Health information comes from a variety of sources. It encompasses patient histories, test results, provider’s notes and even numbers from health apps and wearable devices. Combined, these numbers create one of the most powerful resources available to the professionals who provide patient care: big data. However, from the point of gathering that data to actually being able to take action to improve patient care, there is a lot that must be done with the information to obtain maximum efficacy.
With the growing amount of data being used in healthcare, there are an increasing number of careers and specializations that focus on working with this information to ensure that it is leveraged correctly. If you are interested in working with data in the healthcare setting, there are a number of fields in which you can choose to work, including two closely related career paths: health informatics or health information management.
Better understanding the similarities and differences between these two fields can help you to make an educated decision about the next steps you should take in your data career.
What is health informatics?
ealth informatics (HI) is the science behind many of the most important data systems used in healthcare today, including electronic health records and electronic medical records. The U.S. National Library of Medicine defines the specialty as “the interdisciplinary study of the design, development, adoption, and application of IT-based innovations in healthcare services delivery, management, and planning.”
Health Informatics is the intersection of information technology and healthcare, in which professionals work to not only analyze patient data, but to create new and improved ways of collecting, storing and managing this data, ultimately with the goal of improving outcomes, increasing efficiency and decreasing costs.
As such, it is a varied field that involves a number of diverse components, as pointed out by Dr. Spyros Kitsiou, Assistant Professor, Biomedical and Health Information Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
“Health Informatics, I would have to say is a multi-disciplinary profession,” Kitsiou said. “It encompasses a number of other professions, medicine, nursing and other professions within the health sciences, but also computer science, information technology, business management.”
As such, health informatics professionals come from a variety of backgrounds, from clinical settings, such as nursing and pharmacy practice, to more information-driven fields, such as computer science.
The daily responsibilities of an informatics professional in most healthcare settings include the following:
- Designing information systems.
- Evaluate effectiveness of existing health informatics processes.
- Evaluate impact of information on clinical processes.
- Facilitating communication between departments regarding IT requirements and other regulatory matters.
- Implementing tools to make patient care and processes more effective through data use.
Professionals who work in health informatics generally begin in a role such as clinical analyst or informatics specialist, and can advance to a number of leadership positions, including health informatics manager and health informatics director. As a diverse field, it offers a number of career paths for qualified professionals who want to make a difference in the way healthcare data is approached and leveraged.
What is health information management?
Though health information management (HIM) is very similar to health informatics, the two areas of studies differ in a several distinct ways. The largest point of divergence is that while HI focuses on what goes on behind-the-scenes to develop these data tools, HIM professionals work more closely with the actual application of the systems that are created by HI professionals.
The American Health Information Management Association defines health information management as “the practice of acquiring, analyzing, and protecting digital and traditional medical information vital to providing quality patient care.” It involves not only the daily operations of using and troubleshooting databases and similar technology, but also using these strategies to improve the care that is provided to patients every day and ensuring that any collected information is secure and protected.
En route to this goal, daily responsibilities of those who work in HIM include protecting patient health information, which can include lab results, imaging scans, medical histories, nursing notes and more. Other responsibilities include the following:
- Managing patient data.
- Coding information to obtain reimbursement.
- Ensuring compliance with government regulations for data.
- Providing staff with proper access to medical information.
- Protecting the security and privacy of patient health data.
Health Information Management (HIM) professionals generally begin working in positions such as HIM privacy analyst, outpatient coder and biller or compliance officer, and can advance to leadership roles, including health information management director and data quality manager. Some professionals even advance to positions in the C-suite, taking prominent roles such as chief privacy officer or chief compliance officer.
Which degree is right for your career?
Now that you understand the difference between HI and HIM one question remains – which specialty is right for you? Though both involve many similar elements, including regular use of patient data, the daily responsibilities and goals are very different, so it is important to think through what you want your work day to look like before you move forward with either one.
The big question to consider is whether you are more interested in the back-end work – such as design and analysis – of these health care systems, or their use. If the science and theory behind the way data is collected and leveraged intrigues you and you want to be responsible for thinking of new ideas for these tasks, then health informatics is likely the choice for you. But if you would rather use these systems to create a practical and immediate impact on patient care and protect the information from outside threats, then a career in health information management may be the better option.
Still not sure which choice is better suited to your passions and skill set? Consider requesting an informational interview with a professional currently working in each field. This type of meeting will allow you to gather more information while hearing first-hand about the requirements and activities of different positions from someone who is currently working in these industries.
To take the next step in your career working with health information, consider enrolling in an online program through the University of Illinois at Chicago. If you are interested in health informatics, consider the Master of Science in Health Informatics or Post-Master’s Certificate in Health Informatics.
If you are more interested in health information management, you can choose from the Bachelor of Science in Health Information Management or Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Health Information Management. Call the admissions department today to learn more about what choice may be right for you.