What is Healthcare Informatics?

John B Landers

Healthcare informatics is a field and general discipline that is basically a combination of information technology and healthcare. It is made up primarily of computer systems and software programs with the main goal of developing more efficient and intuitive ways of controlling stored health information, managing clinical workflow tasks, and improving the general security of healthcare information. This sort of informatics is largely bound up in technology, but also requires a high degree of specialization for the world of medicine. In certain respects it’s similar to other sorts of informatics, like for sales or business operations, but in others — particularly where privacy and data sensitivity are concerned — it’s really different. It also must evolve as quickly as both technology and healthcare do, which often means that it’s constantly changing.

Healthcare informatics integrates computer technology and medicine.
Healthcare informatics integrates computer technology and medicine.

Major Objectives

Informatics generally looks for ways of using technology to simplify data and information sets, and things are no different in the healthcare realm. The biggest distinction between this and other related fields is the nature of the information being stored and accessed.

Creating a standardized electronic system for health history information is part of the aim of healthcare informatics.
Creating a standardized electronic system for health history information is part of the aim of healthcare informatics.

One of the biggest objectives of healthcare informatics is to formulate a standard approach for healthcare internationally. This ideally would include a streamlined system for storing health information in almost all forms. Data is organized as related to patients, to different diseases and treatments, and to practices and advice, then it is made more or less universally available. Researchers, providers, and patients are all involved in different degrees. In an ideal system the different informatics tools, techniques, concepts, and protocols will influence not just how care is provided, but may help shape best practices in diagnosing and treating patients, too.

A health information technician works with doctors and hospital staff to ensure all patients receive the best care possible through review of informatics.
A health information technician works with doctors and hospital staff to ensure all patients receive the best care possible through review of informatics.

Technology Involved

In most cases a lot of different tools are used together in order to create the needed networks and infrastructures. Computers and software programs are some of the most common, but a range of Internet networking devices, online communications platforms, and cloud storage systems come into the mix depending on provider and individual capabilities.

The tools needed aren’t limited just to information technology, though. Systems must also allow for the assimilation of clinical directives, an understanding of formal medical jargon, the storage of data, and the transmission of clear communication. Medical informatics can be applied in all types of health environments, including primary care, general practice, hospital care, and rehabilitation. It is also inclusive of many of the specialties within the healthcare field.

Operating Efficiencies

These sorts of information systems may be used to create greater operating efficiencies in three basic functions of healthcare: clinical, administrative, and financial. For example, healthcare informatics is pivotal in the movement to cut costs and enhance patient care by implementing a standardized system for electronic medical records. It is also a key to expanding the development health information systems for billing, clinical research, client scheduling, and the exchange of medical information.

Medical professionals can also take advantage of these sorts of systems as a way to try and make better decisions. Health-related knowledge seems to grow exponentially, and many informatics platforms include what is known as “clinical decision support systems” (CDSS). CDSS are designed to help practitioners stay on top of new trends and diagnostic patterns. Related tools called “electronic prescribing systems” (EPS) eliminate the need for hand-written prescriptions and minimize errors. Informatics also allow for data mining to determine the effectiveness of drugs, which may reduce the cost of treatments, lessen mistakes, and help further advancements in the quality of care.

Important Challenges

Many experts agree that one of the field's biggest challenges is getting medical providers committed to the widespread implementation of the various information technology components. Universal accessibility and streamlining can make things more efficient, but only if the systems are designed to really work together and operate smoothly. This can take a bit of network engineering and long-term commitments from many players in the healthcare field.

Legal concerns also usually need attention. Different jurisdictions have different rules when it comes to things like health privacy, ethics, and the sharing of identifying information online or over computer networks. Informatics engineers usually need to be aware of the rules in any jurisdiction the network touches, and providers and technicians both usually need to receive training on how to use computerized and digitized systems within the parameters allowed by law.

As a Career Field

There tend to be many different sorts of jobs in this field, though the specifics of what professionals do and how they must be trained does vary a bit based on the particular job at hand. Many of the people responsible for building the infrastructures initially come from mainly computer science and computer engineering backgrounds, and typically have university-level training. Actually implementing the systems into a medical practice, billing suite, or hospital requires different skills, as does training personnel to use the system's many tools. These sorts of jobs more often require specific training in health sciences or informatics management. Many universities offer degree or certificate programs in these areas.

Electronic medical records allow doctors to create and update patient files using a tablet or laptop.
Electronic medical records allow doctors to create and update patient files using a tablet or laptop.

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Discussion Comments


If I were to get a certificate in Healthcare Informatics with also having a BS in Business Management and an MBA but no experience tied to the healthcare industry would I be able to find a job? Would I be competitive?


Is the health care program called MDS 3.0 and RAPS considered health care informatics, it is for medical reimbursement, in the nursing home setting, all clinicians involved in resident care planning and assessments are involved with this? I have an A.S. degree in information systems administration. Can this be added or adjusted? --llc


@anamur-- Since its a growing field and there is a high demand for specialists, its a great career choice. My friend is a medical informatics specialist. She was first considering information technology but she had family members in the medical field, so she opted for this instead and she loves her job. She tells me that there is many opportunities and many schools have degrees and masters programs on it. You can get a healthcare informatics certificate or apply for a degree.


How is healthcare informatics as a career field?


I'm all for healthcare informatics. Before these systems came out, every time I visited the doctor, I had to repeat my health history as well as family history, medications I was taking, surgeries, treatments, allergies...phew! If you were following up on a treatment, you had to repeat everything that happened from the very beginning. It's only natural for nurses and doctors not to remember every detail about their patients. I'm so glad that health information technology have resolved these issues. Now, they just go into the system, see the whole history, see my treatments and prescriptions. It's so easy to follow up on a condition, fantastic!

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