What is a Medical Informaticist?

I often get this question, along with blank stares, when telling people what I am studying.  Some of the blankest looks come from those in the medical profession.  Here’s my 30 second elevator speech:

Medical Informatics is the study of information and its flow in the healthcare setting.  Typically you can think of it as “computers in medicine”, but it concerns everything from discussions at the watercooler and sticky notes on the wall, to the medical records and billing departments.  My own interest is in being a liaison between IT and clinicians, as well as patient/provider communications.

At this point the medical folks say, “Oh good, we need folks like that.”

A more complete answer to this question is over at Oregon Health and Sciences University authored by Dr. Bill Hersh, the BioMedical Informatics Chair.

In my case, I have just finished up 8 courses for a Graduate Certificate in BioMedical Informatics at OHSU.  The courses I took were:

Introduction to Biomedical Informatics-

Dr. Hersh gives an overview of this large area of research.  I focused on patient/provider communication.  I wrote a paper on asynchronus versions of patient/provider communication that was later cited in a national paper.

Consumer Health Informatics-

Dr. Jimison’s course takes a healthcare consumer centric view of medical information.  For her class I focused on patient provider communication and wrote a paper detailing a sophisticated online patient/provider communications portal.

Project Management-

Dr. Tidmarsh runs through a PMBOK oriented course with a focus on healthcare settings.  I worked with a group on a project management plan to implement electronic medical records in an actual clinic.

Clinical Information Systems-

Dr. Sittig looks at a variety of information technologies, their foundations, benefits, and drawbacks.  I wrote a paper on the cost of lost or stolen personal health information to a HIPAA covered organization. (Way more $$$ than I could have imagined.)

Organizational Behavior-

Dr. Ash has an overview of OB analysis, as well as addressing healthcare biz topics.  My focus was looking at Information Technology and Clinical cultures and how they can conflict.

The Business of Healthcare Informatics-

Mr. Kenagy goes over the CIO’s view of healthcare IT, and how he runs it over at Provident.  I researched Personal Health Records and did a paper on how Providers and PHR’s (Dossia!) relate to one another.

The Practice of Healthcare-

Dr. Gorman has us non-clinicians pretend to be M.D.s in training.  He presents cases and medical issues, and everyone in the class class gets to diagnose, recommend treatments, write up records, confir with peers, etc…  Besides weekly papers on various cases, I shadowed two RN’s that are Certified Diabetes Instructors as they taught their class.

Information Retrieval-

Dr. Hersh goes indepth on the fundamentals of getting information from various types of records. My class paper’s focus was on how to identify authorities within online (healthcare) communities.

So that has been the more formal part of my Medical Informaticist training.  I have also taken a series of courses on Medical Terminology and Bodily Systems.  I am doing my own readings, research, and volunteering/experience.

I hope that gives some folks a bit more insight into what  tools a Medical Informaticist brings to the table, and helps address those blank stares.

It is hard to see that other folks run into the same blank stares or lack of acknowledgement in job descriptions.  Especially when I am looking for a job.

So, what am I up to now?

About John

Interested in how information intersects daily life, technology, and art. Collaboration specialist, working in social and collaborative media. Biomedical Informaticist, focusing on patient/patient, patient/provider communication.
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5 Responses to What is a Medical Informaticist?

  1. jermaine says:

    Hey I just wanted to know about how the job is treating you now and what are the satisfying aspects of your job? I am a MD and I am thinking of doing the medical informatics Graduate course. What advice would you have to give?

  2. John says:

    Hi Jermaine,
    At the moment I am not working on healthcare, but helping state government with their intranet and internal social media / collaboration. (SahrePoint) It is somewhat similar to the communication and information flow I study as an informaticist. It has been personally rewarding to introduce an organization to exciting new tools which will really help them be more efficient.

    As an MD you would have a leg up on those of us outside of healthcare, especially if you are familiar with some of the larger electronic medical systems. Having specific experience with particular ones has been major focus of employers.

    As you may know I received my certificate at OHSU, and they are quite good at asking for people that have been in the program to contact you. Their distance course was quite good, and if you are interested, you really should ask them for references.

    Biggest advice is to quickly figure out what you want to focus on (it’s a big field) and dive right in!

  3. jermaine says:

    Thanks for the response John. I am really passionate about improving efficiency in organizations and besides medicine I have extensive experience in the world of IT. I am actually looking at doing the 10×10 online course with OHSU being moderated by Dr. Bill Hersh. I want to use that as a launching point for my medical informatics career.
    I failed to mention previously that I actually live and work in Jamaica. Medical informatics is not even known here and I only recently discovered the field after searching for a field in which I could combine my medical knowledge and my deep love for computers. So I am a bit of a pioneer for my country and of such my interest lies in implementation of medical informatics in a third world setting with limited finances but great needs. Would you have any specific areas of focus you think would best fit my goals?

  4. Peter Johnson says:

    Hey I am actually at a fork in the road where i need to decide between a masters program in health informatics vs health admin. I cant decide which field will lead to more job potentials and also greater salary. Please help

  5. John says:

    Hi Peter,

    I can certainly understand the dilemma.

    It’s a bit simplistic, but my quick take is that informaticists make and set up the tools that the health administrators use. While that certainly doesn’t do justice to either professions, I think it gets at a larger point. I see informaticist has having a more ‘developer’ or having a greater understanding on how the tools are put together. Health admins may be more process and how they tool works in the real world (I’m guessing a bit here.)

    At the moment if I jump on indeed.com and plug in “Health Administrator” I get ~650 jobs, for “Health Informatics” I get ~70.
    US Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t have these jobs listed, but perhaps a trade organization might, you could check with them.

    So…my guess is that the current market is set up for health admins. Informaticists outside an academic setting is still a bit new. Plus there is more need for folks helping in the real world as opposed to setting up the tool. Thus, there are more jobs for health admins, and maybe a bit more pay (someone has to manage those Admins). However, if you are looking at being a CIO, or working in the industry, Informatics RN, etc… there may be a few informatics jobs that pay very well.

    Me, I chose what I was truly interested in. OHSU has since started to put Health Information Management and Informatics together. That may be a great way to go.

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