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The term "big data" seems to be thrown around a lot these days, as it manages to touch individuals from all walks of life in some significant way. However, not many fully understand the concept or how it affects them.
Big data refers to massive amounts of data, so large that it's difficult to process using traditional database and software techniques. Simply put, we have access to more data than ever before, but we lack the resources to properly analyze all the data we can collect. This conundrum spans virtually all industries, and the future of health care is certainly no exception.
Big data in health care presents incredible opportunities for those considering a new career path or those entering the workforce. Because of the overwhelming amount of data-and so few people skilled in collecting and analyzing it-becoming skilled in either health informatics (HI) or health information management (HIM) could be a smart career move.
A health informatics degree focuses on the IT and data analytics side of health care and applies data science, computing, and technology to health and medical research.
A health information management degree leads to a separate but parallel career path, and deals more with the management of medical data to enhance patient care. HIM professionals may manage the planning of health information records and systems, developing health policy, or identifying current and future health care business needs.
Though both have been an integral part of the health care system for decades, they are now coming to the forefront, and the demand for qualified professionals has grown accordingly. The implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), commonly referred to as "Obamacare," was a major driving force behind this, encouraging health care providers to facilitate data sharing and become more data-driven with the meaningful use of electronic medical records.
The challenges resulting from the big data evolution can be summed up by "three V's" of big data: volume, velocity, and variety.
Volume refers to the sheer amount of data available. Databases, which are operated by various organizations, including the U.S. government, collect and store data for general public use. However, the data is so expansive, there are simply not enough people to analyze it.
Velocity is the overwhelming rate at which information is collected. For example, consider the new Apple Watch and the amount of data points it is able to collect on one person, such as heart rate, steps taken, favorite music, and to-do lists, just to name a few. Now, imagine all those data points being collected for millions-or even billions-of people. In today's data-focused society, we now collect trillions of data points on various health-related measures daily. The problem we face is having too much health data and not enough people to analyze and manage it. The rate the data comes in to the servers is so fast, humans just can't keep up.
The variety of information being collected is astounding. As technology continuously improves, so do the data sensors, which can better detect information from various sources. Once these data points are collected, the challenge becomes gathering meaning from all the different information.
According to a study published by the Health Information Management and Systems Society (HIMSS), 31% of health care organizations reported having to put an IT initiative on hold due to staff shortages, and many expressed concern about these shortages creating risks to patient care and revenue generation. In addition, 43% of health care provider organizations and 56% of vendors cited the lack of qualified individuals as their biggest challenge to fully staffing their organizations.
This year saw the highest number of H-1B visa applications, commonly known as the highly skilled worker visa. The United States has taken to outsourcing many health care IT jobs, but not to save money-rather to help fill the void of qualified individuals. This presents a great opportunity for those considering a career path in the health care field, particularly those who choose to pursue a health informatics degree or health information management degree.
According to the American Medical Informatics Association, the rate at which the health informatics field is growing is tremendous, and advanced degrees are increasingly valuable, due to the complexity of the proficiency required in the field.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, employment of health information technicians is projected to grow 22% from 2012 to 2022, much faster than the average for all occupations.* The American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) suggests that demand for health information professionals at all levels of education and credentialing may continue to grow as the health sector continues to expand.
Of course, in either career path, advancing your education can also lead to more career opportunities.† Programs such as Kaplan University's Master of Health Informatics or Master of Health Information Management help students prepare to excel in a rapidly growing field.
The Growing Field of Health Care Information Technology
Public Health and Health Education: What’s the Difference?
Did you find this article interesting? If so, share it!
And if you are considering pursuing a health sciences degree, we invite you to find out more about Kaplan University's School of Health Sciences and explore our undergraduate and graduate degree offerings.
* National long-term projections may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.
† Kaplan University cannot guarantee employment or career advancement.
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