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Health Information Management Education, Schools, and Career Overview

The field of health information management may involve the application of health informatics, also known as healthcare informatics and medical informatics. This involves the use of technological tools to collect, record, store, retrieve, distribute, and analyze bio-medical and healthcare-related data. Health information administrators (HIAs) oversee the handling of this data with the goal of optimizing its availability to all healthcare professionals for the purpose of medical decision making and administrative problem solving. Health informatics as a discipline lies at the intersection of medicine and computer technology, and a position as a health information administrator requires proficiency in the areas of both healthcare management and information science. Health information administrators are sometimes also referred to as health information managers.

Health information administrators may play a crucial role in assembling medical knowledge and medical evidence. The data and analyses they provide serve as important tools in many areas of healthcare delivery and medical practice, including patient care, long-term treatment planning, medical research, the training of healthcare professionals, organizational efficiency and improvement, reimbursement of medical claims, and formulation of medical and healthcare policy. The field of health informatics entails the deployment of a wide range of information tools, including not only computer systems, but also clinical guidelines, medical records, and other communication and information systems. 

Successful health information administrators must have a keen understanding of existing information technologies and systems for collecting, recording, storing, and analyzing data. However, they must also be aware of the impact that technology has on patients and their families, as well as the delivery of healthcare services and the medical field as a whole. They must exercise sufficient flexibility to adapt to changing demands and situations within the healthcare field and individual healthcare facilities. In addition, they must keep themselves abreast of new developments that emerge in the field of information technology, which is constantly evolving and advancing.

Health Information Administrator Specializations

Health information administrators may specialize in a number of different fields, including clinical informatics, bioinformatics, dental informatics, pharmaceutical informatics, and public health informatics.

  • Clinical Informatics: Health information administrators who specialize in clinical informatics with information tools and systems that are used in and facilitate the clinical practice of medicine and related healthcare fields.  Their duties may encompass data entry and retrieval; medical imaging and data display; and medical decision support.  Clinical health information administrators may work in small or large medical practices, hospitals, clinics, long-term care facilities, and other institutions whose purpose is the diagnosis, treatment and care of patients.
  • Bioinformatics: Health information administrators who work in the field of bioinformatics use information tools, including computer technology and statistical databases and analytics, to study molecular biology.  Bioinformatics is a cutting-edge specialty within health informatics as it has direct applications to genetic engineering, as well as genomics projects such as DNA sequencing and the decoding of the human genome.  Bioinformaticists generally work in laboratories and other research settings rather than in departments or facilities where care is provided directly to patients.
  • Dental Informatics: Dental informatics entails the application of computer technology and other information tools and systems to the practice and administration of dentistry and dental care.  Health information administrators who specialize in dental informatics play a key role in improving and facilitating patient care, advancing dental research, and ensuring the smooth functioning of dental practices.  Dental health informaticists usually work in small or large dental, orthodontal, or endodontal practices, although some may hold positions in general healthcare facilities such as hospitals and clinics.
  • Pharmaceutical Informatics: Health information administrators who concentrate their efforts in pharmaceutical informatics play a key role in ensuring patient safety and facilitating positive health outcomes through pharmacological treatment.  Pharmaceutical informaticists use information tools and systems to analyze data for the purpose of optimizing medication selection, detecting medication interactions, and gauging treatment effectiveness. 
  • Public Health Informatics: Public health informatics involves the applied use of information tools and computer technology to public health research and the formulation of public health policy.  Health information administrators specializing in public health informatics often work for governmental agencies at the federal, state, and municipal levels or at academic and research institutions.  They engage in the collection and analysis of public health statistics and other public health data.

 Consider reading about a similar field, nursing informatics, in your research. 

How to Become a Health Information Manager

Individuals who pursue a health informatics degree often already hold one or more degrees in an allied health field or related subject areas, including medicine, nursing, pharmacology, dentistry, public health, epidemiology, biostatistics, or molecular biology. They may also often have previous experience working in a healthcare setting. 

Health information administrators, who approach health or medical informatics from the managerial perspective, generally need a bachelor’s degree to gain a foothold in the field of administration and advance in their fields. Available degrees include bachelor’s degrees and certificate programs.
Some health information administrators earn the master’s degree, while some hold a doctorate in health informatics. This can work to contribute significantly to the health information management salary earned by these informaticists. 

Prerequisites for admission to a program in health informatics may include a general knowledge of a clinical medical or allied health field; a familiarity with medical terminology and standard medical abbreviations; a solid grounding in statistics, especially biostatistics; proficiency in computer technology and software applications.  

Undergraduates considering a career in health informatics should take courses in the following:

  • Statistics
  • Computer science
  • Mathematics
  • Life sciences, including biology, anatomy, microbiology, and molecular biology
  • Public health
  • Epidemiology

Health informatics degree programs

Professionals who choose the Bachelor of Science in Health Informatics degree are generally considered suitable for entry-level employment as health information administrators (HIAs). The role of the administrator is to review, record, and analyze health care data and ensure that it can also be properly distributed to health care professionals for optimal patient care.

Students considering the Bachelor of Science in Health Informatics will be at the forefront of this digital revolution in the maintenance and distribution of medical information.

The Master of Science in Health Informatics degree is earned through a postgraduate program that adequately positions professionals to accept career opportunities above and beyond the entry-level. This degree program strategically uses the student’s current medical or IT experience and takes it to the next level by incorporating informatics programs that give professionals the skills to effectively monitor, allocate, retrieve, and analyze patient data. Because the Master in Health Informatics degree is the highest completion level for this profession, you can feel confident that you will be educated and prepared to seek a managerial position in the field of health informatics.

Health information administrator certification

Health informatics may choose to pursue voluntary professional certifications such as those offered through the American Health Information Association. Professional certifications are often voluntary, but some employers may prefer hiring candidates who invest in them.

Health information management schools

A number of educational institutions offer health informatics degrees, either online or through traditional on-campus classroom instruction.  Large universities with sizeable graduate departments, medical schools, and schools of public health and public policy offer medical informatics graduate degrees. 

While some graduate programs offer general degrees in informatics, others offer more specialized degrees.  For instance, dental schools may offer degrees in dental informatics that prepare students to work as health information administrators in dental practices. 

Degree programs for those pursuing health information management jobs in bioinformatics, on the other hand, train students in the applications of informatics to the fields of molecular biology and genetic engineering and prepare aspiring health information administrators for positions in the high-level research settings.

Health informatics career advancement

Health informatics with the right combination of education and experience may eventually move into a more managerial position. These professionals could be asked to direct and mentor junior colleagues, and serve as liaison with other health care groups.

Health Information Administrator Skills and Qualities

Health information administrators should have a deep knowledge of and interest in information technologies of all kinds, including computer technology and software applications.  Working in the field of health informatics requires keeping abreast of technological developments and mastering them quickly.  Thus, health information administrators must adapt to evolving technology and understand how best to apply and use it in a healthcare or medical research setting.

Health information administrators should also have superior quantitative and analytical skills.  Because they may engage in data entry and their work involves the handling of a great deal of information from varied sources, they should also be meticulous and detail-oriented.  The best health information administrators have a keen understanding of how their work affects patients and medical staff alike, and regard the protection of patient welfare and public health as the ultimate goal of their profession.  However, health information administrators spend more time working with data, statistical equations, and computers than with people.  They should therefore enjoy working independently on challenging work that requires intense concentration and mental focus. 

Health Information Manager Salary and Career Outlook

As with most professions, the salary range for those working in health informatics can vary based on their level of experience and education, whether they are credentialed, their skill level, and their geographic location. Here’s a snapshot of a salary you might expect in the field:

CareerAnnual Mean WageBottom 10% Annual WageTop 10% Annual Wage
Health Technologists and Technicians, All Other$46,690$27,560$72,390
Medical and Health Services Managers$111,680$58,350$176,130
Medical Records and Health Information Technicians$42,820$25,810$64,610
Source: 2017 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2016-26 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov; 2016-26 State Occupational Projections, Projections Central, projectionscentral.com

Additionally, here’s an idea of what job growth could look like for health informatics professionals in the coming years:

CareerTotal EmploymentProjected Job Growth Rate
Health Technologists and Technicians, All Other124,39019.4%
Medical and Health Services Managers346,98019.8%
Medical Records and Health Information Technicians204,22013.5%
Source: 2017 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2016-26 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov; 2016-26 State Occupational Projections, Projections Central, projectionscentral.com

Resources for Health Information Administrators

Health information administrators may join a number of different professional organizations that will help them network with others in their field and keep on top of technological innovations.  These organizations include AHIMA (the American Health Information Management Association), which boasts over 60,000 members whose work requires the management of personal medical records.  The AMIA (the American Medical Informatics Association) has about 4000 members who work to promote the use of informational tools to improve patient care, medical research, healthcare administration, and public health policy. 

The AMIA also publishes the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association.  In addition, the IMIA (the International Medical Informatics Association) promotes the use of health informatics in healthcare and research settings to improve record management and patient treatment and to discover new applications in practice and policy for informational tools used in a medical context. 

Sources

1.     American Health Information Association, http://www.ahima.org/
2.     National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, http://www.nlm.nih.gov/

Health Information Management / Informatics Schools