The Possibilities Abound
By Deshae Redden, EdD, MA, PMP, CIC
For The Record
Vol. 34 No. 4 P. 18
For those who obtain a degree in health informatics, a cornucopia of career options awaits.
From pharmaceuticals and insurance to clinics, hospitals, and nonprofits, hiring in health informatics is expected to grow 13% through 2026, making it one of the fastest-growing fields in the already-booming health care industry, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In addition, the health informatics field is a rewarding career option for people from a variety of professional backgrounds. In fact, 140 of 158 respondents who responded to a HIMSS survey said they were very satisfied with their career in health informatics.
This career choice presents opportunities to make a difference by improving health care management and patient outcomes. To top it off, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 77% of master’s program graduates report receiving a salary increase.
The growth of the internet and advances in data science have created a great need for experts who can bridge both worlds to develop new ways to collect, manage, and interpret health care data. Sitting at the intersection of IT and health care, a degree in health informatics prepares students to do just that.
With the rise in demand for telehealth services, remote patient monitoring, patient engagement, artificial intelligence–based drug discovery, precision medicine, and clinical decision support, the health informatics profession continues to grow and evolve. Beyond direct patient care and medical research, health informatics is playing an increasingly important role in monitoring and reporting on public health trends, influencing both policymakers and care providers.
The field offers so many diverse career pathways that there is something for nearly anyone with a health care background. Most career options can be broken into three categories: health care leadership, data analytics, and applied informatics.
Health Care Leadership
This career path combines IT and health care administration theory with real-world applications. Health care leadership is a great option for those looking to maintain a position hile adding new skills and education. It’s also an option for those looking to advance within the field. Positions in this area include the following:
Chief medical information officers (CMIOs) maintain an executive-level role that typically requires a Doctor of Medicine degree combined with an advanced degree in health informatics, health care administration, or business administration. This type of role frequently reports to the CIO and a senior vice president.
Oftentimes, the CMIO manages a caseload of patients on a part-time basis while spending the remaining time serving as the primary advisor to senior-level IT staff on the design and implementation of clinical information systems. Employers will expect candidates to solve complex problems, possess strong interpersonal skills, and have IT experience.
CMIOs are frequently responsible for serving on committees and must commit to ongoing professional development to stay on top of industry trends.
Chief nursing informatics officers (CNIO) typically need a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing and a master’s degree in health informatics, plus the necessary certifications as required by the hiring organization.
In most organizations, CNIOs report to the chief nursing officer and serve as the main advisor to the nursing informatics system. CNIOs help develop the organization’s mission and vision and have direct influence on nursing informatics strategies at the national level.
A successful CNIO is a self-starter with the ability to manage multiple projects while working to establish and maintain effective relationships with all stakeholders based on transparency and trust.
Directors of clinical information systems typically report to the CIO and vice president. Directors are responsible for the design, execution, and maintenance of clinical information systems. People in this position delegate information systems-based projects to team members and provide regular updates to senior leadership.
Experience in developing and administering department-level budgets is often required, along with the ability to establish and maintain effective working relationships with vendors.
Directors are responsible for ensuring the integrity and security of health care data and for developing appropriate safeguards and policies to prevent security breaches.
While a bachelor’s degree will often meet the minimum education requirements, a master’s degree in health informatics combined with a project management certification increases a candidate’s chances of landing the position.
A career in data analytics entails blending data analysis and IT to solve emerging problems in the delivery of care and services. Data analysts interpret and use data to communicate results and findings to solve health care problems across diverse settings.
It’s an ideal career path for professionals looking to work with numbers and can be a great fit for those seeking entry-level positions.
Data analyst positions require a bachelor’s degree in computer science, IT, or a related field. These professionals typically utilize data analysis systems and tools to gather, maintain, and store data; ensure data are collected and released in a manner consistent with regulatory requirements and company policy; develop and deliver reports for key stakeholders; and research, test, and recommend software purchases.
Data architect roles require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in computer information systems, IT, health informatics, or a related field. Typically, data architects develop and maintain databases to store critical information, troubleshoot and test existing systems, and oversee system enhancements.
In addition, data architects must stay on top of industry trends to be able to provide leadership with recommendations regarding new applications. They also train and support the professional development of team members.
Director of business informatics roles often require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. Candidates with a master’s degree in health informatics would be considered highly qualified. However, previous experience as a registered nurse or medical doctor increases marketability.
Directors of business informatics are responsible for developing and implementing audit strategy and are often responsible for leading a data analytics team. Employers look for experience with Medicare billing and a working knowledge of Medicaid. Previous management and consulting experience are helpful for anyone interested in this role.
Like health care leadership, this career path combines IT and health care administration theory with real-world application. Practitioners manage and analyze data for use in clinical decisions by patients and providers, as well as advance quality improvement efforts across health systems.
Roles in applied informatics are perfect for someone looking to transition out of their current role in health care. Positions in this area include medical officers, nurse informaticists, and program managers.
Medical officers should hold a master’s degree combined with a certification in project management. It is also beneficial for candidates to have previous experience providing patient care in both ambulatory and inpatient settings.
Medical officers must possess both clinical and technical expertise to help their clients improve the cost and quality of the care they deliver to patients. Candidates should have the following qualifications:
• working knowledge of and experience in multiple care modalities and quality best practices;
• familiarity with processing claims, insurance verification, and medical coding;
• clinical expertise to assist clients in improving their approach to public health;
• demonstrated knowledge of health informatics solutions;
• commitment to continuing education; and
• the ability to work effectively with multidisciplinary teams.
Nurse informaticist candidates should possess current registered nurse licensure, but it’s important to note that most organizations will prefer that applicants have earned a Bachelor of Science in nursing. A master’s degree in health informatics provides applicants with the technical skills needed to enter the field.
Nurse informaticists are expected to effectively evaluate and implement health care information systems, ensuring compliance with HIPAA and other organization-specific security standards. They should also be able to train and educate administrators and team members in the effective use of system tools and software. Nurse informaticists may also need to troubleshoot and resolve system issues while communicating planned downtimes to all stakeholders.
Most program manager positions require a bachelor’s degree in computer science, IT, management, or engineering. A master’s degree in health informatics increases the chances of employment and enhances the prospects for advancement.
Program managers are responsible for delegating and overseeing projects to team members. They also assess current programs and implement necessary changes to ensure objectives and quality standards are being met. In addition, program managers develop and administer budgets and project schedules. Maintaining up-to-date knowledge of industry trends and ensuring compliance with all regulatory agencies are other large tasks.
Even More Options
Career opportunities for health informaticists extend beyond those three options.
Consulting: These professionals help organizations implement and manage EHR and critical information systems, new technology, and quality assurance programs. Consultants specialize in a variety of areas, including clinical informatics, performance improvement, quality informatics, health IT, business analytics, and operations.
Supply chain: Health informatics supplies critical data to make supply chains work. Data analytics and advanced technology drive efficiency in today’s supply chain management. Supply chain managers use data and connected systems to drive strategic decision-making and improve operations and organizational performance. Positions include supply chain manager, director of materials management, contract administrator, director of sourcing, director of distribution operations, solution architect, and vice president of supply chain.
Reimbursement: Working in this area requires expanding the role of EHR systems to monitor provider practice, patient responsiveness, and operations. This has the potential to enhance accuracy and efficiency of reimbursement mechanisms and to improve the quality of health care. Positions include director of reimbursement, clinical quality improvement specialist, vice president of provider network operations, HIM manager, and applications analyst.
Cybersecurity: In this role, health informaticists help protect electronic information and assets from unauthorized access, use, and disclosure. Preventing data breaches and managing the aftermath should they occur are key responsibilities. Positions include health data security analyst, security officer, privacy officer, director of information security, director of security solutions, data privacy manager, cybersecurity analyst, and vice president of corporate compliance and risk.
Choosing a Program
For students looking to enter the health informatics field, it’s important to choose a degree program that will allow them to explore all available career options. It’s equally as important that the program leadership dedicates the time and resources to help students determine which career path is best for them.
Best practices for helping students navigate this path include the following:
• meeting with each student before they enter the program to establish a holistic and customized approach to their education. Use this meeting to determine each student’s skillset and interests to help them figure out what direction they should take with their career after graduation;
• making career strategists available to students throughout the entirety of the program; and
• providing guidance and awareness on where specific jobs can be found and what options students have at different types of organizations. This can come in the form of a career guide. To keep pace with the many changes occurring in health informatics, be sure to update research and documents regularly.
To create the career guide, establish an advisory board composed of professionals in various areas of health informatics to provide firsthand information and accounts of their experiences.
The advisory board helps ensure the relevancy and quality of academic programs. Serving as partners in community collaborations, board members can provide fresh insights, strong connections, access to valuable resources, guidance, and feedback. An advisory board can also promote postgraduation employment opportunities for students.
An advisory board composed of accomplished experts ensures the health informatics program has an industry-driven curriculum to meet current and future workforce needs. Additionally, an advisory board plays an essential role in improving academic curricula and program assessment to reflect the needs of the community and to prepare students to meet and succeed in current and future employer expectations.
When forming the board, academic leadership should consider the needs of students and how their knowledge and skill level will be measured. Once this has been determined, it’s possible to set learning outcomes and guide instruction and curriculum development. Relying on an advisory board is one of the best practices used to ensure an industry-driven program that prepares students for current and future career options.
Given the monumental growth expected in health informatics, there’s a responsibility to educate the next generation about career opportunities in this field.
— Deshae Redden, EdD, MA, PMP, CIC, is the director of Logan University’s Master of Science in Health Informatics program and director of strategic initiatives and continuous quality improvement. She’s also a member of the Quality Texas Foundation Board of Examiners and the Hope Dream Center board. Redden believes in inspiring and empowering individuals to use their strengths and unique abilities as a tool to achieve their goals. As an educator, she strives to learn from her students to improve her teaching, understanding, and connection with them to enhance their learning experience.