3.2

What Does the Future Hold for Health Informatics?

Data is the lifeblood of health care. That data takes many forms: It includes the number of immunizations performed in each state; how many patients in a large medical practice have elevated blood glucose readings; and how many hospital inpatients have been billed under each International Classification of Disease (ICD) code. Without this kind of data, the health care industry could not function. But this large amount of data would be impossible to manage without technology and the professionals who understand how to translate it into actionable strategies to improve health outcomes.

Most administrators and clinicians lack the expertise to effectively collect, store and interpret this data, which explains why career opportunities for health informatics professionals have never been more promising.

Why Is Health Informatics Expanding So Rapidly?

To understand why we need health informatics professionals — particularly individuals capable of managing teams of those professionals — we also need to understand what this field actually encompasses.

According to the National Library of Medicine, health care informatics is the interdisciplinary study of the design, development, adoption and application of IT-based innovations in health care services, delivery, management and planning. That definition covers a wide range of professional responsibilities and employment paths. Roles in the health informatics field include:

  • Chief information officer (CIO)
  • Chief medical informatics officer (CMIO)
  • Chief security information officer (CSIO)
  • Nursing informatics specialist
  • Network administrator
  • Software engineer
  • Computer scientist
  • Systems analyst
  • IT consultant
  • Technical support professional

These and many other positions are needed to help develop new mobile medical apps, protect electronic records systems from data breaches, analyze patient satisfaction surveys to improve quality of care, manage hardware and software updates in medical practices, and create statewide databases to conduct disease surveillance. They will play a crucial role in improving health care delivery by utilizing information to make sound decisions.

The Link Between Legislature and Demand for Health Care Informatics

Health informatics has captured the attention of clinical, administrative and public health leaders around the nation as they realize its potential to solve problems that have vexed these fields for decades. But these are not the only interested groups: The broader field of health IT has also generated the attention of national policymakers and decision-makers across the political spectrum. That rare convergence of interests has resulted in several well-funded federal initiatives that have turned information technology — and health informatics in particular — into one of the major pillars of the nation’s identity.

A closer look at legislation illustrates the emerging role of IT in health care. The American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) of 2009 laid the groundwork for a program designed to equip hospitals and medical practices around the country with electronic health record systems. Called the Meaningful Use program, it has provided financial incentives to health care organizations to install these computerized systems. More specifically, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is making $27 billion available to medical practices and hospitals with the hope that all eligible practitioners will take advantage of the funding to improve access to patient data. This has resulted in an explosion of electronic health records (EHR) companies to meet the need and has generated countless jobs for software engineers, analysts and related IT positions.