To remain competitive in an increasingly difficult job market, many healthcare professionals are seeking skills training in health informatics from institutions ranging from the Ivy League to the best online university. Although employment reports typically find that careers in healthcare are among the most durable in economic downturns, recent graduates in health sciences still suffer from 5.4% unemployment; those with advanced degrees and skills, however, such as in health information management (HIM or health informatics), have unemployment rates of about 2.0%.
CareerBuilder and Kiplinger have identified health informatics as an emerging and growing field, likely in part due to the 2009 stimulus package in which $45 billion (that’s 9 zeros) was earmarked to ease the transition from paper to electronic health records. Spent in a variety of ways, physician practices, for instance, could qualify for as much as $44,000 in stimulus money to fund investment in software, hardware, tech support and training. This massive influx of cash created high demand for those few qualified in health information management, and there still exists a skill vacuum. It has been estimated that the number of HIM professionals will have to grow to 150,000 by 2014 to meet demand (in 2009, there were only 75,000).
Healthcare professionals who pursue information management come from a variety of disciplines including nursing, health sciences, and health systems management.
The skills they need are more typically thought of as belonging to computer and information science professionals (who also fill health informatics positions). Large institutions, state colleges and the best online universities for health informatics develop proficiencies in use, design and management of integrated systems as well as the ability to identify, access, evaluate and analyze data and work across systems to improve service and streamline daily operations.
Bachelor of Science (BS) programs are typically comprehensive and include courses in statistics, research methods, quality improvement, data management, legal issues in healthcare delivery, reimbursement systems, human resources management, financial management, information systems and strategic planning.
Masters of Science (MS) programs tend to focus on health informatics from the leadership perspective. In addition to building proficiency in basic IT skills, MS students typically study health informatics organizational issues, system analysis and design, and information and data analysis. For those with prior experience and education, a number of certificate programs are available that offer similar training in less time, and many prepare graduates for achieving Registered Health Information Administrator (RHIA) certification through the American Health Information Management Association.
Professionals with health informatics degrees are actively recruited into well-paid, long-lasting positions. A recent survey found that 31% of RHIAs worked as health informatics directors, and nearly half worked in managerial or consulting capacities. Kiplinger noted that health information managers typically enjoy reasonable work hours in pleasant, healthy environments, and a high level of job satisfaction, given the socially redeeming aspect of their work.
Even in the healthcare industry, the tough economy can make attaining and maintaining satisfying, sustaining employment difficult. Developing proficiencies in health information management enables healthcare professionals to ensure they remain marketable.