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What is Public Health Informatics?

December 08, 2020

As the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect our daily lives, the importance of protecting our families and communities through public health has likely never been greater. It’s becoming increasingly clear that the future of public health will be driven by technology, which highlights the extraordinary importance of public health informatics and its role in keeping society safe, healthy and informed.

Public health informatics supports the larger mission of public health: preventing causes of disease and death and creating healthy communities through outreach, education and policies that reduce health threats.1 Public health efforts play a major role in how our world responds to new threats, such as COVID-19, and ongoing issues, such as opioid use disorder, suicide, heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes.

Public health informatics professionals, often working with a team of IT specialists, epidemiologists, doctors, nurses and other public health specialists, must develop a deep understanding of healthcare as well as technology.

The Purpose of Health Informatics

The purpose of public health informatics is to find new technology-based solutions for public health problems through the application of informatics—the science of data, information and knowledge. It is hard to overstate the life-and-death importance of informatics in our modern healthcare system. In the end, public health interventions are only as effective as the data that supports them.2

During any public health crisis, the impact of informatics on public health is truly critical.3 Public health informatics uses technology and information systems to advance strategies such as surveillance, prevention, preparedness, outbreak management, electronic laboratory reporting, predictive modeling and health promotions.4

According to the American Medical Informatics Association, the use of informatics has grown exponentially over the past 35 years, to improve health and healthcare decisions. Millions of people benefit from public health informatics and the collection, analysis and application of data to care decisions.5

Access to real-time data is critical for public health decision-makers, and informatics is at the core of supporting access and dissemination of information, especially for healthcare institutions, city, county, tribal and state departments of health, and federal agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Public health informatics draws important connections across the spectrum of public health.6

Careers in Public Health Informatics

Not only is the field of public health informatics important to our collective future, the career outlook offers opportunity to individuals who want to make a difference at the intersection of public policy, healthcare and technology. Healthcare IT News reports that there are more health informatic jobs open than workers to fill them, in an industry that’s expected to grow, over the next five years, at a faster rate than the national average for all jobs.7

Public health informatics is needed to combat world health problems, even in the smallest, most isolated communities. Jobs exist in hospitals, healthcare settings within federal or local governments, research institutions and universities. In any setting, health informatics professionals can be expected to organize and analyze large amounts of data, drawing on healthcare science as well as computer science, information science and cognitive science.

Although public health informatics careers can be behind the scenes in many organizations, there are many opportunities for advancement to higher profile and better paying positions, especially with the right professional preparation. Because these positions are often in government, universities and non-profit organizations, public health informatic careers often offer stability and long-term benefits that can outweigh slightly higher salaries in the private sector. If you’ve worked in public health, or if you’ve worked in health informatics, you know how crucial data can be in making decisions that can affect the health and wellness of people around the globe—or next door.

Empower the Practice of Healthcare.

With the Kent State online master's degree or postbaccalaureate certificate in Health Informatics, you’ll be prepared for a rewarding career at the forefront of healthcare. By designing robust systems to collect, analyze and apply medical data, you’ll enable physicians and nurses to fine-tune diagnostics and treatment, and provide research scientists with essential, potentially lifesaving information.