What Is Health Informatics, and How Does It Affect Public Health?

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A female medical professional holds a tablet displaying human anatomy, with another display visible on a laptop on the table in front of her.

The decisions made in health care organizations can be highly consequential. Often, they have a direct impact on patient care. They may also affect the way an organization spends its resources and allocates its staff. Health care decision-makers depend on accurate, up-to-date information to ensure their decisions are as judicious as possible.

Health informatics helps health care organizations to make informed decisions. Professionals who pursue work in health informatics have an opportunity to use their information technology and data analysis skills to positively impact health care environments, potentially boosting the efficacy of patient care, community health initiatives, and resource use.

Those who wish to contribute to the health care industry in this way may want to consider enrolling in an online Master of Public Health program, where they will learn more about the role informatics can play in improving community-wide health initiatives.

What Is Health Informatics?

According to the American Medical Informatics Association, “Informatics is the science of how to use data, information, and knowledge to improve human health and the delivery of health care services.” Health informatics leverages principles from information and computer science to provide data analysis that leads to more informed decision-making about health care delivery.

Professionals who work in health informatics may use information technology (IT) and IT systems to gather, share, store, evaluate, and model patient data. This data can be generated by patients’ electronic medical records, as well as insurance claims or billing information. By analyzing this data, informatics professionals can get a clear sense of health and wellness trends in a community or in sub-demographics. In addition, they can evaluate the effectiveness of a health care organization’s resources and staffing.

Health informatics has become increasingly commonplace in recent years, due in large part to advances in technology. Most health organizations have adopted the use of electronic medical records, allowing providers to more easily and accurately record treatment histories and to share up-to-date information with relevant colleagues. Meanwhile, mobile technology (e.g., pedometers) makes it easier than ever for patients to generate their own biomedical data.

Health Informatics and Public Health

Health informatics is an important concept when it comes to public health.

Specifically, public health informatics (PHI) exists to promote population health. Those who work in a population health role can use data and analytics to develop comprehensive care strategies that can improve care delivery to a targeted community or demographic.

For example, informatics can guide public health officials in their monitoring and surveillance activities. Data may show clear evidence of a disease spreading in a particular community. This information can help public health officials make an informed decision about where to allocate testing resources. It can also show them some hot spots where it might be wise to open additional clinics for treatment.

Not only can data help medical providers locate the communities that need urgent attention, but it also allows them to make efficient use of their resources. That is, providers can use data to make certain they are sending staff members and medical supplies to areas that need them to control an epidemic or stop the spread of a disease, as opposed to sending resources to places that don’t need them as urgently.

Additionally, public health informatics, when shared widely, can provide common reference points between health providers who may otherwise be very “siloed,” allowing them to work more collaboratively to improve public health outcomes.

The Skills That Join Health Informatics with Public Health

To leverage informatics in the interest of public health, the following core competencies are key:

  • Technical skills. Those who work in PHI need to be familiar with common databases, data modeling platforms, and more. Competence with the technical aspects of data use is essential.
  • Analytical skills. Those who seek a position in PHI will also benefit from the ability to critically assess data and draw fact-based conclusions.
  • Critical thinking skills. The ability to think through the implications of a data set, and what it might mean for public health, is another must.
  • Interpersonal skills. One way PHI professionals offer value is by sharing relevant information with health providers. Skills in communication and collaboration matter a great deal.

The best way to develop these skills is through enrollment in an advanced degree program. A good example is Ohio University’s online Master of Public Health (MPH), which provides students with the skills required to leverage information technology and systems for the good of public health.

What Is Health Informatics? Learn More

Ohio University’s online MPH curriculum encompasses biostatistics in public health, epidemiology in public health, and other concepts that are essential to success as a professional in public health informatics. Learn more about Ohio University’s online Master of Public Health and how it can prepare you to become a valuable public health professional.

Recommended Readings

How to Become a Health Educator
How to Become an Epidemiologist in Public Health
3 Lucrative MPH Career Opportunities for Graduates

Sources:

American Medical Informatics Association, What Is Informatics?
HIMSS, Healthcare Informatics
Medicaid and Public Health Integration Learning Series, Public Health Informatics
NCBI, “Present and Future Trends in Consumer Health Informatics and Patient-Generated Health Data”
Public Health Informatics Institute, Defining Public Health Informatics