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Careers in Health Informatics
For a description of health informatics
medical knowledge continues to explode and technology advances, the healthcare
industry has struggled to successfully adopt available technology to improve
many experts believe has left the industry in terms of technology adoption
about ten years behind other industries, despite reports stating that
technology can improve patient safety and clinical workflow, and invariably cut
down medical errors.
factors have been proposed for the lag in healthcare technology adoption,
amongst which include huge investment requirements and end user resistance. End
user resistance usually stems from poor system design resulting in highly
complex or unsuitable user interfaces, lack of adequate training for the end
users and lack of involvement or poor integration of input of healthcare
professionals in all stages of the technology adoption.
has also been hampered by the fact that many healthcare IT projects, especially
government led projects, have a high failure rate, leading to those opposed to
technology adoption, pointing out that the amount of money poured into these
projects could be have been well spent on improving other aspects of patient
recently there has been an increased push from several governments around the
world to have healthcare organisations successfully adopt current technologies.
The United States government
in 2003 and 2004 has been vocal to recommending the adoption of technology to
reduce medical errors and made moves to make the healthcare technology
standard, SNOMED CT, freely available to within the United States.
the British government through its National Programme for IT (NPfIT) has set
aside $3.5 billion in the period of 2003 – 2008 to make availability of
essential information easier to healthcare professions in order to improve the
delivery of health services. Similar projects are also ongoing in Canada and Australia.
these have increased the need for the skilled professionals who understand the
both the healthcare and information technology environments. This is a role
that would be well suited for the health or medical informatics professionals.
suggesting that by 2006, healthcare IT spending in the US would surpass the $15
billion and healthcare is one of the two industries to show the strongest
growth in IT spending in the years 2003 and 2004, the prospects for a career in
health informatics is very good.
organisations such as the National Health Service in the United Kingdom have
increased their drive to employ health informatics professions and have
reportedly had problems in recruiting and retaining qualified staff.
informatics is a broad field and covers areas such as electronic medical
records, access to knowledge-based information and digital libraries, digital
imaging systems, telemedicine, clinical decision support, health policy and
decision making, and much more.
provides health informatics professionals with opportunities to move between
and outside various clinical settings, work closely with a variety of health
professional teams and form the hub of information systems and networks within
healthcare organisations. All these enable the health informatics professional
to operate in a more dynamic role than those usually found with other
professions the healthcare sector.
following are some of the areas in which health informatics professionals can
Hospitals and other healthcare providers: As more healthcare organisations begin to implement information and electronic
medical records systems, they need professionals to help in its implementation
and management, as well as analyse the information contained within the system
and make it readily available using knowledge management skills.
Health informatics professionals would be needed to aid in the analysis of the
information gathered from the reports on drugs use and prescribing patterns.
Medical software companies:
They usually hire people with strong programming skills and good knowledge of
the healthcare sector.
Consulting companies: Such companies usually advice and assist healthcare organisations with
development and implementation of information systems and providing knowledge
Public health organisations: Information on populations and communities need to be collected and analysed.
The design and implementation of surveillance systems and disease reporting
system are so carried out by public health organisations.
Government and Non-governmental agencies: These agencies are involved in carrying out health planning and analysis of
information at several levels of government and on the international stage. In
the process tons of information is analysed and stored and made readily
available for retrieval when needed.
Insurance companies: Work here would usually involve the analysis of health insurance claims and
here would usually require candidates to have an advanced degree and some
experience in teaching.
Coiera, a prominent health informatics expert defined the field as “the study
of how medical knowledge is created, shaped, shared and applied.” Hence the general skills that would be required in health
informatics should include not only the ability to analyse medical information
but be able to communicate that information as medical knowledge.
Coiera in his paper titled
Medical informatics meets medical education: There's more to understanding information than
technology, published in the Medical Journal of Australia in 1998, listed the following
skills as the essentials skills required by any budding health informatician.
the dynamic and uncertain nature of medical knowledge and know how to keep
personal knowledge and skills up-to-date
for and assess knowledge according to the statistical basis of scientific
some of the logical and statistical models of the diagnostic process
uncertain clinical data and deal with artefact and error
and structure clinical decisions in terms of risks and benefits
and apply clinical knowledge to the individual circumstances of patients
assess, select and apply a treatment guideline; adapt it to local
circumstances; and communicate and record variations in treatment plan and
and record clinical data in a form appropriate for the immediate clinical task,
for communication with colleagues, or for epidemiological purposes
and utilize the most appropriate communication method for a given task (eg,
face-to-face conversation, telephone, e-mail, video, voice-mail, letter)
and communicate messages in a manner most suited to the recipient, task and
chosen communication medium.
skills highlighted above for specifically for practicing clinicians considering
pursuing a career in medical informatics. However health informatics has grown
in the past few years and continues to grow and thus along the way has begun to
encompass some areas which were not previously considered part of health
informatics. For instance, the National Health Service in the UK has
included all its IT services, including IT support, as being under the
jurisdiction of health informatics.
must be mentioned that there are those who wonder if people who work in the IT
departments of healthcare providers should be included under the umbrella of
thing is clear though, the field of health informatics is now so diverse and
the skills and knowledge required varies from job to job. Below of just some of
the groups of skills that would be useful to have to pursue a career in health
Understanding of the healthcare industry:
This is a strong requirement and it might be important to demonstrate knowledge
of organization culture, financing and management.
Communication skills: This is particularly important as
health informaticians tend to act as a bridge to and communicate information to
colleagues, clinicians and non clinicians, patients and members of the general
Strategic planning and management skills and leadership: This is required in senior
positions as health informaticians assist healthcare organizations in
formulation and implementation of their healthcare IT strategies.
Information technology: Technical skills in the use of, implementation and maintenance of clinical
information systems are very useful skills that many healthcare organisations
look on favourably.
Information analysis and organisation: These skills are usually required for knowledge management positions.
Health care professional training: Some of the roles available in health informatics do require some form of
healthcare professional training. These roles tend to be senior roles and roles
Knowledge of system infrastructure design and networking: These skills are particularly useful in top-level design of information
Programming skills: Strong skills in programming languages such as C++, C, Java, Visual Basic, C#,
HTML are particularly required for software engineering roles in medical
software companies and healthcare organisations.
started in health informatics would usually require formal training in health
informatics. Those sought favourably are those from a clinical background who
have had some formal health informatics training with some clinical experience.
Many organisations believe that the business knowledge possessed by these set
of people is more important than any technical skills as it makes the learning
have along the way of their career acquired some IT skills are also looked upon
favourably but they might be called to show they can transfer those skills to a
For those with
clinical experience and no IT expertise or those with computer sciences degrees
looking to get into health informatics, some form of postgraduate training in
health informatics is probably the best route to follow.
are some aspects of health informatics which usually do not require
postgraduate training. These areas, which include positions in medical coding
and medical transcription, require a strong understanding of medical
terminology. There are some various courses available for those looking to get
into these areas.
There are far
more academic training programs available now than they were five years ago,
with more academic institutions planning to roll out their programs. Depending
on educational needs and career aspirations of those looking to seek to gain a
career in health information. These program can vary from short courses, such
as that offered by the National Library of Medicine
and Stanford University, Graduate Certificate Programs through to academic
programs that offer degrees at masters and doctorate level. A list of academic
programs can be viewed
Jobs titles to
look out for searching for a job in health informatics vary greatly, meaning
that there are a lot on hidden opportunities out there, so one would have to
actively seek them out.
have been set up as a result of the increasing demand for professionals who
have completed a health informatics program, and some of the career paths
opportunities that are possible after a program completion can be viewed