the goal is to use this data and the insights it produces to:
- Improve patient care at the individual and clinical level
- Improve the health of entire populations (for example, by using data to predict and even prevent outbreaks of disease in a particular geographical area)
The American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA) distinguishes between Clinical Informatics (“the application of informatics and information technology to deliver healthcare services”) and Public Health Informatics (“the application of informatics in areas of public health, including surveillance, prevention, preparedness and health promotion”).
AMIA also offers a general overview of the world of health care informatics in a video entitled “Discovering health insights. Accelerating healthcare transformation.”
Health informatics professionals, the video explains, are performing valuable work “developing ways to better understand disease and identify potential cures … from global health to personalized medicine.”
Health Informatics vs. Health Information Technology – What’s the Difference?
For the layman, it can be easy to confuse these two distinct but closely related fields. At the risk of oversimplification, health information technology (HIT) refers to the technological tools and systems used to provide care, enhance communications and efficiently, securely administer billings and records.
“Professionals who work in HIT are focused on the technical side of managing health information, working with the software and hardware that is used to manage and store patient data,” according to the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA).
Health informatics, on the other hand, is “a science that defines how health information is technically captured, transmitted and utilized … (and) applied to the continuum of health care delivery,” says AHIMA.
Working in the Field of Health Informatics [Jobs and Salary Info]
The growing need for employees who possess both medical/clinical experience as well as proficiency in information technology or informatics has created a “skills gap” and high demand for qualified health informatics professionals. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has predicted that the number of jobs in the health care informatics field will grow 22% by 2022, roughly twice as fast as employment overall.
An interactive career map compiled by AHIMA lists the following average salaries for selected jobs in health informatics:
- Chief Clinical Informatics Officer — $180,000
- Director of Clinical Informatics — $128,000
- Informatics Consultant — $94,360
- Informatics Researcher — $69,857
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With strong demand, great pay and high job satisfaction, it is easy to see why a career in health informatics is so appealing. Opportunities are as diverse as the world of health care itself — from public health, veterinary, dental and clinical care to nursing, biotech, software development, telemedicine and the insurance industry.
Employment prospects in this field are bright for job seekers with the highly sought-after combination of health care and information technology (IT) skills. Those who currently work in a clinical position, or in health information technology or health information management roles have a head start in positioning themselves for such jobs. But additional education and training is generally needed for career advancement in health informatics.
For that reason, many current and future health informatics professionals are taking advantage of specialized master’s degree programs that build on their work experience and knowledge of the health care field while refining their programmatic, technical and analytical skills.
Master’s Degree a Key to Career Advancement in Health Informatics
An excellent summary of the current state of the health informatics field, and the opportunities for qualified professionals, is offered in a Q&A with Dr. Jonathan Mack, clinical associate professor and the program coordinator for the online health informatics master’s degree program at University of San Diego.
“The federal government projects strong job growth in these areas — especially in the focused areas of health care informatics, telehealth, telemedicine, remote home monitoring, as well as other emerging field within the health care informatics discipline,” said Dr. Mack.
“Because professionals entering the field need to have specific skills in a fairly new discipline,” he said, “a master’s degree can be hugely beneficial, making an applicant more attractive to potential employers.”