What is a Health Informatics Specialist?

Keep reading to find out more about the role of a health informatics specialist, the skills employers want in a health informatics specialist, and how you can join the field.

What is a health informatics specialist?

A health informatics specialist is a someone who deals with healthcare data. This data can involve patient records as well as other forms of health info. Health informatics specialists often (though not all the time) have a history of working in healthcare, i.e. as a nurse, prior to switching to informatics.

Where do health informatics specialists work?

Health informatics specialist can work for a vast array of types of employers in healthcare. Some common employer types include:

  • Provider organizations: Large health systems have many health informatics specialists. Individual hospitals even small private physician practices also employe them, too.
  • Medical device manufacturers: Companies that produce medical devices (i.e. pacemakers or blood glucose monitors) also gather and transmit health information,, which means that they rely on health informatics specialists.
  • Pharmaceutical companies: Pharmaceutical companies that make personalized prescriptions are required to maintain databases of information about customers. Likewise, pharmacies are required to comply with the same legal standards as doctors regarding HIPAA and customer data protection.
  • Commercial insurance companies: Health and life insurance companies need health informatics specialists to take care of their customer databases, which can have a significant impact on their businesses—from rates for a customer to the solvency of their business.
  • Governmental roles: Governmental entities such as the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) hire health informatics specialists. Additionally, health informatics specialists hold an essential role in providing guidance on healthcare policy.

In short, a health informatics specialist can be hired by any entity that deals with patient data or other health info.

How do health informatics specialists work?

The specific role of a health informatics specialist can vary based on several factors.

Smaller organizations might have smaller teams of informatics specialists where fewer people to perform a variety of tasks in a more general way. In larger organizations with more resources for informatics, a health informatics specialist will have a more specialized role.

Health informatics specialists are responsible in a broad sense for gathering, managing, storaging, analyzing, and reporting data in healthcare. The four most typical roles in health informatics are as project managers, consultants, analysts, and implementation staff.

  • Health information project managers execute and design large-scale informatics projects, such as planning, building, and maintaining a health info. database.
  • Health informatics consultants are typically hired as part of a project or via contract. They help clients produce mechanisms and programs to effectively manage and process health data.
  • Health information analysts gather data, analyze it to solve organizational issues, and produce reports for identifying trends or working with individual patients.
  • Implementation support specialists help to put into production a new informatics program, maintain a management process, or maintain informatics technology. These individuals will also often be involved in training others to use and interact with the system. This role can be either internal or external (like the consulting role above).

Health Informatics Skills

Working in health informatics involves versatility which enables you to walk into various job roles, depending on the needs of the employer. In addition to being versatile, aspiring health informatics specialists need to develop an understanding of healthcare industry regulations, soft skills in communication, and complex technical skills.

Regulatory Understanding

Health informatics specialists interact with (by designing and maintaining systems that deal with them) a massive number of health records.

Therefore, it is necessary for health informatics specialists to understand the regulations which apply to this data, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act.

It’s only through understanding such regulations that a professional can be confident in the compliance of their systems.

Communication Skills

Communication skills are required to be successful in health informatics.

[HI specialists] are required to be good at listening because they must understand the requirements of end-users in health information technology. They must listen well enough to ask the correct questions and communicate their findings.

Thus, health informatics specialists must be skilled at communicating with other IT professionals as well as with administration, care providers, and management.

Health informatics specialists serve as interpreters. They are required to facilitate communication among all those who use the healthcare data.

Technical Skills

Health informatics specialists depend on the same so-called “hard” or technical skills that others in information technology use. These skills include working with analytics tools, technologies, and frameworks along with programming skills such as R, Python, and SQL.

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