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For those working on the IT side of healthcare, how much of your knowledge actually pertains to biomedical sciences and how much is of computer science?

I'm a student who wants to go into biotechnology, however, I'm also interested in #computer-science and would like to see how biomed and programming go hand in hand.


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fred’s Answer

I worked in IT for a large healthcare company for about 12 years. As with many questions, the answer is "it depends". My roles did not require
me to know much of anything about healthcare or medicine. For the most part, my job involved getting different systems to talk to each other.
What the data was didn't matter (an x-ray, a lab report, a bill). I needed to know how to parse the data formats (XML, HL7, or even CSV files), and then how to connect systems (TCP/IP, sFTP…). I got a crash course in appropriate dress/behavior in the ORs when we implemented a system the anesthesiologists used to document patient care, and actually went in during some procedures to assist them (i.e. showing them where to click to record a drug or the time they started something).

Now, many of my peers were nurses. Their jobs were setting up workflows in the systems the doctors and healthcare providers used. Obviously, it was a tremendous help that they knew what was needed. Others had expertise in lab work or pharmacies, and knew what was important in <this> lab test vs. <that> lab test, and therefore knew what needed to be displayed more prominently (this is just an example).

Yet others worked in finance, or supply chain, or patient billing...

There is a lot of interest right now in big data. Many hospital systems have a vast treasure trove of data, but don't yet really know how to leverage it. Having knowledge of medicine/biotech and computer science could be a tremendous benefit in that area. If you understand what kinds of things are important, and know how to build the data mining tools, that could also be a tremendous benefit. I was just starting to work with on physician on such a project when I was transferred. He knew what he wanted, but didn't know how to get it. I was trying to learn about what he needed so I could mine it for him. Had either of us had both sides of the knowledge, we'd have gotten much further, much faster.

So to summarize...it depends. Healthcare IT is a very, very large area, with many different pieces. Some would need more biotech/medicine knowledge than others.

The field seems to be a lot bigger and has a lot more specializations than I realized. Thank you for the clarification! Maya P.

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Ross’s Answer

Hi Maya this is a great question and a great career pathway to pursue as there is significant opportunity in healthcare IT. Just within the last 10 - 20 years the majority of health systems across the U.S. have transitioned from paper medical record keeping to electronic medical records. Unfortunately, the technology currently is very clunky and often does not do a good job of meeting the needs of healthcare professionals e.g. too many clicks and screens, workflows that don't follow actual care pathways, etc. From my experience, a lot of folks that end up in this field start as a medical professional typically in nursing or even medical doctors, physical therapists, etc. What I have seen is these professional bring a great amount of knowledge on what actually happens on the frontline of medical care and what the needs are of medical professionals; however, they often lack the technical computer science skills to be able to successfully connect the dots with IT system design that meets the needs of the end user. I would say knowledge of both is important, but in my opinion the computer science knowledge is more applicable; the medical knowledge e.g. process, workflows, etc. can be supplemented by leaning on medical professionals to help you fill the knowledge gap for whatever need you may be working on fulfilling with new design.

Thank you! Maya P.

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Rahul’s Answer

I worked for a healthcare insurance company IT group and during my experience there I see there a need for both the skills and they have great synergy .Different areas of healthcare benefit from computer science expertise. One of the main areas is data and analytics which is extensively used in research. I think the more biotechnology background and domain expertise you have you can use your computer science and data skills in better and new ways.
This can be used in the research field and can also be applied to ensure the health insurances and hospitals and heal practitioner network is outcome driven.

Yes, I've been seeing that healthcare IT is largely based around data. Maya P.

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Alexander’s Answer

I personally don't work in IT but one of my good friends was a Biomedical major (like a medical engineer, mech eng and bio major combined). She codes the algorithms used in healthcare systems to track how viruses and bacteria grow. Her minor in CS helped significantly so she knows the bio side well, and the CS side too.

For IT healthcare like Siemens Healthineers usually there is a programmer and a medical professional as a team. Thus, both have their specialty and know the basics about the other. The basics being like college biology for programmers and beginner Python or java for medical.

As always, it helps to be like my friend and know both well. Otherwise, look at what specific skills are needed in healthcare technology that you don't have currently.

Alexander recommends the following next steps:

research Siemens Healthineers/ Johnson and johnson
Reach out to Healthineer to learn more

Thank you! Maya P.

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Steve’s Answer

Hello Maya,

You sound like a great candidate for a hot new field in IT... Bioinformatics!

You're in luck too, because one of the best places in the country to study Informatics (and Biology) is right here in California at the University of California, Irvine!

Check out the UCI School of Information and Computer Sciences terrific Informatics program at:

https://www.informatics.uci.edu/

UCI also has an awesome Biology major and Medical School, too.

Good luck!

Yes! I googled bioinformatics and it sounds very interesting. I will definitely check out their program. Thank you! Maya P.

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fred’s Answer

I worked in IT for a large healthcare company for about 12 years. As with many questions, the answer is "it depends". My roles did not require
me to know much of anything about healthcare or medicine. For the most part, my job involved getting different systems to talk to each other.
What the data was didn't matter (an x-ray, a lab report, a bill). I needed to know how to parse the data formats (XML, HL7, or even CSV files), and then how to connect systems (TCP/IP, sFTP…). I got a crash course in appropriate dress/behavior in the ORs when we implemented a system the anesthesiologists used to document patient care, and actually went in during some procedures to assist them (i.e. showing them where to click to record a drug or the time they started something).

Now, many of my peers were nurses. Their jobs were setting up workflows in the systems the doctors and healthcare providers used. Obviously, it was a tremendous help that they knew what was needed. Others had expertise in lab work or pharmacies, and knew what was important in <this> lab test vs. <that> lab test, and therefore knew what needed to be displayed more prominently (this is just an example).

Yet others worked in finance, or supply chain, or patient billing...

There is a lot of interest right now in big data. Many hospital systems have a vast treasure trove of data, but don't yet really know how to leverage it. Having knowledge of medicine/biotech and computer science could be a tremendous benefit in that area. If you understand what kinds of things are important, and know how to build the data mining tools, that could also be a tremendous benefit. I was just starting to work with on physician on such a project when I was transferred. He knew what he wanted, but didn't know how to get it. I was trying to learn about what he needed so I could mine it for him. Had either of us had both sides of the knowledge, we'd have gotten much further, much faster.

So to summarize...it depends. Healthcare IT is a very, very large area, with many different pieces. Some would need more biotech/medicine knowledge than others.

Thank you for this :) Maya P.

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