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What’s New in the Field of Healthcare Informatics

As healthcare technologies advance and health information becomes more digitized, the role of healthcare informatics professionals has never been larger. We talked to the current and a former chair of the board for the Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management (CAHIIM) about new developments in this field.

Stuart Speedie, Ph.D.

Past Chairman of the Board, CAHIIM; Professor-Emeritus, University of Minnesota

Can you discuss some of the more unique aspects of pursuing a long-term career in healthcare informatics? What separates this field from others in the healthcare industry?

Health Informatics is the field that applies skills and abilities in information technology, combined with sociobehavioral knowledge and an understanding of the healthcare system to address information-driven problems in healthcare. 

It is distinguished from others in the industry by its focus on using information technology to solve large-scale, patient care-related problems by applying a diversity of tools, from user-oriented design principles to improve the usability of EHRs (electronic health records), to big data analytic techniques to better predict patient outcomes. 

What role do you see graduates with health informatics degrees playing in the future of healthcare?

Information is one of the major keys to improving the accessibility, effectiveness, and efficiency of healthcare. Health Informatics graduates play a key role in designing, implementing, maintaining, and evaluating information systems that assist in achieving these improvements. 

What advice would you give to a student interested in a career in healthcare informatics? 

The most successful students in health informatics are those who have developed a solid background in information technology combined with a knowledge of healthcare prior to entering the program, who are oriented toward a profession that improves society through better healthcare, that display great flexibility in their approach to problem-solving, and have a thirst for continuing to learn as both the environment and the profession are in a state of constant change. 

For example, the information from genomics, new types of imaging, and consumer reported data are becoming increasingly important to healthcare but are not well integrated into EHRs.

What factors should students be considering when choosing the online degree program that is right for them? 

I am assuming what you are asking about is “Masters of Health Informatics online degree programs.” Health informatics is still a relatively small field compared to many other professions, so employers will often be familiar with the reputations of many of the programs offered in the field. 

So the first thing a student should consider is the quality of an education they can receive from such a program. Accreditation indicates a program has been evaluated for the quality of its education and found to qualify for formal accreditation by a national organization. In health informatics, that organization is the CAHIIM. 

Secondly, a prospective student needs to understand the emphasis a program offers. Some specialize in clinical informatics, others in data analytics, user interface design, or medical bioinformatics. 

Third, the student should consider the experience such programs have in offering online programs. With the COVID-19-driven, abruptly changing world of higher education being forced toward online learning, some programs have just begun to offer them online, while others have a much longer history of doing so. It is critical to a good educational experience that the educational program has a track record of offering successful online courses.

Can you discuss some steps current and prospective students should be taking while enrolled in a healthcare informatics degree to set themselves up for success after graduation?

  1. Build your background in information technology. You do not need to earn a degree in computer science, but you do need to be familiar with the field and have developed some skills like computer programming and database design. 
  2. Explore your education options in health informatics. Decide which aspect of health informatics is best suited for your interests and skills.
  3. Explore the job opportunities in your area in terms of hospitals and healthcare systems, data analytics companies, medical device manufacturers, pharmaceutical companies, governmental agencies, and others. If you pick the kind of employer for which you would like to work, you can target your education to the needs of that employer. 
  4. Explore the profession. Find the professional organizations, such as AMIA (American Medical Informatics Association), HIIMS (Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society), AHIMA (American Health Information Management Association), and others that support professions, and join them as a student. 

Where do you see the most career opportunities for graduates with healthcare informatics degrees today?

There are two major areas of such opportunities right now. The first involves EHRs. With the widespread use of such systems now, we are starting to get an excellent handle of what needs improvement — incorporating new types of information such as that related to patients’ genomes, improving their usability for practitioners, and better exchange of information among systems. 

The second area is the opportunities related to data analytics in healthcare. This is at the confluence of new analytics techniques, such as deep learning, machine learning, and Bayesian analysis, and the availability of “big data” in healthcare. This area is experiencing explosive growth as more and more of our health data is aggregated into the extremely large databases.

Melanie S. Brodnik, Ph.D., RHIA, FAHIMA

Chair of the Board, CAHIIM; Associate Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University, Health Information Management and Systems Division, School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences

Can you discuss some of the more unique aspects of pursuing a long-term career in healthcare informatics? What separates this field from others in the healthcare industry?

The field of health informatics has evolved to address a variety of workforce opportunities stemming from the increasing use of information technology to improve healthcare. The field is constantly evolving as newer and more sophisticated computer and information technology approaches facilitate patient treatment, and data analysis for monitoring health outcomes and improving care.  

A career in informatics will never be static as innovation continues to occur. The health informatics professional works with clinicians and computer technology professionals to improve data capture and usage for healthcare and business decision-making purposes.  Clinicians, such as doctors, nurses, pharmacists, nutritionists, and other caregivers, may also combine informatics knowledge and skills in support of the care they provide. 

What role do you see graduates with health informatics degrees playing in the future of healthcare?

Graduates in health informatics will play an increasingly important role in the future of healthcare as technology continues to evolve, and the demand for more accurate and reliable data is needed for biomedical, clinical, and population health research, as well as computational and systems research design. 

What advice would you give to a student interested in a career in healthcare informatics? 

Contact professional organizations like AMIA, AHIMA, and HIMSS, who may have local or state chapters that can suggest how one might visit or speak to professionals currently working in the field. Investigate the many job opportunities that exist for individuals with an informatics background, from computational researcher to data analyst, chief information officer, informatic analyst, etc. It is important to have a talent for data analytics, math, and computer science.  

What factors should students consider when choosing the online degree program that is right for them? 

When choosing an online or on-campus program, if possible, look to see that the program is accredited by either a regional and/or national program accreditation organization. Depending on one’s interest, review the program for faculty background, faculty-to-student ratio, lab and internship experience requirements, and research opportunities. 

Can you discuss some steps current and prospective students should be taking while enrolled in a healthcare informatics program to set themselves up for success after graduation?

It is important as a student to network where possible. Joining professional organizations is a first step. Also, take advantage of internship or work-study opportunities offered through the academic program. 

Where do you see the most career opportunities for graduates with healthcare informatics degrees today?

Most career opportunities are in healthcare organizations, such as hospitals, large physician practices, pharmaceutical companies, government health-related organizations, and healthcare data benchmarking companies.

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