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Posted: November 24th, 2022
Health informatics is the practice of collecting, analyzing, and managing health data, as well as applying medical concepts in conjunction with health information technology systems, to assist clinicians in providing better care.
With the expansion of electronic health records (EHRs) and health data analytics systems, health informatics, also known as healthcare informatics, has grown as an evolving science. It has also expanded as a result of the development of health data exchange standards such as HL7 (Health Level 7) and FHIR (Fast Health Interoperability Resources), as well as clinical health terminology sets such as SNOMED CT.
Informatics in clinical practice
Clinical informatics is used in direct patient care by providing information to physicians, nurses, physical therapists, aides, and other caregivers that can be used to develop a care plan. Clinical informaticists analyze data or medical images for clinicians or assist clinicians in retrieving that information.
They can also create interfaces to health IT systems to make it easier for clinical caregivers to view and use health data.
Informatics in nursing
Nursing informatics is a subset of health informatics that deals with nurses’ interactions with health information technology systems. As most healthcare systems and physician practice facilities have put their patient records online and entrusted their nursing teams to handle transition-of-care situations in their EHRs, the field has grown in importance.
Nursing informatics specialists work hard to accurately document care transitions, such as when a patient transitions from an ambulatory setting to a hospital setting or from a hospital to a rehabilitation center. This is frequently mandated by Medicare or private insurance reimbursement program criteria.
Nursing informatics, like clinical informatics, is a growing educational field in which students can earn academic certificates and degrees.
The acquisition, storage, retrieval, and use of healthcare information to ensure optimal collaboration between patients and their healthcare providers is referred to as health informatics. It is a critical component of healthcare reform, representing an evolving specialization that connects healthcare, communications, and information technology (IT) to improve patient care quality and safety. Health informatics is defined as “the interdisciplinary study of the design, development, adoption, and application of IT-based innovations in healthcare service delivery, management, and planning” by the United States National Library of Medicine.
Moving to such a robust platform has two goals: improving healthcare quality and lowering healthcare costs. These two seemingly opposing forces can coexist if the proper formulas are used. Notably, healthcare is one of the largest sectors of the US economy, accounting for 20% of GDP. It is also one of the most open sectors to digital information technology.
The industry has largely embraced the adoption of healthcare informatics, which combines technology with practical concepts. As a field of study, health informatics holds the promise of a robust health data infrastructure with numerous benefits. The ability to provide faster, more interoperable, and accessible patient records; a reduction in errors; a reduction in redundant testing; and the production of more complete and accurate healthcare records are among the benefits.
According to AHIMA, the ability of providers and organizations to distinguish between large amounts of data and meaningful data, and to integrate data seamlessly into an organization, is at the heart of successful health informatics. These quandaries can disrupt daily practices and workflow, even as new technology and treatment modalities emerge at breakneck speed.
Previously, paper-based systems dominated healthcare. These systems are now largely obsolete and have severely limited functionality. Essentially, healthcare has mastered data capture; the challenge is managing that large volume of data and streamlining it where it can be most beneficial, which is why a strong health informatics system is essential.
The following are some of the advantages of having a well-functioning health informatics system:
Improved ability to manage illness on one’s own
There is less trial and error.
Electronic patient records that are well-maintained and easily accessible
As a result of decades of IT development, the evolution of healthcare informatics has occurred rapidly in recent years. The bottom line is that information technology and health informatics are increasingly important components of modern public health and national healthcare policies.
As healthcare facilities implement new systems, upgrade their existing databases, and strive for meaningful and shareable data, health informatics specialists will be in high demand.
The Advantages of Studying Health Informatics
Health informatics professionals are in high demand as the country’s healthcare systems undergo major transformation. Trained professionals can work as consultants, for vendors, or for a healthcare facility or provider. For those already working in healthcare (e.g., nursing), leadership positions provided by a degree in health informatics can provide an opportunity to be a part of this rapidly evolving field.
Among the numerous advantages of studying health informatics are:
Preparation for work with technology: This field uses technology to streamline the flow of medical records and reports used on a daily basis by doctors, insurance companies, and pharmacies. A master’s degree also allows graduates to keep their current job while preparing for further career advancement.
Strong networking opportunities: This program provides students with best-practice skills in an interactive learning environment, putting them in touch with the professionals with whom they will work in the real world.
Easier job search: Because specialists in this field are in such high demand, new graduates may be able to find work even before they complete their degrees.
Clinical informatics, pharmacy or nutrition informatics, informatics analysis, and nurse informatics are some of the more diverse career paths available.
Increased pay: According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in computer and information technology occupations is expected to grow 13% between 2016 and 2026, faster than the average for all occupations (7%), with 500,000 new jobs added. With a master’s degree, computer and information research specialists, for example, earn a median annual salary of $111,000, while clinical informatics directors (a type of medical and health services manager) earn a median annual salary of $98,350.
Real-world applications: Students gain hands-on experience in the workplace by using learning modules, case-study scenarios, video tutorials, and other instructional tools. Students can specialize in software development, quality assurance, training, general database management, and a variety of other fields.
Coursework and Specializations in Health Informatics
Courses in health informatics combine information technology and healthcare. Unsurprisingly, having a solid foundation in one or the other will be advantageous to students. Statistics, biostatistics, medical terminology, computer science, information technology, software development, systems design, and database management are among the subjects covered.
Information exchange and information security are two other possible classes. Because data analysis is an important part of this job, finance and accounting courses teach students about financial budgets and organizational proposals. The programs include a mix of lecture and reading components, as well as mentored projects and group work.
Project management, healthcare policy, healthcare information systems, health service finances, and data analysis are some of the specialties available in the field of health informatics. Qualified graduates may seek positions as health information technicians and managers in the medical and health informatics specialist field. Students can further specialize their education by becoming a systems engineer, risk management professional, compliance officer, clinical training manager, or researcher. Graduates interested in executive and upper-level management positions may apply as directors for business systems, chief privacy officer, chief technology officer (CTO), or financial manager.
Health Informatics (HI) is a new, interdisciplinary field in healthcare that uses information technology to organize and analyze health records in order to improve healthcare outcomes. It’s also known as Health Information Systems.
Health informatics is a rapidly expanding field in the healthcare sector that deals with the resources, devices, and methods required to acquire, store, retrieve, and use health and medical data. Patients, doctors, nurses, hospital administrators, insurance companies, and health information technicians all have electronic access to their medical records thanks to the work of healthcare informatics professionals.
The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act was enacted in 2009 to promote and expand the use of health information technology, with a particular emphasis on the use of electronic health records (EHRs) by healthcare providers. The financial incentives made available to providers as a result of HITECH created a job market for HI professionals that is still expanding 11 years later. Prior to the passage of the HITECH Act, only 10% of hospitals had implemented EHRs. Electronic health records had to be adopted in order to advance healthcare, improve efficiency and care coordination, and make it easier for health information to be shared between different covered entities. Because of the widespread and critical nature of this work, there is a high demand for qualified HI professionals.
Learn more about obtaining a Master of Science in Health Informatics.
Prepare to address the clinical, technical, and business needs of health-related professions successfully.
Health Informatics in the Future
As healthcare evolves, we are broadening our approach to meeting the needs of patients and healthcare vendors. Aside from the more traditional aspects of health informatics, there are evolving industry trends that are currently defining the field. Jay Spitulnik, associate teaching professor and director of Northeastern’s MS in Health Informatics program, discusses emerging industry trends and how professionals can prepare.
Trends in Health Informatics
Interoperability is the number one health informatics trend.
Currently, the various EHR system applications do not communicate effectively with one another. Interoperability refers to the ability of various information systems, devices, and applications (“systems”) to access, exchange, integrate, and use data cooperatively within and across organizational, regional, and national boundaries. Interoperability promotes timely and seamless information delivery and improves the health of individuals and populations worldwide. Data can be accessed and shared appropriately and securely across the entire spectrum of care, within all applicable settings, and with relevant stakeholders, including the individual, thanks to health data exchange architectures, application interfaces, and standards.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has proposed an Interoperability and Patient Access Rule, which includes new policies to improve access to health information and the seamless exchange of healthcare data. This rule will result in improved care coordination, improved patient outcomes, and lower costs. The proposed policies will aid in the removal of existing barriers to interoperability and will empower patients by providing them with access to their health information. The guidelines in this proposed rule address and impact all aspects of healthcare, from patients to providers to payers and researchers. The technology and standards will open up new avenues for industry and researchers while also improving healthcare quality for all Americans.
Interoperability is addressed in two ways by the Northeastern MS in Health Informatics program. To begin, many courses on health information management cover interoperability at some level. Second, Northeastern’s curriculum includes a course that focuses on building and maintaining interoperable systems. The Key Standards in Health Informatics faculty instructor is a member of HL7, the organization in charge of international interoperability standards. This faculty member’s industry experience, like that of other Northeastern faculty, provides real-world knowledge that helps students with networking and job searches.
Consumerization is the second health informatics trend.
Younger generations have grown up in an online world, from watching their favorite TV shows to applying for college to grocery shopping. However, many of them are still unable to go online to schedule a physical or a sick visit with their primary care physician (PCP) or to view the average ER wait time. People who grew up digitally will question the value of maintaining a relationship with a PCP who does not provide this level of visibility and ease when today’s consumer-centric options, such as a local pharmacy or urgent care center, allow for this level of visibility and ease.
With this in mind, Northeastern’s health informatics curriculum focuses on how providers and others can use existing and emerging technologies to promote open, proactive, two-way communication among hospitals, clinicians, patients, vendors, and other healthcare stakeholders.
Through an emerging partnership with the Society for Participatory Medicine, Northeastern’s Health Informatics graduate program is taking the lead in this work (SPM). Northeastern and SPM leaders are working together to create a course on participatory healthcare and its enabling technologies. Based on this course, MSHI students will understand the roles of each of the essential stakeholders in the healthcare environment—patient, healthcare provider, payer, pharmaceutical manufacturer, medical device company, pharmacy, and others. This course will also cover students’ professional responsibilities as well as the technological gaps that must be bridged for participatory medicine to reach its full potential.
Trend #3 in Health Informatics: Health Data Analytics
The digitization of clinical healthcare systems, combined with the explosion of personal data collection devices, offers the opportunity to use data to revolutionize approaches to care at all levels, with an emphasis on precision medicine and person-centered care. To capitalize on this Big Data opportunity, expertise in health informatics, data science, and computational modeling is required. Northeastern has added a course on Introduction to Health Data Analytics to address this. Other courses, such as Patient Engagement Informatics and Analytics and Claims Data Analysis, have also been added or proposed to help Northeastern students deal with this issue.
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