SPECIAL ADVERTISING SECTION: Health & Science Career Advice

Medical Informatics

Sunday, November 7, 2010; 9:00 AM

A healthcare profession snapshot

If you are looking for a career that offers stability, flexibility and advancement, consider the growing field of medical informatics. Medical informaticians apply the principles of computer and information science to the advancement of life sciences research, patient care, health professions education and public health, according to the American Medical Informatics Association.

Informaticians are responsible for effectively organizing, analyzing, managing and using the complex and increasing amount of information necessary in both healthcare delivery and research.

"Healthcare reform and advances in technology have propelled the need for trained informaticists in healthcare to new heights," said Marisa L. Wilson, DNSc., MHSc., RN-BC, assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of Nursing, which was the first school to offer an established master's degree in the field of nursing informatics. The 2009 federal stimulus package, for instance, targets millions of dollars of funding for informatics development and deployment. The package includes a goal of an electronic health record for every United States resident by 2014 in order to increase efficiency, decrease costs and medical errors, facilitate healthcare research and improve communication across providers and care settings.

"Combined with other healthcare reform efforts, these technology infusion activities have wide-scale transformational effects and have a huge impact on the informatics workforce needs," Wilson said. "Nursing informaticians, with their combined healthcare and informatics skill sets, are now in demand more than ever before."

The University of Maryland School of Nursing receives daily requests from hospitals, ambulatory centers, home health corporations, national research companies and policy organizations for its master's and doctoral informatics students even before graduation, according to Wilson.

Medical informaticians will be able to find jobs in a variety of settings including hospitals and other healthcare institutions; private healthcare practices; medical software companies; healthcare consulting companies; pharmaceutical companies; medical device and medical technology companies; medical libraries; public health organizations; government and non-government agencies and healthcare associations; insurance and other healthcare-related companies; research laboratories; and universities and colleges.

"This is a wonderful field for those who want to combine their clinical expertise with workflow redesign and computer technology in an ever-changing environment," Wilson said.

Rebecca Rose, assistant vice president of patient care services and nursing informatics liaison at Virginia Hospital Center, agreed. "This is a growing field," she said, adding that the hospital currently has openings in nursing informatics.

Virginia Hospital Center's Division of Information Services has been instrumental in developing and implementing the hospital's new electronic medical records program, which has been designed to ensure patient safety┬┐with such features as bar code scanning of patient wristbands to double check treatment and medication orders┬┐as well as to improve communications between patients and their caregivers and to streamline the workflow.

"Nursing informatics specialists are essential in developing and implementing the strategies needed to take advantage of today's state-of-the-art technology," Rose said. "They're an important piece of providing quality care to our patients, ensuring improved patient safety and quality outcomes."

To meet the growing demand in the medical informatics field, Northern Virginia Community College's Medical Education Campus launched six new programs to train workers in Virginia in health information management and health information technology.

The programs include training in practice workflow and information management; redesign; clinician/practioner consulting; implementation support specialist; implementation management; technical/software support; and training, according to David Falkenstein, PA-C, program director for Federally Funded Grants.

Echoing Wilson and Rose, Falkenstein observed that though the field of medical informatics is still in its infancy, "the technology will take off in the next two years, creating even more demand for those ready to step into the newly created jobs."

This special advertising section was written by Carol Sorgen, a freelance writer, in conjunction with The Washington Post Special Sections Department. The production of this supplement did not involve The Washington Post news or editorial staff.

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