Friday, August 7, 2009

Informatics: A Field and Profession Coming Into its Own

If there is one gratifying aspect about the informatics field in recent years, it has been the field's self-identification. The role of informatics, distinct from information technology (IT) as well as other health care professions, has been established. This is important for any discipline, especially for those who are professionals in the emerging field and those studying to enter it.

I recently had the opportunity to expound on this in a couple interviews. In both of them, I appreciated that the interviewers published essentially unedited transcripts of their questions and my answers. Sometimes it is appropriate for writers to try to summarize an interview, but often they end up over-simplifying or getting things wrong. These interviews, on the other hand, are both a nice stream of consciousness.

The first interview is an audio interview on the XM Radio show, ReadyMD. To listen to the interview, you need to follow this link:
(When you get to the page, you have the option to play the interview on the page or to download the Podcast [MP3] file. If you choose the former, you need to create a free account on their Web site to access the interview. The latter allows you to play or even download and save the audio file.)

The second interview is on the famous (infamous?) blog, Mr. HISTalk, which is an authoritative site for both news and gossip in health IT:
This interview is a text transcript, but for the most part is a verbatim stream of consciousness between the interviewer and myself. We cover a number of topics, not only workforce and education, but also clinical data issues and the stimulus package. (And no, I cannot divulge the identity of Mr. HISTalk. Even if I knew more than his first name!)

Of course, not all people who write about informatics field get it right. (Though is the old showbiz adage true, that any publicity is good publicity?) In any case, a recent posting on the CNN Web site describes "seven emerging jobs poised for growth," one of which is a "health informatics technician":

According to the site, there is huge growth opportunity as health care facilities transition to electronic health records. Sounds great, until they list the salary: $31,208! I assume this is an annual salary, but I am flabbergasted, since the salaries in this field are in reality so substantially higher, even for entry-level jobs. The only people in the field who make that low of a salary are the PhD students on stipends from our NLM training grant! Even the postdocs on the training grant make more, and every other person I know in the field makes more than this, some a whole lot more.

If you look at the Healthcare Informatics 2009 Compensation Survey, you see that those in clinical positions make median salaries of $78,000 ("low authority") to $111,000 ("low authority"). Those in non-clinical positions make median salaries of $80,000 ("low authority") to $92,000 ("low authority"). Senior executives have mean salaries of $150,000. (All of these data are for those working in hospitals, but they are comparable for others who work in other health care settings as well as for companies.) Other data show Chief Medical Information Officers make $150,000-$300,000 (depending on their clinical background).

So this is a professional that has found its identity and the salary opportunities are pretty decent!