The field of healthcare informatics looks at how information is acquired, stored, retrieved, and used, in order to ensure there is better multidisciplinary collaboration between the patient and the healthcare providers. This field is absolutely critical in terms of ensuring that healthcare reform is managed properly and that it results in cost reductions without compromising on quality of care. It is reasonably new and it is still very much evolving. It links together healthcare communication and information technology so that patient care becomes safer, better, and more affordable.
It is very important to understand that healthcare informatics is not the same has healthcare information technology (IT). Informatics, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), looks at the science involved with health IT. Health informatics aims to improve health outcomes through an increased scientific understanding of real life situations, but also concepts and theories. It mainly does this through the study of digital data, which is why many confuse it with, or find it similar to, IT.
There has been huge growth in the field of health informatics. This was mostly due to the Electronic Health Record (EHR) adoption, and the speed at which it was implemented. The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services was responsible for this, and they created the “meaningful use” incentive program in order to encourage more healthcare organizations to adopt it. As a result of this, healthcare providers across the board have started to adopt EHRs, which aim to store and share information between the various multidisciplinary healthcare providers. This is precisely what has led to a greater need for people with a health informatics background, who have an understanding of the three “meaningful use” stages, and who can implement those across the board.
There have been a number of specific reports on just how big the demand for healthcare informatics professionals is. For instance:
- Careerbuilder.com has ranked the field of health informatics as the top emerging industry job opportunity.
- The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has projected that demand for medical records and health information technicians will grow by 15% from 2014 to 2024, which is much faster than the national average. This translates into 29,000 new jobs.
There are numerous potential careers available for someone with knowledge and skills in healthcare informatics. Some of the most popular careers are:
- Nurse informaticist
- Chief medical information officer
- Director of clinical informatics
- Clinical data analyst
- IT consultant
Indeed.com has create a report on specific healthcare informatics job titles and their associated average annual salaries. They state that:
- Data Analysts earn an average of $70,721 per year.
- Clinical Specialists earn an average of $77,347 per year.
- Application Analysts earn an average of $75,202 per year.
- Systems Analysts earn an average of $72,771 per year.
- Senior Analysts earn an average of $83,376 per year.
- Data Scientists earn an average of $129,925 per year.
- Directors earn an average of $94,686 per year.
- Clinic Managers earn an average of $83,309 per year.
- Platform Engineers earn an average of $134,049 per year.
There are various factors that greatly influence how much someone is able to earn within the field of healthcare informatics. One of those factors is the level of seniority they have within their healthcare organization. As such:
- Staff earns $86,536 per year on average.
- Management earns $97,928 per year on average.
- Department heads earn $109,478 per year on average.
- Associate staff earn $137,566 per year on average.
- Senior management earns $161,255 per year on average.
- Executive management earns $189,435 per year on average.
Another important factor in terms of salary is where you work. According to the BLS, the top five states to work in as a medical records and health information technician are:
- New Jersey, with average annual earnings of $60,000
- Alaska, with average annual earnings of $56,920
- California, with average annual earnings of $48,840
- Maryland, with average annual earnings of $48,730
- Colorado, with average annual earnings of $48,730
Meanwhile, Payscale.com reports that the average annual salary in teh state of Florida is $57,500.
Glassdoor.com has looked slightly deeper into specific cities across the country, reporting that senior healthcare analysts in:
- Oshkosh, WI, earn an average of $95,000 per year.
- Nashville, TN, earn an average of $105,000 per year.
- Gainesville, FL, earn an average of $68,000 per year.
- Chicago, IL, earn an average of $65,000 per year.
- Boston, MA, earn between $82,000 and $99,500 per year.
As you can see, there are numerous factors that influence how much someone can earn in the field of healthcare informatics. One other key factor, however, is who someone works for. It stands to reason, for instance, that large metropolitan hospitals will pay a lot more than small rural clinics. That said, in many cases, healthcare informatics professionals also earn bonuses as a result of the EHR incentive program. This does it make it somewhat difficult to really determine how much someone can earn. Glassdoor.com has attempted to report on average salaries by employer, but was only able to do so on two specific organizations, being:
- Altarum, where a Senior Healthcare Informatics Analyst can earn between $91,000 and $99,000 per year
- Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana, where a Senior Healthcare Informatics Analyst can earn between $74,000 and $80,000
In order to build a career in the field of healthcare informatics, and to attract lucrative salaries, you must obtain an education. This starts at bachelor’s degree level. Because there is such a strong link between healthcare informatics and digital data, numerous universities now offer this degree fully or partially online. One such example is the B.S. in Informatics – Healthcare Informatics offered by Liberty University Online. The school is accredited by the SACSCOC – Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, which guarantees the quality of its education.
During the degree program, you will take part in courses, such as:
- Math, Science, and Technology
- Critical Thinking
- Intermediate Business Computer Applications
- Introduction to Probability and Statistics
- Organizational Behavior
- Financial Accounting
- Introduction to Information Sciences & Systems
- Application Programming
- Web Architecture & Development
- IS Hardware & Software
- Database Management Systems
- Business Data Communication Systems
- Studies in Information Security
- System Analysis & Design
- Introduction to Human Computer Interactions
- Principles of Macroeconomics
- Applied Human Anatomy & Physiology
- Quality Management & Decision Support
- Informatics Information Systems
- Medical Terminology
- Foundations of Pharmacology
- Healthcare Informatics
- Healthcare Coding & Classification
- Healthcare Enterprise Systems
If you really want to advance your career, then a master’s degree is what you should consider. It is very important, at this level, that you choose a program that is properly accredited. This is because healthcare informatics is such an emerging field, and you want to make sure that the time and money you invest in your degree will deliver something that is accepted across the board, throughout healthcare organizations in the country, and even abroad. Again, as with the bachelor’s degree, many universities offer the master’s in an online format for the convenience of their students and because it is so relevant to the field. A good example on one of the highest ranked master’s in healthcare informatics programs is offered by Northwestern University.
In order to ensure that applicants are able to cope with the workload of a master’s degree level, most schools have quite competitive admission requirements for their students. While each school can set its own admission requirements, they are usually quite similar across the board. At Northwestern University, for instance, they are:
- A bachelor’s degree from an accredited university
- Statement of purpose
- Letters of recommendation
- Proof of English proficiency for non-native English speakers
One of the reasons why accreditation is so important is because it guarantees you that the curriculum that the university has set meets or exceeds the national accepted standards for the profession. As universities can design the curriculum in a way they see fit, this is of vital importance. It is the accreditation on your degree that will tell prospective employers that you have the skills and experience to do the job.
Northwestern University offers three concentrations within their master’s of healthcare informatics: Clinical Informatics, Health Administration Informatics, and Health Technology Informatics. Each of these has a different curriculum. However, they do follow the same core, which includes:
- American Health Care System
- Fundamental Health Informatics
- Legal, Ethical & Social Issues
- A Capstone Project
- Thesis Research
Unfortunately, completing an education is incredibly expensive. You must invest both time and money in your own future, which is a worthwhile investment. By studying online, you can find that the time investment is a bit more suitable to your own schedule, although you do have to be realistic about the amount of time you will spend studying. In terms of the financial aspect, most schools will be happy to assist you in finding financial assistance, and they generally also have a number of scholarships or grants available that you can apply for. That said, there are external scholarships and grants that can also be of interest. These include the:
- Lister Hill National Center for Biomedical Communication, which offers various fellowship programs
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which offers the Public Health Informatics Fellowship Program
- Foster McGaw Scholarship, to the value of $500
- School of Informatics and Computing Direct Admit Scholarship, to the value of $1,000
- Richard P. Covert, Ph.D., LFHIMSS Scholarship for Management Systems
For many of these scholarships, you must be enrolled with a school in a certain state, belong to a certain minority group, have an interest in a specific area of health informatics, demonstrate financial need, and/or have a certain minimum GPA. This is just a small sample of possible scholarships, however, and there are many others to consider.
Once you have completed your degree, you may want to consider becoming certified as well. This is often not a legal requirement, but it is beneficial for your overall career. With certification, you demonstrate that you have invested in yourself and in furthering your profession, something that is highly respected. Some of the certifications you may want to consider in the field of healthcare informatics are:
- Certified Professional in Health Informatics (CPHI)
- Advanced Health Informatics Certification (AHIC)
- Health IT Certification
- Certified Health Informatics Systems Professional
Once you decide that you want to become involved in the field of healthcare informatics, you should consider joining relevant professional organizations and associations. This will give you the opportunity to find possible certifications, as well as accessing scholarships and grants. This is why you should join them as soon as you start studying. Most importantly, being a member of a professional association means that you will always be aware of the latest developments in the field, and that you can build a professional network to further your own career. Some of the most respected associations in healthcare informatics are the:
- American Medical Informatics Association
- ICCE – Healthcare Informatics
- American Health Information Management Association
- Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society
- Association for Veterinary Informatics
- Division of Health Informatics and Surveillance (DHIS). (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/ophss/csels/dhis/
- Electronic Health Records (EHR) Incentive Programs. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.cms.gov/Regulations-and-Guidance/Legislation/EHRIncentivePrograms/index.html?redirect=/ehrincentiveprograms/
- Occupational Outlook Handbook – Medical Records and Health Information Technicians. (2015, Dec. 17). Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/medical-records-and-health-information-technicians.htm
- Master of Science (MS), Health Informatics Degree Average Salary. (2016, Jul. 15). Retrieved from http://www.payscale.com/research/US/Degree=Master_of_Science_(MS),_Health_Informatics/Salary#by_State
- Health Informatics Salaries in the United States. (2017, Apr. 13). Retrieved from https://www.indeed.com/salaries/Health+Informatics-Salaries
- Senior Healthcare Informatics Analyst Salaries. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/senior-healthcare-informatics-analyst-salary-SRCH_KO0,37.htm
- Bachelor of Science in Informatics – Healthcare Informatics. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.liberty.edu/online/bachelors/informatics/healthcare-informatics/
- Masters in Health Informatics. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://sps.northwestern.edu/program-areas/graduate/health-informatics/
- Health Information Technology Scholarships. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.collegescholarships.org/scholarships/health/informatics.htm