Health care is rapidly being updated by digital technologies. From the doctor’s office to the hospital and beyond, health information technologies have become a critical part of healthcare today. Patients are increasingly turning to the Internet for getting health advice and information. In addition, the recent pandemic has created the need for new and innovative approaches to providing mobile health via a smartphone and virtual care to all Canadians. This has included technologies ranging from electronic health records to health apps and an ever increasing range of advanced technologies in healthcare, used both in the hospital and at home.
To address these important issues and trends, a range of careers and exciting job opportunities have appeared to address this demand. This has also necessitated the development of educational and training programs that can develop the competencies that graduates need in modernizing healthcare. Health information science (also known as health informatics) is an exciting field of study that involves integrating the study of information technology, business and health care. Health information science brings these fields together with the goal to improve and modernize how health care is provided. Health information science graduates work with all health care professionals from doctors and nurses to pharmacists and health care managers.
The curriculum and program of study required to adequately train graduates in this area includes courses in health sciences, healthcare management and information technology, all applied with a focus on solving problems in health care. For example, students need to understand how information technology can be applied to solve healthcare problems, ranging from reducing wait times to providing online advice to both health professionals and patients. In addition, students need to have an appreciation of the business processes that underlie healthcare today, as well as a basic understanding of healthcare terminology and processes in order to communicate effectively in this space. The health information science professional often works at the critical space between the health sciences and information technology. This makes for an exciting area of study and career opportunities for students who enjoy working with technology and who want to make a difference in improving healthcare.
There is a great demand for graduates who have technology skills who work in health care doing digital health. Graduates of health information science programs at all levels from bachelor to graduate degrees can expect to work in range of exciting positions. Recent estimates indicate that each year there are several thousand unfilled positions in health information science across Canada, giving graduates their pick of jobs (and at high starting wages in the range of $65-$70,000 per year on graduation from a Bachelor’s degree). Health information science should be of particular interest to students who have interest in working at the interface of health science and information technology, where there are great opportunities resulting from studying health information science. Students coming in to this field often have an interest in both technology and health and may have taken courses in high school in these areas. As such students may have taken a biology and a computer course in high school, but this is not a requirement. An English and a math in grade 12 are typically required – particular programs should be consulted for details.
Graduates of health information science programs have the ability to work in a range of settings and locations (including within Canada and internationally). This can range from work within hospitals overseeing and modernizing healthcare processes through information technology, selecting and implementing new digital technologies, and training health professionals on how to apply technology in their daily work. Many graduates also work in health ministries at the provincial and national level, where they may provide advice on health data and participate in key decision making about healthcare that affects all of us today. Other graduates go on to work in the rapidly emerging area of health information technology and work with a range of companies and corporations by providing input into design and implementation of a range of technological solutions.
Job titles of recent graduates (i.e. those who have completed a four year bachelor degree in health information science) include but are not limited to: clinical informatics coordinator, health business analyst, program coordinator, trainer, research coordinator and privacy analyst. Graduates typically progress rapidly to a range of intermediate positions including clinical informatics manager, project manager and specialist positions, with many graduates becoming directors of clinical informatics departments, chief information officers and chief transformation officers for health authorities, hospitals and vendors.
An important component of health information science programs is experiential learning, where students get an opportunity to learn while working on projects with hospitals, ministries of health and companies within their program of study. Typically students in such co-op experiences are in demand and students are paid for their working in co-op positions during their studies (which can help offset standard domestic tuition costs of approximately $7000 per year).
In addition, to undergraduate programs, there are a range of graduate programs in health information science, that draws students from undergraduate programs in health informatics, as well as from other health professional areas such as medicine and nursing.
Graduates feel they are part of an important effort to make healthcare more accessible and effective for all Canadians, and as such graduates of health information science programs report having a highly satisfying careers. Students who do well in this field are often self-motivated and enjoy working with others to solve important societal problems. An important aspect of health information science is the ability to work in teams, making communication skills and “people skills” an important aspect of careers in health information science. In addition to a wide range of careers upon graduation, health information science students are also well positioned to apply for further studies in medicine (as pre-med studies) and other health professions and can bring their knowledge of healthcare processes and how technology can solve problems to a wide range of healthcare issues.
Andre Kushniruk, PhD, Professor and Director of the School of Health Information Science, The University of Victoria