Guest post by Lauren Willison, director of admissions, Florida Polytechnic University.
Today’s medical devices feature the most cutting-edge technology and sensors to improve patient health, from Fitbits that track heart rate during exercise to devices that can test and display blood glucose levels on a smartphone. Healthcare professionals have also welcomed the use of smart devices and tablets to enhance hospital or clinic visits, lower costs and reduce medical errors.
The demand for health informaticists grows substantially with every government push to adopt technology and ease the switch from paperwork to electronic health records (EHR) systems. To ensure the next generation of health informaticists are learning the skills needed to adapt as technology advances, many universities are offering a health informatics degree program that emphasizes hands-on learning in health IT, data analysis and the healthcare system.
Here’s a look at what a formal education in health informatics looks like today, and what in-demand skills employers can expect from health informaticists down the road:
Health Care System Analysis and Assessment Outcomes
Improvements to the healthcare system begins with a thorough understanding of what the current system lacks. Today’s health informatics courses allow students to examine healthcare needs and analyze the supply and distribution of health professionals and facilities. These courses also explore current industry pain points, particularly care costs, how to assess care quality, and the financial models of care used in both private health insurance systems and government programs.
Health informatics students are also familiarized with methods for determining quality of care and the economic impacts of health care models. Courses examine the outcomes and value added from the view of patients and providers, with a focus on determining standards for setting organizational policy.
Health Care History and Implementation of EHR Systems
To understand the role that health informatics plays in improving the healthcare system, students also cover the history of the U.S. healthcare system. By exploring current trends in electronic health records – including social, ethical, economic and cultural impacts of choices – students will be prepared to identify what improvements can be made to EHR systems later in their careers as health informaticists.
Computer Programming and Computer Architecture
A background in computer programming is essential for health informaticists who want to build systems that reduce problems or errors in the healthcare system, students pursuing a degree in health informatics cover fundamental programming and system design concepts early on and, as they advance through their program, should acquire enough skills to write efficient code.
Health informatics students should also understand a top-down approach to computer design. Some sample classes that teach the importance of each computer component include assembly language programming, machine language set design, computer organization and logical modules.
Data Structure, Security and Communications
With the amount of patient information streaming in from a wide range of medical devices, expertise in health informatics is required to find more effective ways to analyze and store data securely. Data abstraction principles, serial and parallel data structures, linked lists, graphs, trees, divide-and-conquer algorithms and linear programming are some of the topics that may be covered to introduce health informatics students to the complexity of data structure.
Patient health records are highly sensitive in nature, so emphasizing data security in health informatics is crucial. Students enrolled in health informatics degree programs should expect to explore telecommunications security, security management practices, disaster recovery planning, security architecture and legal and ethical issues. A thorough understanding of security in health informatics ensures that students will be able to implement the right security measures, no matter what kind of technology is used.
As smart devices improve, and the pressure to adopt digital systems increases, health informatics will continue to play a substantial role in the healthcare industry. The demand for health informaticists far exceeds the supply, and as a result, employers are finding it difficult to fill open positions. Students who pursue a degree in health informatics today can help bridge the skills gap by acquiring the diverse skills that employers are looking for.