Health Informatics vs. Bioinformatics

Are you considering a career at the intersection of technology and medicine? Whether you are a medical professional or an information technology professional, you may be wondering how you can advance in your career. One option is to consider a masters in health informatics (MHI). With the right education and training, you can use information technologies to improve aspects of the healthcare system, from individual patient care and drug treatments to population-level health. Another degree to consider for those interested in tech and medicine is bioinformatics, which is uniquely different than health informatics. 

Here is a comprehensive comparison of health informatics and bioinformatics to help you understand the differences between the two.

The Importance of Health Informatics

Health informatics is the modern combination of information technology, healthcare as a business, and patient experience, according to the American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA). It is a multi-disciplinary and integrative field with a focus on health information technologies. 

The goal of health informatics professionals is to improve the delivery of healthcare to patients. Improvement can be made at a clinical level. Health informatics professionals may work in private practices, surgical centers, hospitals, pharmacies, and other healthcare organizations. Improvement is possible through research and development. There are many roles in research laboratories and institutes. 

Health informatics professionals also have gained importance due to the passage of the Health Information and Technology for Economic Clinical Health Act (HITECH), which incentivized healthcare providers to move from paper recordkeeping to electronic health records (EHR). 

Healthcare facilities must adhere to HITECH requirements as well as prepare and defend against cyberattacks, which have grown more common over the years. Health informatics professionals enable facilities and providers to adhere to the law, protect patient data, and take advantage of all the electronic data they are generating. Health informatics is about organizing and analyzing the electronic data available to improve outcomes for individual patients, the facility, and entire organizations.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that employment of medical and health services managers will grow 18% from 2018 to 2028, much faster than the average for all occupations. Moreover, the 2018 national median pay of a medical or health services manager was $99,730 per year. The May 2018 median salary for those working at hospitals was $108,730. For those in outpatient centers, it was $92,390. For professionals in physicians’ offices, it was $90,930, and for those in nursing and residential care facilities, it was $84,260. The highest-paid 10% of these professionals earned more than$182,600 annually. 

Types of Health Informatics

Health informatics specialists work in a variety of settings and perform myriad tasks. There is also great diversity in sub-disciplines of health informatics, including: 

  • Bioinformatics: The application of computer technology and three-dimensional modeling to large sets of biological data.
  • Biomedical Informatics: The statistical analysis of healthcare information to identify trends and improve healthcare problems and decision-making. 
  • Medical Informatics: The collection and evaluation of medical knowledge and patient data to facilitate and improve patient care. 
  • Clinical Informatics: The collection, evaluation, and application of information technology to deliver healthcare services and improve care provided by healthcare organizations.
  • Nursing Informatics: The combination of nursing information, information management, and communication technologies to promote patient-centered care.
  • Pharmacy Informatics: The collection, evaluation, and application of medication-related data. 
  • Public Health Informatics: The use of technology within the public health field, including to promote surveillance of population health, education, prevention, outbreak management, and electronic reporting.

Differing Goals

The sub-disciplines of health informatics all have varying end goals. For example:

  • Professionals who focus on bioinformatics hope to use genomic data to develop effective drugs.
  • Biomedical informatics professionals want to analyze healthcare data to help practitioners make decisions tailored to individual patients’ needs and improve healthcare environments and processes.
  • Public health informatics specialists focus on population-level issues and solutions.

Health Informatics and Bioinformatics Curriculum Comparison

To better understand the differences between health informatics and bioinformatics, check the typical curriculum for each.

Health Informatics Curriculum

To pursue a career in health informatics, you might wish to obtain an MHI degree. Courses in this program cover the fundamentals of:

  • Information technology
  • Health informatics and analytics
  • Legal issues
  • Database design

Electives in an MHI program include:

  • Healthcare project management
  • Medical terminology for health informatics professionals
  • Artificial intelligence for health and electronic health records
  • Organizational behavior, leadership, and change management
  • Information governance in health

Depending on your school, you may be able to customize your degree by focusing on a specific area of interest, such as healthcare leadership,data analytics, and health informatics.

Bioinformatics Curriculum

To work toward discovering new treatments based on an understanding of biological genomes, a master’s degree in bioinformatics may be appropriate. Courses in this type of program typically cover the fundamentals of:

  • Human genetics
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Computer Science
  • Mathematics and Statistics

Electives in a bioinformatics program include:

  • Drug design and discovery
  • Ethics and theology
  • Biomedical engineering 
  • Programming for bioinformatics

Depending on the school you decide to enroll in, you may be able to customize a bioinformatics degree by focusing on a specific area of interest.. Areas of interest may include computational medicine, math, and physics.

Health Informatics vs. Bioinformatics – Roles and Responsibilities

The responsibilities of a health informatics professional range significantly based on the specialty, position, and work environment. You should learn more about individual roles before choosing to apply to an MHI or other master’s degree program. 

Health informatics professionals use information technologies to retrieve, store, protect, organize, and analyze healthcare and patient data to improve patient and facility outcomes. The healthcare information is derived from a wide range of electronic sources, including patient, physician, nurse, facility administrator, insurance, vendor, and technician records. 

Health informatics professionals may be responsible for: 

  • Managing data generated by patient care
  • Being knowledgeable in medical coding
  • Maintaining information security
  • Ensuring patient data is integrated and accessible
  • Analyzing data to inform facility-level decision-making
  • Analyzing data to improve patient care
  • Analyzing data to reduce costs
  • Designing and implementing tools to evaluate data and patient care
  • Translating statutory and regulatory requirements for the facility and department
  • Communicating with healthcare professionals to improve data generation 

Bioinformatic professionals focus on the application of computer technology toward large quantities of data. The aim of bioinformatics is to analyze genetic data to advance gene-based research and treatments. These professionals use 3D models to test the efficacy of new drugs. 

Bioinformatic professionals may be responsible for: 

  • Developing processes to gather and represent data
  • Analyzing and interpreting large data sets
  • Writing and conducting surveys
  • Designing and executing clinical trials
  • Programming statistical models
  • Programming 3D models 

Bioinformatics should not be confused with biomedical informatics, which uses information derived from bioinformatics to solve healthcare problems, such as medical errors, and improve healthcare provider decision-making. Biomedical informatics professionals analyze data and identify trends to improve the efficacy of healthcare operations and processes.  

Which Master’s Degree is Right for You?

While you’re considering whether to pursue a health informatics or bioinformatics degree, consider the following:

  • How do you want to contribute to the healthcare field?
  • What type of work environment do you see yourself in, and what skills are needed to work in that environment?
  • What focus areas within the healthcare field are you most interested in?
  • Which curriculum will prepare you for the career you want to pursue? 

Other factors to consider when determining which master’s degree program is right for you is accreditation, cost, length to complete and whether online classes are asynchronous or synchronous. The former offers you more independence while the latter requires you to meet online or in person at scheduled times. 

A master’s degree in public health with a health informatics concentration may be the right fit for you if you want to create, analyze and manage information systems that improve healthcare delivery. A master’s degree in health informatics could be for you if you are interested in applying data analysis expertise to a leadership role in healthcare. As the industry increases its reliance on data, health informatics professionals are needed to make sense of and protect that data. Learn how an online master’s in health informatics can help you begin or further a career in this growing field.