A Masters in Health Informatics explores methods to collect, store, retrieve and use healthcare data by taking advantage of technology. As an interdisciplinary field, informatics is used to create new solutions that could enhance biomedical science, population health, and patient care. Because of its diverse applications, healthcare informatics degrees may be available with a variety of concentrations and focus areas.
Students could learn how to apply scientific concepts, theories and practices that draw on, and contribute to other fields. As a result, health informatics programs could appeal to clinicians, information technologists, and current healthcare business professionals.
written by Rana Waxman
DID YOU KNOW?
“The science of informatics drives innovation that is defining future approaches to information and knowledge management in biomedical research, clinical care, and public health.”i
The American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA) uses the term ‘health informatics’ to refer to applied research and practices of informatics across both the clinical and public health domains. Per the AMIA, ‘medical informatics’ is no longer routinely used, given the growth of bioinformatics. The scope of a graduate degree in health informatics might therefore include some of the following topics.
|Medical Informatics||University of California - Davis||MS|
|Master of Science in Health Informatics||The University of Scranton||MS|
|Master of Health Informatics||Purdue University Global||MS|
|Master of Science in Bioinformatics||Johns Hopkins University||MB|
There are some key differences between health informatics, health information technology and bioinformatics that a health informatics degree seeker should keep in mind.
Masters in Health Informatics programs could lead to a Master of Science (MS) in Health Informatics degree. However informatics is also offered as an area of emphasis in other programs and university departments. Master of Science in Nursing, Master of Science in Health Administration and Master of Management programs are a few examples. Each could therefore address different goals and needs.
Admission to Health Informatics graduate programs varies by program and university. For some Health Informatics Masters programs, no specific undergraduate degree is required. However, a graduate school might suggest applicants have a background in a quantitative field. This could include areas such as engineering, business, computer science, statistics, mathematics, or information technology degrees. Other backgrounds could include a clinical degree (MD, Nursing, Doctor of Physical Therapy) with some programming and math. Applicants might also be required to have a minimum GPA set by each school, and furnish transcripts, letters of recommendation and a resume.
Bridge Programs: Some Masters in Health Informatics programs provide what are sometimes referred to as bridge programs. These are for students who need to add to their education before they enter an MS program. In some cases, a school might offer two tracks, one for students with backgrounds in the life sciences and one for those with backgrounds in the computational sciences.
Master of Science in Health Informatics (MSHI) degree programs are often an intersection of biomedical science, analytics and clinical practice coursework. Students could therefore gain a broad grasp of the healthcare narrative, as well as the digital data it makes use of. Completion of a MS in Health Informatics program could require about 2 to 2.5 years full-time or 2.5 to 3 years part-time study, depending on course load, school, student and other factors.
Some MSHI programs consist of about 30 to 42 credit hours, although this is certainly a variable. Students often take courses that could contribute to a systems perspective to help them learn to make patient-centered and data-driven decisions. Courses could cover several disciplines, such as the following.
While credits and courses are allotted differently by each school, a curriculum often includes core courses, advanced electives and a capstone course. Students who do not have a background in health or computer science might also need to take preliminary coursework to help them thrive in their studies.
In their core courses, students might first start out with an introduction to the field of health informatics. Here they could explore the uses and impact of healthcare technology on various settings. Other required courses often cover technical areas in computer science, such as data analysis, software development and databases. Coursework in business management, public policy and workflow processes could round out a MS curriculum.
Electives are intended to help students tailor their studies to specific personal and professional aims. These draw from a school list of relevant courses. For instance, electives could cover topics as diverse as healthcare financial management, hospital administration and end-of-life-care.
Capstone course(s) are designed to help students synthesize course content into a final project. In it, they might integrate and apply theories, principles and skills to resolve a complex issue and present their data in a case study analysis.
Some of the more technical MS programs might offer different concentration areas.
Health Data Analytics: An emphasis in health data analytics could help students build skills in machine learning. Some of the topics that might be discussed could include natural language processing, nonlinear signal processing, bioinformatics and advanced statistical methods.
Clinical Informatics: An emphasis in clinical informatics could provide clinicians and healthcare executives with in depth coursework in clinical research informatics. Students might explore issues such as the role of informatics in healthcare cost control and global health informatics.
A Master of Science Degree in Bioinformatics could provide students with an academic foundation in biotechnology, computer programming, computational mathematics, statistics, and database management. Some MS in Bioinformatics programs entail about 30 credits and consist of core courses and electives. In addition, a student is often required to complete a research project that tackles a relevant and current topic in bioinformatics. The research usually culminates in a thesis.
A Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) in Nursing Informatics program is oriented to nurses who want to assist in the design and development of digital health care systems. Students could learn how to manage projects, workflows for communication and use patient data to promote quality healthcare. Students who successfully complete their program might be eligible to pursue post-degree certification in Nursing Informatics (RN-BC) by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC).
A Master of Science in Health Administration with a focus on Informatics program could help students develop their ability to strategically apply technology to fit user and enterprise needs and goals. Students typically take a series of required health administration courses, along with emphasis courses in informatics and electives. Core courses are intended to familiarize the students with topics such as healthcare law, organizational theory, accounting, finance and ethics. Informatics courses might take a more managerial than technical tone. Students might, for example, analyze case studies of IT networks, internet and data management.
A Graduate Certificate in Health Informatics program could consist of about five courses that target a single topic such as biotechnology or biomedical informatics. For those who are not yet ready for a full degree, a certificate could bring new insight or a set of fresh abilities. Individuals who choose to pursue their masters degree later may be able to transfer some or all earned credits forward, as courses usually are drawn from a school’s related masters program. However it's best to first confirm this with the school as credit eligibility varies.
Applicants to certificate programs typically need an undergraduate degree. Since individual certificate programs could stipulate other requirements, make sure to inform yourself ahead of time.
A Certificate in Biotechnology Enterprise program could explore the interrelationship of business and science. Through a series of courses, students might develop their grasp of how to effectively oversee a biotechnology organization. Management courses might explore ways to strategize, problem-solve, deal with global personnel, and forge partnerships. Courses in leadership might address issues such as how to move an idea from the research phase to the consumer. Other topics such as marketing and finance could help students understand basic concepts to help them communicate and make decisions.
Within the requirements for their certificate, students may be able to balance core courses with electives. Electives draw from a school’s list of approved courses. Some general examples are listed below.
Available courses vary. Contact programs for a specific course list.
Doctorate programs in Health Informatics could lead to a degree such as a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Biomedical Informatics or related area. As a research-focused degree, a PhD program could help students learn to develop, apply, and evaluate informatics technologies to improve healthcare delivery and management.
Each school sets the admission requirements for doctoral degree applicants. In some schools, applicants to a PhD in Biomedical Informatics program could be required to have a master's degree. Acceptable majors could include health sciences, biological sciences, computer science, engineering or an equivalent field of study. Other required materials often includes transcripts, a personal statement, a CV, and letters of reference.
Depending on the university, a PhD in Biomedical Informatics program could entail the completion of about 61 credits. Students typically take a wide range of courses, and select from areas of emphasis provided by the graduate school. An area of emphasis could help the students anchor their independent research for the dissertation. A few examples are listed below.
Full-time students may complete the PhD program in three to five years, while part-time students may take up to ten years to complete the program. This is, however, variable, so make sure to check with individual PhD programs.
There are various career paths that might be supported by a Health Informatics degree. Examples are listed below.
The entry level educational requirements for these positions may vary, so it's best to conduct your own research.
Students could earn a Health Informatics Degree through a regionally or nationally accredited university or college. Institutional approval means the school itself has undergone a voluntary review by a third party and meets their standards. Individual programs may be approved by professional accreditors whether in the health or business domains.
Both traditional and online Health Informatics degree programs are available, although some schools may not offer both. Online Health Informatics graduate programs could appeal to those who are already at-work and want to study by computer rather than commute. That said, some traditional programs might be offered in the evenings, and could be convenient to your home or office. The important thing is to research programs to find one you think you could commit to and that has courses you are excited to take.
Sources: [i] amia.org/about-amia/science-informatics | [ii] onetonline.org/link/summary/15-1121.01 | [iii] bls.gov/ooh/management/medical-and-health-services-managers.htm | [iv] bls.gov/ooh/management/computer-and-information-systems-managers.htm