If you’re a student or an emerging professional, you may be wondering what different career paths there are for the ehealth, digital health, or health informatics profession (all of these are equivalent by the way – for simplicity, I will use the term ehealth). After all, this isn’t a popular topic for discussion in any undergraduate studies. I know I have been in the same position, and materials online just aren’t very clear.
Now that I’m several years into the ehealth profession, I have seen first hand what the career opportunities are. I have also spoken with many of my colleagues (graduates of McMaster’s MSc ehealth) about their ehealth career. In this blog, I will share my findings with you and hope it will help you with your own career choices.
To start off, let’s first understand a bit about ehealth:
ehealth is the use of information technology for the delivery of care or support of wellbeing.
I have a more in-depth explanation of this definition in this blog article.
Generally speaking, ehealth is a very broad field, covering any activities that goes into producing and maintaining technologies used by patients such as patient information portals, mobile health apps – or by care providers such as electronic health records or precision medicine technologies – or by a combination of patients/providers such as telemedicine technologies. Health system executives also rely on ehealth for decision making – the tools and technologies they use and the activities supporting health information analytics are also examples of ehealth.
ehealth professionals work in a variety of settings – they can be in the clinical setting working on the implementation of a new software for clinical use, in an office (or from home) if they’re crunching health data to generate analytics for health system resource planning, or even on the road if they’re working in a mobile health clinic. They can work in organizations of all sizes, from small startups working on the next-generation fitness technology, to hospitals who need to ensure the right patient lab results is accessible by the right care team at the right time and at the right place, to larger organizations such as the space agency who is developing remote surgical techniques for astronauts.
Career paths for ehealth professionals are many. Through reviewing over 500 ehealth job descriptions across Canada, Digital Health Canada has identified 7 broad categories of roles taken on by ehealth professionals. They are: Clinical & Health Services, Canadian Health System, Project Management, Organization and Behavioural Management, Analysis and Evaluation, Information Management, and Information Technology.
Below is a very brief summary of each career path category as identified by Digital Health Canada:
Clinical & Health Services: Clinical professionals such as physicians and nurses often are not sharp when it comes to computers – conversely, technology folks who work on ehealth projects often are not strong clinically. On an ehealth team, the Clinical & Health Services category of roles is responsible for liaising clinical professionals with technical members of the team. They will translate between clinical terms and information system language so that clinical professionals and technical members can communicate with each other better in the multidisciplinary ehealth team. From experience, I’ve seen this role to be frequently taken on by ehealth professionals who previously worked as health or allied health professionals.
Canadian Health System: This category of roles is similar to Clinical & Health Services, except broader in scope. Individuals who work in the Canadian Health System role work on ehealth strategies and ehealth information systems at the health system level, such as pan-Canadian or provincial. This category of individuals is skilled at identifying opportunities for system improvement and facilitates implementations of such solutions across healthcare organizations.
Project Management: Health information system development endeavors require the team to keep track of timelines, amount of work, and budget. Individuals who work in project management fulfills this duty. This person also manages risks, hires staff for projects, builds relationships with external vendors or clients, evaluates potential synergies across projects within an organization, and clears roadblocks for ehealth team members, etc. Much of the administrative work is also often completed by the project management team member.
Organizational and Behavioral Management: Implementation of a new ehealth technology within a healthcare organization usually results in some form of change – it can be a change in roles and responsibilities of staff, change in a standard operating procedure, change in the layout of a workstation, etc. A successful ehealth implementation will require people to embrace this change - but the problem is that people are naturally resistant to change. Individuals working in the Organizational and Behavioral Management category manages this change process to ensure change brought about by ehealth implementation is welcomed and accepted - such that the change, along with the ehealth solution, can be sustained.
Analysis and Evaluation: Every patient interaction with our healthcare system produces data useful for things ranging from care coordination to health system planning. Individuals who work in Analysis and Evaluation category is skilled at making use of these data to produce analytical information to report on health organization/system performance and for evidence-based decision making. They also help determine what types of information ehealth systems will need to collect in order for them to achieve analytical goals.
Information Management: Record keeping in a healthcare facility has traditionally been in the form of filing cabinets locked in secure rooms for paper charts. Digital record keeping techniques are needed for ehealth systems. Information Management category of roles is responsible for managing secure health information storage, optimal data structure for storage, evolution to data changes over time, as well as implementation of privacy safeguards around data storage and retrieval.
Information Technology: When it comes to choosing the right technology, the ehealth team relies on the expertise of the information technology team member. This member will ensure that the design of the technology meets the needs of health delivery and is pluggable with existing ehealth technology ecosystem. The information technology team member will also carry through to develop, operate, and perpetually advise on maintenance and upgrade of ehealth information systems.
There you have the 7 categories of roles for the ehealth profession as Digital Health Canada identified through its pan-Canadian review. This list is far from exhaustive. Taking on one path also does not preclude you from choosing another path later on in your career. ehealth teams are diverse and always multidisciplinary. Team members often are multitalented and wear multiple hats.
If you see a role that suits you, go on to try it out - apply to it for a summer or take on an ehealth graduate degree with internship opportunity. If you are passionate about improving human health and quality of life using technology, this is the right field to be in. Importantly, you will enjoy a highly rewarding career.