Aspiring healthcare informatics professionals have several pathways available for getting a job in health informatics. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 13% growth rate in healthcare information technology over the next eight years, so the industry is experiencing a surge, and qualified professionals can find jobs in everything from data entry to patient health services management. It can be a lucrative career choice for those with the necessary skills, experience, and temperament.
What Is Health Informatics?
Also known as “health information systems” or “health information management,” health informatics is an interdisciplinary field that combines information technology and healthcare administration. It’s dedicated to recording, tracking, analyzing, organizing, and aggregating everything from patient records to the financial data of hospitals and clinics. The focus of health informatics can be on both day-to-day operations of medical services and on large-scale research projects aimed at identifying trends in public health.
Careers in health informatics include medical coder, medical records clerk, health informatics specialist, health database administrator, and medical information officer. Jobs might be advertised with buzzwords like “medical informatics” or “healthcare analytics.” Common acronyms include electronic health records (EHR) and health information management (HIM).
While medical record-keeping has existed for centuries, it’s only been in the past few decades that computer science has changed the flow and exchange of information, so health informatics is a relatively new field that continues to grow every year. It’s important to stay flexible as you navigate this ever-developing industry and its changing standards and practices.
The Best Degrees for Health Informatics Jobs
The best degrees for health informatics jobs are highly dependent on where and how you want to work. If you’re looking for a desk job, for example, you might enjoy the calm, detail-oriented nature of data entry. If you prefer a more social or spontaneous job with lots of human interaction, you might be drawn to nursing informatics or a public-health education job.
Another consideration is what you’d like to study, especially if you’re considering a specialized role within a hospital or clinic. You can break into healthcare informatics from multiple academic backgrounds, including nursing, business, computer science, information technology, and healthcare administration.
Here are just a few majors that you might consider if you’re interested in health information systems:
- Healthcare Informatics. This is a somewhat rare degree, but it is offered by a few universities around the country. It might also be listed under the name health information management (HIM).
- Information Systems or Information Management. This is a common degree for those who are interested in the design and development of information systems, including medical information systems. Some colleges offer distinct programs for healthcare-based IS study, as opposed to library- or business-based IS study.
- Information Technology. An IT degree can teach you what you need to know about computers, networks, software, and the entire infrastructure of electronic health records. A computer science degree can offer similar benefits if you’d like to build health information systems from the ground up.
- Healthcare Administration. A common degree for those who are seeking a behind-the-scenes job in the medical field, the study of healthcare administration can leave you well-poised for informatics certification at a later date.
- Nursing. It isn’t uncommon for those in the field of clinical care to transition to health informatics. You can even find schools that offer “nursing informatics” as a specialized field of study.
Other degrees can also prepare you for work as a health informatics professional. For example, there are many Master of Business Administration (MBA) programs that offer concentrations in health information systems or healthcare management. There are also public-health BAs and MAs with specializations in digital information systems.
Who Can Find a Job in Healthcare Informatics?
Health informatics is a specialized field that usually requires a mix of education and experience to qualify for jobs. Depending on the position, you might also need certification in things like medical coding, programming languages, software development, or specific tasks like Medicare claims handling.
As for who can get a job in health informatics, there are many potential career paths for people from all walks of life. For example, entry-level careers in healthcare informatics might only ask for an associate’s degree of any kind; even if certification is required, it can be obtained during or after on-the-job training. Mid-level positions might require demonstrated experience and education in either clinical medicine or computer science, or they may ask for certification before you’re legally cleared to handle sensitive or confidential data.
Professionals can also change careers if they find themselves to be interested in health informatics later in life. For example, medical professionals who want to move into health informatics can obtain additional skills and training in information science. IT professionals who want to work in health informatics can obtain experience and skills in a clinical care environment.
Rapid Change in Health Informatics
The first requirement for a job in health informatics is a flexible background and the ability to adapt quickly to changing conditions. Applicants will find “flexibility” and “adaptability” in nearly every entry-level health informatics job description.
Why are these skills so important? For starters, the medical field is one that requires quickness, versatility, and the ability to think quickly. Even if you’re managing records rather than performing open-heart surgery, you’ll still be part of the healthcare field, and these skills will be considered core competencies for the industry.
Another factor is the rapidly developing environment of health informatics. Beginning with the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), health systems have been asked to collect, store, and process healthcare data in an ever-evolving and sophisticated way. In addition to traditional careers such as medical coding using ICD-10, health informatics professionals are asked to install and maintain applications for health information software and systems. These rapid changes mean that entry-level health informatics applicants must have a combination of experience and training in both clinical medicine and information technology.
Entry-Level Position Pathways
Entry-level positions in health informatics include medical coders, medical records clerks, data entry clerks, and health information technicians. Their educational requirements can range from a simple, 12-week certification program to an associate’s degree combined with skills-based training and industry experience. Some positions will allow you to obtain specialized training while on the job; others will expect you to have relevant education and experience just to get your foot in the door.
There are also jobs that are considered “entry-level” for a technical or specialized field within health informatics. These will have additional requirements for your resume. For example, clinical software applications specialists must have training and certification in specific types of healthcare software, and clinical analysts should have a bachelor’s degree in math or statistics in order to work with clinical staff to interpret data and manage patient records.
Last but not least, there are entry-level management positions that have higher standards and expectations when compared to junior or assistant jobs. Entry-level management positions can require a combination of clinical licenses like RN or MD, at least two years of clinical experience, and a background in information technology.
Clinical Care to Health Informatics Pathway
Another common avenue into health informatics is by switching careers from clinical care to informatics or information technology.
A registered nurse (RN) who is interested in health informatics can obtain training and certification in healthcare information technology. This can qualify them for an entry-level position as a clinical analyst or medical data specialist. Additionally, an RN can become qualified for a higher-level health informatics management position by obtaining a master’s degree in health information technology or healthcare informatics.
Another possibility for nurses interested in health informatics is “nursing informatics.” This is a relatively new field that combines patient-focused care with behind-the-scenes work in data analytics and information technology. Those in these jobs are usually known by titles such as nurse informaticist or nursing informatics specialist. Since it’s still an evolving field, there are no real standards for it yet, so qualifications and expectations will vary depending on the position.
Information Technology to Health Informatics Pathway
If you have a background in information technology, you can often leverage your skills in that field to transition into the healthcare informatics field. You’ll just need to familiarize yourself with things like medical terminology and the basic infrastructure of electronic health records. This is what you’ll learn in certification programs for health informatics.
As for field experience, IT professionals with a bachelor’s degree in information technology or computer science should have at least one year of experience in information technology before seeking a position in health informatics. Internships and entry-level positions may be available in large healthcare organizations for IT professionals with an interest in healthcare and medicine.
A number of colleges and universities have begun to offer certificate programs in healthcare informatics. These programs usually cover subjects such as data science, medical terminology, healthcare systems, and clinical informatics. They might also offer internships designed to give you real-world experience in clinical or clerical settings.
Two of the most common certifications are offered by the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS). These are the Certified Associate in Healthcare Information and Management Systems (CAHIMS) and the Certified Professional in Healthcare Information and Management Systems (CPHIMS).
There are also certifications offered by the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) and the American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA).
Healthcare informatics certificates are offered at every level of education, so you can earn them along with or in addition to associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees:
- Associate’s degree: A certification in health informatics at the associate’s degree level can qualify you for entry-level jobs as a data clerk or junior healthcare systems technician.
- Bachelor’s degree: A bachelor’s degree can be combined with many healthcare informatics certificates, including ones offered by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), an organization that certifies RNs that are transitioning to the field of health informatics.
- Master’s degree: At the post-graduate level, healthcare informatics certification programs are highly specialized. They teach things like biostatistics or healthcare project management, and they prepare students for high-level research or management positions within the field. They’re usually designed for candidates who already have healthcare experience or information technology experience.
Additional certificates in IT can qualify applicants for employment in health informatics, including the CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate), the PMP (Project Management Professional), and the CISSP (Certified Information Systems Security Professional) certifications.
Gaining Real-World Experience in Health Informatics
You can distinguish yourself from other job applicants by having relevant, real-world experience in healthcare information systems. This experience can also be a requirement of certification programs at both the undergraduate and graduate level.
One way to gain experience is to sign up for internships and other practicums as part of your degree program. Not only will you learn what it’s really like to work in a healthcare environment, but you can also explore networking opportunities as you make connections with colleagues, mentors, recruiters, and hiring managers.
Another possibility is enrolling in continuing education (CE) courses that require clinical hours in a supervised setting. These courses can be an option for working professionals who have already graduated from college or are looking to switch careers. They’ll reintroduce you to the workforce while bringing you up to speed with the standard practices of the healthcare informatics industry.
Occupational Outlook for Healthcare Informatics
Because of the unique combination of healthcare experience and information technology training which is required in the field of healthcare informatics, employment consulting firm Burning Glass has reported that jobs in the field are in high demand, and they may stay open for longer periods than many other positions.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics supports this assertion with a reported industry growth rate of 13%. This is well above the national average for both healthcare occupations and all occupations combined.
The average salary for health information specialists is $44,090 per year. However, the full range is $28,800 to $73,370 per year, and pay rates can fluctuate depending on everything from geographical location to years of relevant experience and education. There are also health informatics jobs that fall under the umbrella of information technology, computer science, or healthcare administration, and these occupations have their own salary ranges. You may need to do some research to determine accurate wage information for your desired position.
Pathways to getting a job in health informatics are open for healthcare and IT professionals through a combination of education, training, and job experience. If you’re interested in joining the ranks of healthcare data specialists, figure out what skills you’ll need to succeed and then apply yourself to the study of this exciting and ever-changing field.
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