Health informatics (HI) is an invaluable field of study in the modern age as it combines the medical industry, data management, and technology, and enables practitioners to make decisions that best serve their patients. Furthermore, HI is vital in the early detection and management of chronic diseases . It helps healthcare providers manage patient data, identify high-risk patients, and develop interventions that target the specific needs of patients. It also allows healthcare professionals to share patient data and collaborate on care plans, which leads to more coordinated and effective care . HI plays a crucial role in healthcare management and administration. It helps healthcare providers manage resources efficiently, track inventory, and monitor key performance indicators for quality assurance . It also ensures the integration of clinical and administrative data, leading to better decision-making and resource allocation . Moreover, HI ensures that patient information is secure and protected. Privacy is a top priority in healthcare, and HI provides a secure platform for healthcare providers to manage patient data and ensures that the data are only accessible to authorized personnel [2, 3].
Within the evolving technology and the healthcare landscape, the skills and knowledge to stay ahead of these changes are becoming increasingly important [1, 4]. Unfortunately, a growing gap exists between employers’ needs and HI students’ knowledge at graduation [4, 5]. Owing to the rising demand for HI services, employers must find professionals with the required skills and expertise in the job market . Although IT professionals who have been trained or have experience in HI bring valuable skills and experience to the table, employers still report difficulty finding suitable candidates. Students preparing to enter the workforce lack an understanding of healthcare needs and the skills to solve problems specific to the healthcare industry . This inadequacy points to a misalignment between the current educational curriculum and employer requirements .
HI education lacks adequate on-the-job training to prepare graduates for industry roles. Despite students learning additional skills and developing those already learned in school, the acquired skills are often not fundamental to their job [8,9,10]. Employers want to hire candidates who can function efficiently in the job environment and are up-to-date with the latest tools and technologies . They need graduates who demonstrate a hands-on approach and possess a certain level of practical skills in addition to their theoretical knowledge . The increasing demand for people with an understanding of HI induces a growing concern among employers owing to the scarcity of highly skilled professionals.
With constantly changing technology, employers need employees to keep abreast with advancements in this field [5, 10]. This issue can be addressed by increasing the number of practical applications and implementing HI activities in the curriculum. Furthermore, students should be exposed to the healthcare industry outside the classroom to increase their exposure to real-world settings [7, 9].
The Saudi Commission for Health Specialists as a supervisory and regulatory organisation
HI is an increasingly important field in the healthcare industry because it stores and provides vital access to patient information, medical records, and other important medical data. To ensure that HI graduates have the necessary qualifications to maintain and protect patient data, the Saudi Commission for Health Specialists (SCFHS) has developed a classification process to prepare graduates for their roles in the healthcare industry [5, 8,9,10]. This process involves both theoretical and practical skills, such as examining students’ knowledge in relevant fields (e.g., healthcare information technology [IT], databases, and computer programming) and completing a project that demonstrates students’ skills and competencies in HI .
The students who participate in these SCFHS projects research and develop HI applications or programmes. These applications exemplify HI skills such as the use of databases, programming, security, and other relevant fields. The projects are evaluated by a committee of HI experts and serve as a key factor in the committee’s decision to certify the students as qualified for their role in the health industry. Once the students are deemed qualified, they receive a certificate of specialisation in HI from the SCFHS that is officially recognised and makes them eligible to apply for work in the health industry. This certification is a valuable addition to students’ resumes, and allows employers to easily identify a student’s qualifications and expertise in HI [9, 11].
The gap between employers’ needs and academic programmes in HI and the role of professional bodies
A critical issue in the field of HI is the gap between employers’ needs and the output of academic programmes. Despite industrial organisations and government agencies recognising the importance of training and education in developing and operating health information systems, progress has been comparatively slow in terms of investment in healthcare information technology [5, 7]. In the early 1990s, countries had very few established HI programmes because of the slow response of higher education institutions related to the information revolution in healthcare . The continuous need to provide education and training for the workforce in healthcare information systems and information management is one of the reasons for the delayed progress in this area. Individual staff members require different levels of training and education. Therefore, the differing skills and abilities of employees and their aspirations for further training, education, and qualifications need to be considered .
Globally, employers expect students from different countries to have the same basic knowledge and skills in healthcare information and technology . However, the interdisciplinary nature of HI generates diverse perspectives on course content, admission standards, and requirements for degree programmes. For example, 30% of the medical and HI programmes in the United States are interdepartmental, which means that these academic programmes could face administrative barriers . Additionally, the diversity of healthcare information provides a wide spectrum of topics across various HI programmes. Programmes’ emphasis also vary by country. For example, in Germany, a greater focus is placed on clinical issues reflecting the tradition of medical informatics. However, in the United States, there is a stronger emphasis on healthcare administration and health policies .
Owing to the accelerating demand for HI professionals and the increasing availability of a range of HI programmes that provide graduates with different types of expertise , maintaining high standards and quality education in this field is important. National accreditation committees generally evaluate HI educational programmes. For instance, in the United States, the Commission on Accreditation for HI and Information Management Education (CAHIIM) establishes and enforces quality accreditation standards for HI and health information management programmes (CAHIIM, 2017) with the support of the American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA).
Organisations like the International Medical Informatics Association (IMIA) are responsible for making recommendations on biomedical and HI education to guide curriculum development [14, 15]. The IMIA has international expertise in the field of education and helps educational institutions define the content of their curricula and the knowledge and skills necessary for different categories of HI specialists [14, 15]. The organisation has also established an accreditation service for international HI education benchmarks. The IMIA accreditation is provided in addition to, and not as a substitute for, accreditations available in other countries . This accreditation allows educational institutions to attain international status and become more competitive and attractive to students . It gives students mobility so that they can study in another country and return after completing their studies overseas, or work internationally .
Professional bodies, such as the AMIA, support HI practitioners by sharing research and best practices and advancing HI as a profession . The AMIA has developed a professional code of ethics and a top-ranking scientific research journal, the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, that publishes articles on the growing HI workforce and the needs of specialty areas . Similar to AMIA, the Saudi Association for HI (SAHI) supports HI practitioners in Saudi Arabia (SA) .
SA’s healthcare sector has undergone a major transformation in recent years, with a focus on improving the quality of healthcare services. Consequently, HI has gained importance as a means to improve the delivery of healthcare services . The field is experiencing rapid growth, with a large number of academic programmes in HI being offered at various universities. However, there is still a gap between the output of academic programmes in HI and the healthcare sector’s employment needs. The gap is caused by various factors, such as the lack of industry collaboration in curriculum development, limited job opportunities, and inadequate training and development programmes.
This study aims to determine the gap between employer demand and academic programmes in HI in SA. This gap must be addressed to ensure that students are better equipped to enter the industry. Incorporating increased practical applications and providing students with a thorough understanding of the healthcare industry can give them the resources needed to become efficient future HI professionals.