What is Health Informatics?

Industry Advice Analytics Computing and IT Healthcare

If you are interested in pursuing a career that merges healthcare and technology, health informatics could be an excellent choice. Not only do health informatics careers allow you to put your technical skills to work to improve others’ lives, but they also offer competitive pay and job security due to the rising demand for skilled workers in the industry.

Keep reading to learn what health informatics is, key trends shaping the field, what you should look for in a health informatics program, and more.

What is health informatics?

Health Informatics (HI) is a relatively new, interdisciplinary field in the healthcare industry that uses information technology to organize and analyze health records to improve healthcare outcomes. It is also called Health Information Systems. 

A rapidly growing field across the healthcare sector, health informatics deals with the resources, devices, and methods required to acquire, store, retrieve, and use health and medical data. Healthcare informatics work provides electronic access to medical records for patients, doctors, nurses, hospital administrators, insurance companies, and health information technicians. 

In 2009, the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act was created to promote and expand the adoption of health information technology— focusing mainly on the use of electronic health records (EHRs) by healthcare providers. The financial incentives available to providers due to HITECH created a job market for HI professionals, which is still growing today, 11 years later. Before the introduction of the HITECH Act, only 10 percent of hospitals had adopted EHRs. In order to advance healthcare, improve efficiency and care coordination, and make it easier for health information to be shared between different covered entities, electronic health records needed to be adopted. Given the widespread and critical nature of this work, the demand for qualified HI professionals is high.


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The Future of Health Informatics 

As healthcare changes, we are now expanding the way we address patients’ and healthcare vendors’ needs. In addition to managing the more traditional health informatics elements, there are evolving industry trends that are currently defining the field. Below, Jay Spitulnik, associate teaching professor and director of Northeastern’s MS in Health Informatics, shares his expertise on emerging industry trends and how professionals can stay prepared.

Health Informatics Trends

Health Informatics Trend #1: Interoperability

Currently, the numerous applications of EHR systems do not communicate effectively with one another. Interoperability is the ability of different information systems, devices, and applications (“systems”) to access, exchange, integrate, and cooperatively use data in a coordinated manner both within and across organizational, regional, and national boundaries. Interoperability supports the provision of timely and seamless information delivery and optimizes individuals’ and populations’ health globally. Health data exchange architectures, application interfaces, and standards enable data to be accessed and shared appropriately and securely across the complete spectrum of care, within all applicable settings, and with relevant stakeholders, including by the individual.

The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has proposed an Interoperability and Patient Access Rule which introduces new policies that will expand access to health information and improve the seamless exchange of healthcare data. This rule will enable better care coordination, better patient outcomes, and reduced costs. The proposed policies will help break down existing barriers to interoperability and empower patients by giving them access to their health information. This proposed rule’s guidelines address and impact all aspects of healthcare, from patients to providers to payers and researchers. The technology and standards will spark new opportunities for the industry and researchers while improving healthcare quality for all Americans.

The Northeastern MS in Health Informatics program addresses interoperability in two ways. First, many courses that cover the management of health information also address interoperability at some level. Secondly, Northeastern’s curriculum includes a course that specifically addresses how to build and maintain interoperable systems. The faculty instructor for Key Standards in Health Informatics is a member of HL7, the group that is responsible for international interoperability standards. As is the case with faculty across Northeastern, this faculty member’s industry experience provides real-world knowledge that supports students in their networking and job searches.

Health Informatics Trend #2: Consumerization

Younger generations were raised in an online world—from streaming their favorite TV shows to submitting college applications to grocery shopping. But today, many of them still can’t go online to make an appointment with their primary care physician (PCP) for a physical or a sick visit or see the average wait time for the ER. When today’s consumer-centric options, such as a local pharmacy or urgent care center, do allow for this level of visibility and ease, people who grew up digitally will question the value of maintaining a relationship with a PCP who does not provide this level of visibility.

With this in mind, Northeastern’s health informatics curriculum addresses how providers and others can use existing and developing technologies to support open, proactive, two-way communication between hospitals, clinicians, patients, vendors, and other healthcare stakeholders.

Northeastern’s Health Informatics graduate program is taking the lead in this work through an emerging partnership with the Society for Participatory Medicine (SPM). Together, Northeastern and SPM leadership are developing a course on participatory healthcare and its enabling technologies. Based on this course, MSHI students will understand the role of each of the essential stakeholders—patient, healthcare provider, payer, pharmaceutical manufacturer, medical device company, pharmacy, and others in the healthcare environment. This course will also address students’ professional obligations and what technology gaps must be overcome for participatory medicine to reach its full potential.

Health Informatics Trend #3: Health Data Analytics

The digitization of healthcare systems in clinical settings combined with the explosion of personal data collection devices provides the opportunity of using data for revolutionizing approaches to care at all levels with an emphasis on precision medicine and person-centered care. The ability to take advantage of this Big Data opportunity requires expertise at the intersection of health informatics, data science, and computational modeling. To address this, Northeastern has added a course on Introduction to Health Data Analytics. In addition, other courses, including Patient Engagement Informatics and Analytics and Claims Data Analysis, have been added or proposed to enhance how Northeastern students address this issue.

Health Informatics at Northeastern 

The Northeastern University Health Informatics program is a fully interdisciplinary program that addresses the combined clinical, technical, and business needs of health-related professionals. Students gain knowledge of how technology, people, health, and the healthcare system interrelate. In addition, they develop the ability to use technology and information management to improve healthcare delivery and outcomes. Finally, students can develop the skills to communicate effectively among healthcare practitioners, administrators, and information technology professionals.

Northeastern’s health informatics program accepted its first students in 2007, making it one of the country’s oldest health informatics graduate programs. The program belongs to both Northeastern’s Bouvé College of Health Sciences and Khoury College of Computer Sciences. to help students develop well-rounded proficiency in health science, management science, and information science. Given the increasing demand for professionals with this intersection of skills, almost 100 percent of Northeastern’s graduates find job placement within three months of graduation.

Graduates and faculty of Northeastern’s MS in Health Informatics program are at the center of how healthcare is improving its use of technology to continuously improve outcomes for patients. 

To learn more about the program, explore our program page or get in touch with an enrollment coach to get your questions answered.