Healthcare is quickly becoming a data-focused industry, with vast quantities of information generated through patient records, clinical databases, diagnostic reports, equipment software, and other sources. Health information is used not only to follow a specific patient’s progress and recommend treatments but also to examine health trends in larger populations and determine medical best practices. Health data is necessary to medical coding, billing, and administration processes.
As medical data is increasingly digitized, healthcare organizations have a growing need for dedicated data professionals to make sure that health records are protected, accurate, and efficiently utilized. This is essential to the core goals of providing high-quality care and avoiding unnecessary expenditures. It also helps providers maintain the privacy of patient records, which can include information ranging from treatment records, vital signs, and X-rays to financial, demographic, and identification data.
Two data roles necessary to health organizations are health information managers and health informatics specialists. What is health information management (HIM) vs. health informatics? HIM professionals ensure that data is being properly gathered and disseminated and that daily workflows go smoothly, while health informatics specialists create tools that analyze health data to enable decision-making.
Data- and technology-related jobs in the healthcare industry are blossoming as the volume of unstructured health data continues to grow and as health organizations face increased pressure to lower costs and safeguard data against cyberattacks. Individuals looking to advance their careers in high-demand health data management or informatics fields would benefit from pursuing an advanced degree in health data services, such as an online Master of Science in Health Information Management.
What Is Health Informatics Management?
Health informatics is the design and application of technology tools to aggregate and analyze health data. The science of health informatics revolves around information systems that acquire, record and store health information and medical records. The field is a combination of computer science, data management, medical care, and cognitive studies.
Health informatics provides the data analysis tools that enable health information managers to improve the quality of care. Health informatics systems enhance both care delivery and health outcomes by facilitating better communication and coordination of care among providers. For instance, informatics programs might facilitate the seamless sharing of records between a chronically ill patient’s cardiologist and endocrinologist. They could also allow a general practitioner to provide personalized health education to a patient based on risk factors and demographic characteristics.
Informatics can help fill gaps between clinical processes and technology programs. As physicians increased their use of electronic health records (EHRs), organizations adopted digital tools to organize and interpret various elements of patient records. Informatics systems can reduce clutter and help doctors and managers focus on important data.
Health Informatics Specializations
The rapid evolution of technology tools is fueling the demand for health informatics professionals. Nursing informatics and physician informatics are emerging as high-demand specialties.
Nursing informatics professionals work to improve patient safety by connecting clinical and technological perspectives. The nursing informatics role helps nursing departments streamline workflows and establish best practices via effective data structures and processes. Informatics tools have improved efficiencies in EHR systems and computerized provider order entry (CPOE) system procedures, resulting in lower costs and fewer medical errors. Informatics can also help nurses communicate and coordinate with professionals in other clinical disciplines.
Nursing informatics professionals often have clinical nursing experience, which helps amplify the clinician’s perspective in the establishment of technology systems. Nursing informatics is among the top-paying nursing fields, and these professionals are valued by employers and have strong job satisfaction rates, according to the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS).
The field of physician informatics (or medical informatics) involves health informatics tools for doctors and can focus on either clinical work or research. Professionals in the field of clinical physician informatics act as liaisons between doctors and IT professionals to solve data issues. Informatics systems allow physicians to quickly access and draw insights from critical patient documentation, research best practices based on patient and population characteristics and recommend individualized treatments. Clinical informaticists also help improve patient experiences via patient portals.
Clinical Research Informatics
Clinical research informatics tools help physicians uncover health and disease trends, such as medication efficacy among patients with specific genetic traits or socioeconomic characteristics.
Biomedical informatics is focused on research processes, including life science studies and clinical trials. Bioinformatics systems help researchers draw analytical conclusions from biomedical data, including genomic data.
Other Health Informatics Fields
Other fields of health informatics include pharmacist informatics (medication safety), public health informatics (disease tracking and prevention), and applied informatics (electronic data workflows).
Health Informatics Curriculum
Individuals pursuing a career in health informatics need to understand general information technology concepts, as well as the specific tools and processes used to record health information. With a health informatics degree, graduates can pursue careers that focus on computer systems, tech implementation, data analytics, clinical processes or medical research.
Health Informatics Courses
A Master of Science in Health Informatics, such as the program offered by the University of Illinois at Chicago, includes a range of core and elective courses that will create a solid foundation in health-specific information sciences. Examples of health informatics curriculum courses include:
This course gives an overview of different communication systems used by health professionals to interact with each other, broader organizations, patients, and the public.
Information Sources in Biomedical and Health Information Sciences
This course helps students understand how to find research information sources and evaluate their value in healthcare studies.
Social and Organizational Issues in Health Informatics
This course examines how information systems impact health organizations. Students apply theories by analyzing case studies.
Healthcare Information Systems
Students examine IT systems used by healthcare organizations and how effectively they are leveraged.
Healthcare Data Analytics
Students create and analyze data sets, transforming the information into meaningful insights that contribute to care delivery transformation and improved health outcomes.
Mobile Health Informatics
This course explores the use of mobile applications in informatics studies, such as how fitness tracker data can be used to identify health patterns and trends.
Programming for Health Analytics
Students are introduced to coding languages commonly used in healthcare data science, such as Python.
Healthcare Data Visualization
This course covers data visualization fundamentals and explores the effective presentation of healthcare data analysis, such as through dashboards.
Health Informatics Career Outlook
The career outlook for health informatics is strong as hospitals deal with larger quantities of raw digital data. Health networks need to be able to process and understand data efficiently to avoid errors and delays and to maintain top-quality patient satisfaction rates.
Individuals who pursue careers in health informatics are focused on the technical aspects of health information management. Informaticists work with the IT software systems that store patient data, developing ways to surface actionable knowledge from unstructured data sets. These professionals also support patient care decisions by interpreting complex data sets. They make sure that data is collected and utilized in a way that adheres to clinical standards and best practices.
One major job task is the implementation of EHR systems, which combine all of the various aspects of a patient’s data into one record and all patient records into one repository. While most hospitals have adopted EHR practices, many are not extracting the full value of their records systems. This trend is driving the demand for informatics professionals in hospitals and other settings utilizing EHRs, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. EHRs need to be customized so that clinicians can make accurate and fast decisions and so that administrators can easily extract and evaluate data on past actions.
Salaries and Titles
- The median annual salary for health informatics specialists is about $64,000, according to March 2020 data from PayScale.
- Health informatics specialists who rise in their profession to become chief information officers (CIOs) can earn substantially more. The median annual salary for CIOs is about $160,000, according to March 2020 data from PayScale.
- Other job titles in the industry include:
- Informatics analyst
- Informatics director
- Data analyst
- Systems analyst
- Information services director
- Nursing informatics specialist
- Pharmacy informatics specialist
Informatics Certifications and Associations
Professionals can gain an employment edge by applying for the Certified Health Data Analyst (CHDA) credential. The CHDA exam can be taken after an individual gains experience in healthcare data management or earns an advanced degree in health informatics from a school that is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education (CAHIIM). Holding the title of CHDA indicates that an informatics specialist has mastered data management, analysis and transformation skills.
Several professional organizations support health informatics professionals. Joining a group such as the Health Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), the American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA), or the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) could help students in their career searches once they’ve graduated with an informatics degree.
What Is the Difference Between Health Informatics and Health Information Management?
The difference between health informatics and health information management (HIM) lies in their focus areas. Each role contributes to the successful implementation of healthcare data systems in different ways. While health informatics is focused on the information technology side of healthcare, HIM is focused on the organization of health data. An informaticist might create a dashboard tracking medical supply inventories, for instance, while the HIM professional uses the dashboard to determine whether purchasing procedures are being followed.
Health informatics deals with how technology can be applied to improving healthcare processes and data flows. Health informaticists create tools for health practitioners that are intended to be intuitive and easy to use, allowing medical professionals to increase the safety and efficiency of care. Health informatics impacts consumer engagement by creating tools that allow patients to access and understand their health records. In addition, health informatics facilitates the use of mobile health (mHealth), which allows health professionals and patients to access medical data via mobile applications.
What Is HIM?
In contrast, HIM centers on the management of patient data and other health information. This includes ensuring that data is collected accurately and is organized in a way that facilitates enhanced care processes. HIM professionals use the tools created by informatics specialists to gain insights into patient care trends, purchasing and billing efficiencies, and other daily functions of care facilities. HIM works to improve clinical standards and patient outcomes through data analysis, security and quality monitoring processes.
HIM specialists are also deeply involved in the implementation of EHRs. Once an EHR system has been established, health information managers are responsible for using the data to help improve clinical results. Because EHR systems typically include data from a number of recordkeeping applications and processes, proper integration of the data—a job for HIM specialists—is essential for an accurate depiction of a patient’s health.
Making sure that doctors and nurses have access to the right information—in EHRs and other systems—to make the best decisions for patient care is a critical component of HIM. Health information managers are responsible for ensuring that disease classifications and treatment codes are standardized across organizations. In addition to recordkeeping applications, EHRs can serve as the backbone for quality tracking, outcomes reporting and evidence-based decision support tools.
Health Information Management Curriculum
An advanced degree in health information management, such as the University of Illinois at Chicago’s online Master of Science in Health Information Management, teaches individuals how to help healthcare organizations protect private patient records and improve health outcomes. This is achieved through improved information workflows, effective data management strategies and increased understanding of data analytics.
Through program coursework, students gain theoretical foundations in HIM, including recordkeeping, medical coding, quality standards and data security. They also learn practical applications for HIM such as medical records management, compliance tracking and data quality oversight.
Health Information Management Courses
A Master of Science in Health Information Management curriculum covers a range of health and data science subjects to prepare students for healthcare leadership roles in data management. Examples of courses that will give students a strong foundation in health data principles include:
Health Information Management Theory and Practice
Students gain an overview of what has included inpatient health records, such as medical histories and diagnostic imaging results, and related records management systems.
Quality Management and Data Analysis
This course covers how quality and effectiveness are measured in healthcare settings, as well as methods of improvement. It also includes research statistics and data visualization concepts.
Legal Aspects, Risk Management and Security of Health Information
In this computer-intensive course, students examine how law, ethics and confidentiality apply to patient records. They also explore risk management concepts for clinical data systems.
Health Information Systems Analysis and Design
This course covers the collection, management, and analysis of medical data. Students gain advanced knowledge in healthcare IT systems and the tools used for systems design and analysis.
Other HIM-focused courses include Principles of Management and Human Resources, Healthcare Vocabularies and Clinical Classification Systems, Healthcare Revenue Cycle and Compliance, and Executive Healthcare Financial Management.
Health Information Management Career Outlook
Health information managers are essential elements in keeping a healthcare organization running smoothly. They make sure patient data is properly recorded and tracked so that doctors and nurses can conduct daily operations without difficulty.
The field of HIM requires education and professional skills in business, science, healthcare, information technology and patient care elements. The health information management career outlook is encouraging. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects the employment of medical and health services managers to grow 18% between 2018 and 2028, much faster than the average growth of 5% for all occupations.
HIM Salaries and Titles
- The median annual pay for medical and health services managers, including health information managers and clinical managers, was $99,730 in 2018, according to the BLS.
- Other HIM job titles include:
- Compliance officer
- Data quality manager
- Revenue cycle manager
- HIM analyst
- HIM director
HIM Certifications and Associations
Some health organizations require health information professionals to have a Registered Health Information Administrator (RHIA) credential, which can be earned after completing a CAHIIM-accredited HIM degree. The RHIA credential indicates expertise in medical processes and classifications; health record collection, management and analysis; and data systems administration.
Several professional organizations support health information managers. Joining a group such as the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) or the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) could help students in their career searches once they’ve graduated with an HIM degree.
Making the Choice: Health Informatics vs. Health Information Management
Pursuing a career in health informatics vs. health information management boils down to whether an individual is more technically or operationally inclined. Each field provides an opportunity to contribute to the enhancement of healthcare delivery, and both are necessary for successful data systems in health organizations.
Health informaticists and HIM professionals have career options in large health networks, community hospitals, physician groups, nursing homes, clinics, and other care locations. Health informaticists might work more closely with the IT department, making sure that development processes consider clinicians’ needs. HIM managers work more closely with administrators, operational staff, and clinicians, connecting these essential health facility members via technology tools. Salaries fall within a similar range across career fields: approximately $64,000 for health informatics specialists, $100,000 for health information managers, and $160,000 for chief information officers (CIOs).
Job Responsibilities and Skills
Both HIM and health informatics roles are essential in the implementation of EHRs and other core data systems, but each has specific tasks to complete in the process. Health information managers are engaged in daily facility workflows, such as:
- Clinical data collection
- Patient-generated data
- Medical coding
- Disease classification
To ensure that data is collected accurately and is processed into actionable insights, HIM professionals must have skills in the following areas:
- Data analytics interpretation
- Quality management
- Policy implementation
- Systems analysis
- Resource allocation
Health informatics professionals are engaged in more tech-focused workflows, such as:
- Unstructured data processing
- Data storage
- Data visualization
- Systems design and development
- Information dissemination
- Applications design
To make sure that informatics tools are intuitive to the needs of clinicians, informaticists should have skills in the following areas:
- Software programming
- Database management
- Project management
- Data analysis
- Cognitive science
- Interface design
Ultimately, health informatics and HIM professionals share the goal of improving a healthcare organization’s ability to use data to achieve core operational objectives, such as improved quality outcomes, patient satisfaction, and cost-control efficiencies.
Pursuing a Career in Health Information Management
Students and health professionals who are interested in improving patient outcomes, facilitating medical records system enhancements, and analyzing complex data sets to support care decisions can benefit from pursuing an advanced degree in health information sciences. In this kind of program, they can gain the technical and operational knowledge to become influential leaders in the shifting healthcare landscape. Rapid developments in digital healthcare data systems will continue to drive the need for health information specialists with the targeted skills an advanced degree can provide.
Learn more about how the University of Illinois at Chicago’s online Master of Science in Health Information Management can help individuals pursue their professional goals in healthcare information fields.
AAP News, “Increasing Complexity of EHR Data Drives Field of Clinical Informatics”
American Health Information Management Association, Certified Health Data Analyst
American Health Information Management Association, Registered Health Information Administrator
American Health Information Management Association, What Is Health Information?
American Medical Informatics Association, What Is Informatics?
Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, “Five Growing Health Information and Technology Jobs”
Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, Healthcare Informatics
Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, What Are Electronic Health Records (EHRs)?
Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, What Is Nursing Informatics?
PayScale, Average Chief Information Officer (CIO) Salary
PayScale, Average Health Informatics Specialist Salary
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, Medical and Health Services Managers