Health Information Technology: What’s in a Name? Blog Feature
Sarah Layton

By: Sarah Layton on March 13th, 2012

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Health Information Technology: What’s in a Name?

Health Information Technology | Health Science

What’s the difference between health information technology, health information management, and health informatics?

Over the past several years, the use (or over-use) of the phrase health information technology has caused confusion for some health science educators. 

We’ve talked about the “Health Informatics Career Pathway” for years. Should we now change the name of that pathway to “Health Information Technology?” 

Should we be teaching our students “Health Information Management?”  Are they all the same? 

If not, what’s the difference?

(Need to teach HIT to your students? Download this free lesson to use today!)

Health Information Technology (HIT)

health-information-technology-example

Health Information Technology, also called Health IT or HIT, gained national attention at the end of the last decade when it was widely touted as a way to increase healthcare quality and safety while decreasing costs. 

HIT was discussed in the presidential debates of 2008, and was included prominently in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) “Economic Stimulus” bill of 2009.

But designing and implementing HIT solutions usually involves much more “computer science” than “health science.” 

The terms most often heard when discussing HIT include:

  • Computers
  • Hardware
  • Software
  • Data
  • Programming
  • Networking

These are really the tools needed to collect, store and communicate health information. 

So unless we are training future IT professionals such as computer programmers, systems architects, or network engineers, the term “health information technology” does not seem like a good fit for the career pathway, or for most of the courses health science educators teach.

Health Information Management (HIM)

health-information-management

According to the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA), health information management – or HIM, for short – has historically dealt with the “management of health data and medical records needed to deliver quality healthcare.” 

With the rising importance of the Electronic Medical Record (EMR), now more commonly referred to as the Electronic Health Record (EHR), there is a growing overlap between HIT and HIM.

The terms often heard when discussing HIM include:

  • Records
  • Coding
  • Documentation
  • Policy
  • Guidelines
  • Administration
  • Compliance

These are terms that are somewhat more familiar to us as health science educators.

However, most true HIM professionals plan and develop the policies and procedures used to manage healthcare information.

They often deal with information at a very high systems level, rather than at the operational “tools” level.

So if we are not educating doctoral, baccalaureate, or at the least associate degree students in the study of information systems, the title “health information management” may not be a good fit for many of our programs either.

Health Informatics

In general, “informatics” is thought of as the intersection of people, information, and technology. 

One popular definition for health informatics is “a discipline at the intersection of information science, computer science, and health care.”

If we apply this intersection concept to our discussion of HIT and HIM, we could draw this graphical illustration:

health information technology

Viewed this way, we could say health informatics is the application of technology tools and information systems in a healthcare setting or context.

Healthcare workers who apply health information tools and systems generally do so in a clinical setting. 

As such, they need to have a basic understanding of both health science and computer science — both medical terminology and computer terminology. 

These allied health professionals need to be educated in health informatics.

As health science educators, we are responsible for teaching our students the basic knowledge and skills needed for success in the modern healthcare workplace. 

While we may need to update our students’ technological vocabulary, and help them develop new information management skills, it seems that the term “Health Informatics” is still appropriate and relevant for this career pathway, as well as for many of the courses we teach.

How Do You Teach Health Informatics in the Classroom?

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Health informatics isn't going away in any way. 

That means it's on the health science teachers of today to prepare their students for the future! 

How do you do that? 

The answer lies in HealthCenter21! 

HealthCenter21 is a digital curriculum that's constantly updated with the latest and most accurate medical information for health science students. 

It's specifically designed to introduce students into modern concepts, including health information. 

But is it the right fit for your classroom? 

Watch this free demo of HealthCenter21 to decide for yourself! 

Watch Your Demo >

 

About Sarah Layton

Sarah has been with AES since 1998, first serving as a curriculum developer, and now as a customer support analyst and content creator. She is committed to helping instructors gain experience and confidence using our solutions and to providing excellent customer care.