Thanks in large part to evolving technology, the field of health care informatics is growing rapidly. This has led to welcome advancements in patient care, but also some growing pains — perhaps most significantly a “skills gap,” as the demand for talented health informatics professionals outpaces the supply of qualified applicants.
For those with the right skills, a career in health care informatics can be both personally and professionally rewarding. It can also be financially rewarding — the talent shortage means there are abundant job opportunities, some of them paying six-figure salaries.
So, what skills does one need for a successful career in health care informatics? To answer that question, it’s important to first understand what health informatics is and what health informaticians do.
Big Data, Deep Learning and Other Advancements are Fueling the Health Informatics Boom and Improving Care for Patients
The field of health care informatics stands at the intersection of health care and big data — leveraging digital-age information systems to develop insights and solutions that lead to better care. Health informatics professionals, according to this video from the American Medical Informatics Association, are performing valuable work “developing ways to better understand disease and identify potential cures … from global health to personalized medicine.”
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 care for individual patients
- Improve the health of entire populations (for example, by using data to predict and even prevent outbreaks of disease in a particular geographical area)
Job opportunities in health informatics span the full spectrum of the health care experience — from public health, veterinary and dental care to nursing, biotech, telemedicine and the insurance industry. This is excellent news for job seekers who possess or are willing to acquire the highly sought-after combination of health care and information technology (IT) skills. Common areas of responsibility include integrating and managing health data, improving quality of care and identifying and analyzing health and disease trends.
Health Informatics: What Skills Do You Need to Succeed?
One helpful way to develop a deeper understanding of the skills needed to pursue a career in health informatics is to review several of the leading health informatics certification programs to see what knowledge is expected of a certified health informatics professional.
For example, the Certified Professional in Healthcare Information and Management Systems (CPHIMS) is one of several certifications offered by the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) and is designed to test applicants on their knowledge and skills in the following health informatics competencies:
Health Care Environment
General knowledge of the characteristics and services provided by different types of health care organizations, including:
- The interrelationships within and across health care organizations
- The roles and responsibilities of health care information and management systems professionals within the organizational structures in which they work
- The roles of governmental, regulatory, professional and accreditation agencies related to health care and their impact on clinical outcomes and financial performance
- Knowledge of applications commonly used in health care (e.g., clinical, administrative, financial, consumer, business intelligence)
- Knowledge of technology infrastructure that supports the health care environment (e.g., network, communications, data integration, privacy and security)
Health Care Systems
- Systems Analysis (ability to conduct needs analyses, cost-benefit analyses and risk assessments; analyze trends in health care and technology to evaluate where current systems can be enhanced)
- Systems Design (identify system designs to support organizational needs; evaluate existing and emerging technologies to support organization’s future growth and strategy)
- System Selection, Implementation, Support and Maintenance (facilitate selection and implementation of technology solutions; operate and upgrade health care information systems; ensure critical system functions are repaired, maintained or enhanced)
- Systems Testing and Evaluation (design testing methodologies to demonstrate that solutions meet all functional requirements and ensure that expected benefits are achieved)
- Systems Privacy and Security (participate in defining organizational privacy and security policies and procedures; assess and mitigate privacy and security risks; ensure confidentiality, integrity and availability of data; coordinate privacy and security audits)
Aspiring health informatics professionals need skills in these eight basic areas:
- Interpersonal skills: Including teamwork and team building, empathy and conflict resolution.
- Problem-solving skills: For example, challenges around sharing of data or improving crucial IT processes.
- Programming knowledge: Computer programming is not necessarily a requirement for every health informatician, but familiarity with languages such as Java, C, Python and SQL can give you a competitive edge.
- Knowledge of health data systems: You’ll need to work closely with the health data systems used in your workplace and be ready to learn new systems as technology continues to evolve.
- Communication skills: In addition to basic communication skills, health informatics roles often require the ability to communicate complex information clearly and accurately. Strong listening skills are also essential.
- EHR Expertise: Proficiency in the protocols, regulatory requirements and emerging trends around the management of electronic health records.
- Data Analytics: Familiarity with how the vast volumes of electronic data now available from a multitude of sources can be analyzed to develop strategies that impact the quality, efficiency and cost of care.
- Health Care Industry Knowledge: Thorough understanding of the operations and workflows of clinical care provider organizations, including health systems leadership, delivery of care, outcomes, strategic planning and management, and more.
How to Acquire Marketable Health Informatics Skills
When it comes to training, more colleges and universities are responding to the demand by creating advanced degree programs designed to prepare professionals currently working in IT or health care to transition into the growing field of health informatics.
Several leading industry advocacy organizations endorse this approach. Both AHIMA and the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) emphasize the value of education, particularly at the master’s degree level. HIMSS has even launched a rigorous Approved Education Partner program to evaluate the quality of the educational offerings tailored to the needs of health informatics and health information management professionals.
For example, University of San Diego’s health care informatics master’s degree program includes such essential courses as:
- Advanced Health Care Information Management
- Systems Analysis and Design for Health Care Informatics
- Health Care Leadership, Values and Social Justice
- Strategic Planning and Management of Health Systems
- Clinical Analytics and Decision Support
Finally, health care or IT professionals who aspire to earn their master’s degree in health informatics now have the opportunity to do so in an online program that offers far greater flexibility for working professionals seeking to balance the demands of one’s job and family life while earning their degree. And of course, those who prefer the face-to-face interaction of a traditional classroom can always select a program that offers classes on-campus in the evening, like the one offered at University of San Diego.