Informatics Program Takes a Deep Dive into Health Care and Information Science

    A study published last summer found that job postings for health informatics grew by 36 percent from 2007 to 2011, compared with 9 percent growth in all health care postings, and a 6 percent increase in all U.S. jobs.

    These positions at the crossroads of health care and IT are so in demand that part of President Obama’s stimulus package went toward establishing short-term training at community colleges around the country.

    Those programs haven’t been the boost to employment that many had hoped, though. Indeed, in a recent survey by the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME), health care leaders said it’s getting even harder to find the IT skills they need — and only 12 percent of respondents reported hiring from those federally funded training programs.

    Health care leaders face unforgiving deadlines for switching to electronic medical records and other federal mandates, leaving them often unwilling to take on IT pros who lack specific health care IT experience. And the health care industry as a whole is struggling to understand how to use its massive amounts of data to improve patient care and cut costs.

    That’s why programs such as the University of Michigan’s new master’s program in health informatics are gaining steam. The program combines work in public health and the management of information. As the university website puts it:

    Competence in health informatics requires significant mastery of informational, computational, behavioral, and organizational sciences, along with deep understanding of health systems and processes.

    I spoke with Meghan Genovese, senior associate director of Michigan’s health informatics program, about the master’s program and how it fits with the industry’s emphasis on health care experience. She told me:

    We have some people in our program who have been doing IT work, but they’re wanting to shift their work from being implementers of technology of today to thinking about what we need for tomorrow. They’re interested in shifting into more visioning and leadership roles, people who are thinking strategically about information and how to leverage information and information technologies … and what’s most important to bring those things to bear on health care delivery. …

    The introduction of informatics in clinical, consumer and population health are sort of inextricably linked …clinicians aren’t relying only on the things they do to contribute to a person’s records. It’s the shift from electronic medical records to personal health records — it’s about how can people think more broadly about that.

     The program teaches students to think about what needs to be done with technology, without necessarily being a coder or hardware specialist, she said.

    It’s not a technical program, it’s an information science program. They learn about the U.S. health care system, policy issues – it’s always in health-related examples. They take courses in psycho-social behavior – how people make decisions – and increasingly clinicians are interested in that because they know that is how you tailor a message. What motivates you might not motivate me.  They study epidemiology and health behavior. A program like this is a school of public health and a school of information combined. … It pays a lot of attention to human-computer interaction … gathering the best data, how to store it, analyze it, make sense out of it and ultimately communicate it.

    At the heart of it all, she said, is understanding what doctors and nurses need to do their jobs better.

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