What Are Information Systems and How Do They Benefit Healthcare?

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A health informatics analyst studies data on a computer screen.

Today’s health care organizations rely on the ready availability of data. From patient health records to digitized reports of a hospital’s service utilization, there are many forms of information that decision-makers can use as they try to judiciously allocate resources and optimize patient care. For this information to be useful, however, it must be consolidated in a way that’s easy to manage, manipulate, and use. An information system makes this possible.

But what are information systems, exactly? What role do they play in improving health care efficiencies and outcomes? Those seeking a career in health informatics may benefit from reviewing the central role that information systems play in day-to-day administration and clinical operation.

One of the best ways to understand how information systems contribute value to health care organizations is to pursue an advanced degree in health informatics, where students master data management skills.

What Are Information Systems?

An information system provides a way for information to be stored, organized, and disseminated in an organization. Many information systems also enable automatic updates and data generation; for example, in a hospital setting, when a doctor makes changes to a patient’s health record, it may be automatically updated throughout the system, meaning anyone who accesses the file will see the doctor’s amendments. In smaller organizations, an information system may be a single computer program. In more complex organizations, including the majority of hospitals, information systems may involve a range of interlocking information security (IT) infrastructures, including different computer programs used throughout the organization.

Information systems exist to provide readily accessible, relevant data to key decision-makers. For example, an information system may offer up-to-date financial forecasts to help managers and administrators make business decisions. An information system may also deliver data about when certain departments see peak volume, allowing managers to make informed staffing decisions.

Information systems aren’t exclusive to health care. Small businesses can use transactional processing systems to guide their inventory purchases. A company may also use executive support systems to see where they need new employees. Both of these are examples of the practical uses of different information systems.

How Are Information Systems Applied in Health Care?

Several types of information systems are used in clinical settings, helping to support operational and administrative functions. A few examples include:

  • Electronic health records. Most health care facilities now use EHRs to keep track of specific patient histories. A patient’s record will include past diagnoses, treatments, test results and outcomes. This information can be readily accessed by attending physicians, helping them quickly get up to speed on a patient’s medical context. EHRs also make it easier to share a patient’s full medical history between specialists.
  • Practice management systems. From large hospitals to small practices, different medical organizations use practice management systems to automate repetitive administrative functions, including billing and scheduling.
  • Clinical decision support systems. By accessing a database of clinical information, providers can make guided decisions about how to treat, which tests to order, and which medications to prescribe.
  • Population health systems. A population health system helps an organization keep track of trend lines in its community. This can guide its efforts in disease prevention and also show which departments in the organization need the most robust staffing and resources.

While information systems come in many forms, they all serve the same essential function: to help health providers and administrators make judicious decisions about how to use their resources and target patient care.

Information Systems Career Opportunities

Today’s health care organizations are in need of professionals who can help configure, maintain, and implement these information systems, enabling full decision support. One way to embark on this career path is to enroll in the online Master of Science in Health Informatics program and the Health Data Science concentration at the University of Illinois at Chicago. This program provides a curriculum focused on the use of health information systems.

Those who attain this degree will have a number of potential career paths to choose from, including:

  • Health data analyst. Health data analysts gather and interpret data from a range of sources, such as billing information or insurance claims. They may support decision-making for a number of divisions or departments. The median annual salary of health data analysts was around $63,000 as of March 2020 according to PayScale.
  • Nursing informatics analyst. Nursing informatics analysts often work in more specialized roles, providing clinical decision support for a particular nursing team. The median annual salary of nursing informatics analysts was around $81,000 as of March 2020 according to PayScale.
  • Health informatics specialist. Health informatics specialists play a critical role, helping design and implement information systems in a health organization. According to PayScale, the median annual salary of health informatics specialists was around $63,500 as of March 2020.

Across fields, the employment outlook is strong. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that job growth for medical records and health information technicians, which includes analysts in health data, nursing informatics, and health informatics, will increase 11% between 2018 and 2028.

Learn More About Using Information Systems in Health Care

Those interested in a career involving health information systems should consider a specialized degree program, such as the online Master of Science in Health Informatics and the Health Data Science concentration at UIC. You’ll develop the skills needed to contribute to the success of a health care organization through the use of information and analytics, with courses focusing on mobile health informatics, informatics leadership, and more. Learn more about UIC and its role at the forefront of medical technology today.

Recommended Readings

University of Illinois at Chicago Blog, “Becoming a Pharmacist in Informatics”
University of Illinois at Chicago Blog, “Big Data and Wearable Health Monitors: Harnessing the Benefits and Overcoming Challenges”
University of Illinois at Chicago Blog, “Data Analytics and Informatics in Health Care: 5 Tools Professionals Should Know”


Digital Guardian, “What Is a Health Information System?”
HealthCatalyst, “Healthcare Information Systems: A Look at the Past, Present, and Future”
PayScale, Average Health Data Analyst Salary
PayScale, Average Health Informatics Specialist Salary
PayScale, Average Nursing Informatics Analyst Salary
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Medical and Health Services Managers
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Medical Records and Health Information Technicians