The introduction of health information technology, which has allowed practitioners to move from paper to electronic record-keeping, has created a critical need for Clinical Informatics Specialists. Clinical informatics specialists have knowledge of information technology, healthcare, and business management.
Learn about what you’ll need to pursue a career in one of the fastest-growing healthcare niches in the US.
Overview: A Career in Clinical Informatics
Health care informatics is changing the way we use data in medicine. Clinical informatics specialists operate in the same realm, acting as health information managers responsible for their facilities’ entire information system. Whether working at entry-level or upper management, these specialists provide medical professionals crucial support for patient care.
Clinical information system specialists generally focus on the organization and management of medical records, but there is a range of other duties such as:
- Designing, building, and maintaining information technology (IT) systems for patients records
- Training medical staff and personnel on how to use information systems
- Testing IT systems and troubleshooting problems when necessary
- Examining existing software to improve functionality and workflow
- Creating, analyzing, and optimizing collected data
They oversee the systems and programs used to digitize medical records. Needed are a combination of healthcare and technical skills, including:
- Significant computer experience
- Patient care experience
- Knowledge of HIPPA guidelines
- Familiarity with electronic medical records
- Strategy and planning
- Understanding of IT system design
- Project management experience
Employers can require various special skills, including knowledge of specific software programs and products or experience working in individual medical facilities like pharmacies and rehab centers. Some employers may prefer more expertise in data analysis over patient care.
Clinical information system specialists have a wide range of educational experience, with the most common being a master’s degree. If you’ve decided to make this your career of choice, it’s advised to have at least a bachelor’s degree in one of the following programs:
- Nursing or related health care profession
- Health information management
- Healthcare administration
- IT or related computer science field
- Business management or administration
Your choice of degree program should include coursework in health information systems, IT, budgeting, accounting, human resources, law, and health economics, as well as a variety of computing skills.
When starting as a clinical informatics specialist, entry-level salary ranges between $30,000-$55,000. The average yearly salary for most specialists is around $73,000, with the top 10% making over $100,000 .
As with most careers, income varies depending on location, education, and experience. Some specific factors that impact salary include:
- Urban vs. rural location
- Type of healthcare facility (hospital, laboratory, rehab facility, pharmacy, etc.)
- Entry vs. senior level
- Background in health care informatics
- Knowledge of specific software programs (electronic health record, medical research, hospital management)
Some of the many rewards from working in the field of clinical informatics are:
- Information technology in healthcare is growing exponentially
- Generous income and job security
- Entry-level positions available with only high school and associate’s degrees
- Employment is not limited to hospitals and doctor’s offices (e.g., outpatient centers, insurance carriers, professional organizations, pharmaceutical companies)
Clinical informatics is not an easy field to get into and comes with several challenges.
- A required amount of skill and experience
- Long working hours
- Some positions require advanced degrees
- Less focus on patient interaction
- Time management
- Keeping up with the evolution of the technology
Getting Hired As a Clinical Informatics Specialist
Clinical information system specialists are hired from previous healthcare roles, information technology or health data roles, or certification and experience.
Previous Healthcare Role
The most common path to employment as a clinical information system specialist is obtaining a bachelor’s degree in nursing, nursing licensure, and having hands-on experience in a clinical setting.
Examples of other healthcare roles that can transition into system specialists are physicians, pharmacy technicians, nurse practitioners, family practitioners, physician assistants, and pediatricians.
If coming from a non-healthcare background, there are many computer-related degree programs geared towards IT and health informatics.
Network and System Administer and Computer and Information Sciences are examples of popular degree programs obtained online and lead into an informatics specialist position.
Working in the field of IT as a computer systems analyst, a data scientist, or even a web developer will put you in a good position to transition into clinical informatics.
If you have a bachelor’s degree in computer or information sciences or a health and life sciences degree, you may qualify for one of the many health informatics certification programs in the US.
These programs are for working professionals who lack experience in clinical informatics. They focus on specific skills such as electronic health records, data analytics, and information system design and management.
Completion of one or more of these programs, along with on-job experience, will give you a boost in the direction of becoming a clinical informatics specialist.
Consider Advancing Your Education
For those considering more advanced positions and looking to increase their experience and income, health informatics education programs allow you to obtain associates, bachelors, masters, and doctorate degrees. BA and MA programs are also available specifically for clinical informatics.
Completing these programs will allow you to move into advanced positions such as IT Manager or Chief Medical Information Officer.
Although it’s possible to get hired with just a high school degree in certain places, ideally, you should have a related BA in health administration, nursing, or information technology.
Having advanced education opens the door to pursue more specialized fields such as Nursing Informatics and Health IT Project Management. You’ll also gain essential skills needed to master specialty programs within Clinical Decision Support.
Possess the Right Skills
Earlier, we listed the technical and medical skills needed to pursue a career in clinical information systems, but there are a few soft skills need as well, particularly:
- Critical thinking
- Analytic and social skills
- Programing knowledge
If you relate to more than one of these skills, you’ll find yourself a good fit for this specialty. Not all of these are required skills, but it would make the challenges of working in this field more manageable.
Get Healthcare Work Experience
If already working in the health field, take an opportunity to expand your knowledge on some of the following to prepare for a career in clinical informatics.
- Healthcare data systems– Familiarize yourself with new and evolving systems in your workplace and learn how to use programs like HR and patient satisfaction systems.
- EMR/EHR– Understand the regulatory requirements and protocols of both electronic medical records and health records, as well as emerging trends.
- Data analytics– Become familiar with the collection of data and its use in the medical field. One example is understanding the importance of artificial intelligence in healthcare.
- Healthcare industry knowledge– Learn the operations and workflows of different clinical care provider organizations.
Clinical Informatics Specialist Career FAQ
A bachelor’s degree in nursing and nursing licensure is the most popular way to become a clinical informatics specialist.
There are specific health informatics programs with higher education options, such as master’s and doctorate degrees.
Informatics is the science of data and information use vs. clinical informatics which actively applies that data to improve patient care. It might be easier to look at the practice of informatics within the healthcare industry.
Programming systems like electronic medical records and health apps used every day by doctors and patients use informatics in their design. They collect, analyze and organize data.
Clinical informatics will then take that data to determine the next steps in inpatient care or the needs of nurses, doctors, and other healthcare personnel in a clinical setting.
An information specialist is a medical records technician familiar with electronic record-keeping and computer technologies. Some of their responsibilities include:
- Converting paper records into electronic files
- Entering patient data
- Managing information databases
- Setting up insurance billing
- Ensuring patient privacy
An example of a software system that information specialists would have to be familiar with is the Fast Health Interoperability Resources (FIHR). Not only would the information specialist need to know how to use systems like FHIR, but they must be ready to train healthcare staff to ensure continuity and workflow.
Whether you’re already a professional in the healthcare industry or working in IT, a career as a clinical informatics specialist is a great way to use your passion for data to improve healthcare outcomes.
You can get your feet wet with clinical experience in nursing or healthcare administration or dive right into a BA or MA in Clinical Informatics. If you possess the right skills and are willing to learn about the latest technology improving healthcare information systems, a clinical informatics specialist may be the right job for you.