A Health Informatics Specialist is not on the front lines of healthcare. Generally, you won't find them roaming the halls of hospitals or interacting with patients. But, as computers and technology become increasingly ubiquitous, they play a critical role in the medical care we all receive. Health Informatics Specialists develop the information systems that all sectors of the medical establishment count on to guide their efforts to provide effective, top-quality care as efficiently as possible.

What is Health Informatics?

Health informatics is one of several new science fields that sit at the intersection of science and medicine. It involves the methodical application of information, technology and computer science to healthcare with the ultimate goal of improving patient care by increasing the effectiveness of treatment and the efficiency of its delivery. Health Informatics Specialists work with other healthcare professionals to design, develop and assess ways to collect, share, standardize and integrate health data and the information systems used to manage it, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which lists health informatics specialist as one of the agency's most common jobs.

How is Health Informatics Different from Health Information?

While the fields are very similar, there are some key differences between health information and health informatics. Basically, the health information field focuses on maintaining records and managing day-to-day activities. People can enter the health information technology field with an associates degree, often working in jobs that require the input and retrieval of records for care and billing purposes. Positions in health care information management typically require a bachelor's degree and add supervisory or management responsibilities the mix. While Health Informatics Specialists may have some of these same tasks in their job descriptions, they also look beyond the collection and maintenance of data. Their jobs may require them to analyze the data to uncover more effective ways to deliver care or to examine the system itself to pinpoint better ways to get the information doctors and nurses rely on to them more efficiently.

What Education is Required to Become a Health Informatics Specialist?

Health informatics professionals have either a bachelor's degree or a master's degree. Many colleges and universities have developed specialized programs to meet the growing demand. The coursework for these degree programs will include a blend of information technology and healthcare topics, as well as discussions about ethical and legal issues that pertain to this field. To find a reputable program, interested students can visit the Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Health Information Management Education website. The American Medical Informatics Association, a professional group for people in the informatics field, also provides a list of educational programs on its website.

Where Do Health Informatics Specialists Work?

Many Health Informatics Specialists work for hospitals, providing technical support to the staff, monitoring the security of the hospital's computer network and databases, providing analysis, and helping to develop policies and procedures. Others work in analytical positions for government agencies. Possible employers also include private companies who develop software and other equipment for medical use and insurance companies. The field is evolving and people who wish to advance will find opportunities for supervisory and management positions.

Related Resource: Health Information Manager

With the nation's aging population, the demand for medical care is projected to grow steadily. Federal laws mandating that the medical community begin to shift towards electronic health records means the need for technologically proficient professionals is also increasing. For people interested in healthcare and technology, the job of a Health Informatics Specialist is worth investigating.