Public Health Informatics: The Intersection of Data and Health

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Data and information systems can play a big role in advancing public health around the globe. Learn more about public health informatics and how to get started in this field.

[Featured Image]: Clinical Data Manager collecting and managing the information for a report.

Measuring, promoting, and advocating for public health on a global and local scale is no easy feat. Public health benefits from data-driven decisions based on data that is collected systematically and accurately. 

Since the adoption of electronic health records (EHR), data has increasingly been at the forefront of health care technology. During the COVID-19 pandemic, EHR-based rapid screening processes, documentation templates for emergency room testing, and reporting tools, helped track and monitor the virus in hospitals [1]. 

Public health informatics operates at the intersection of public health, data analytics, computer science, and communication. This article will take you through public health informatics, including real-world examples and careers.

What is public health informatics?

Public health informatics is the systematic application of data, technology, and information systems to public health practice and research. Focusing on community and population health, it tackles disease treatment and prevention as well as examining the role of government agencies in public health.

Public health informatics can help improve the efficiency, accuracy, and distribution of health care, ensure communities have equal access to basic human needs like food, shelter, transportation, and employment, and prevent major diseases.

Read more: What Is Health Informatics? Definition + How to Get Started

5 steps to creating a public health information system

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are five steps that public health informatics professionals can use to create a public health information system [2].

1. Vision and system planning: What types of information technology (IT) systems will you use? Do you need hardware, software, or communication technology? 

2. Health data standards and integration: How will you ensure health data standards and integration are followed? 

3. Data privacy and security: What systems can help ensure data privacy and security throughout the data lifecycle?

4. Systems design and implementation: What methods and information technology can be implemented to optimize data, data flow, and outputs for public health functions?

5. Visualization, analysis, and reporting of health data: Using a combination of analytics software, business intelligence, and public health practice, what types of reporting and analysis will make the most meaningful use of the data collected? How can we report health statistics and information to the public in an accessible manner?

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Read more: Big Data in Health Care: What It Is, Benefits, and Jobs

Examples of public health informatics

Public health informatics tends to be implemented at the national, state, or local level, by health agencies that collect data for specific health issues. Here are some real-world examples to help you understand it better.

  • Decrease the spread of infectious diseases: Government entities collect and analyze birth records to provide reliable statistics to health departments and policy makers, while also using this information to improve birth outcomes, identify mortality trends, and decrease the spread of infectious diseases.

  • Improving public health reporting: EHRs help organizations collect standardized and systematic data, thereby improving reporting and surveillance. Electronic laboratory reporting helps transmit data to public health officials, so they can better monitor and prevent disease. For example, New York City public health officials designed a program that uses EHRs to alert clinicians of potential diagnoses to increase diagnostic testing that aids public health investigation and management [3].

  • Geographic analysis: Data can be used to combat environmental disasters and bioterrorism threats. Using a geographic information system (GIS), data can be collected and analyzed to reveal trends and patterns in specific locations.

Careers in public health informatics

There are many jobs that exist within public health informatics. Here are some of the more common that you’ll encounter as you explore this field.

  • Health informatics specialist: A public health informatics specialist (or consultant) is an interdisciplinary role that blends IT with health and communication. They might interact with doctors, nurses, and other IT professionals to gather and analyze data, design workflows, measure impact, manage IT systems, and more.

    • Salary: $91,323 [4]

  • Clinical data manager: Clinical data managers collect data from medical research projects and manage the information so it is reported securely and accurately. They might work for pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, governmental organizations, or research universities to prepare reports, data charts, and other materials.

    • Salary: $116,878 [5]

  • Informatics nurse: An informatics nurse is typically a registered nurse who helps manage complex health information in hospitals, nursing homes, and public health organizations. They guide data workflows and implement new technology to optimize care.

    • Salary: $101,915 [6]

  • Chief medical information officer: This leadership role bridges the medical and IT departments within a health care organization. They may be physicians themselves taking on the role of technology implementation, or health informatics specialists that have moved up in the organization by creating efficient data processes and systems.

    • Salary: $161,518 [7]

Read more: Your Guide to a Career in Nursing Informatics

How to get started

Due to the range of possible careers within public health informatics, your approach to getting started depends on where you fall on the spectrum of public health vs. data analytics.

If your interest and skills are more analytical, as in, you excel at solving problems on data analytics software and building information systems, then you might consider building your credentials in informatics with a bachelor’s degree, associate degree, or professional certificate in data analytics or computer science.

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If you’re more interested in the public health side of things and are passionate about envisioning scalable, equitable solutions to disease prevention, then a master’s in public health with an informatics focus could be a good fit. This credential offers you high-level knowledge for working alongside IT professionals to create innovative data solutions.

Read more: What Can You Do with a Master’s in Public Health (MPH)?

Get started in health informatics

Learn the essentials of health IT and big data by getting started in this dynamic and rapidly growing field with Johns Hopkins University’s Health Informatics Specialization. You’ll learn about the social and technical context of health informatics, how to implement health informatics interventions, and much more.

If you’re more excited to dive into the data aspect of public health informatics, then consider Google’s Data Analytics professional certificate. Whether you decide to stick to health or not, these skills will be transferable to many careers.

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Article sources

1

Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association. “Informatics is a critical strategy in combating the COVID-19 pandemic, https://academic.oup.com/jamia/article/27/6/843/5851687.” Accessed November 2, 2022.

Written by Coursera • Updated on

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