Health Informatics & Sciences

A Guide to University of Pittsburgh’s Health Informatics Degrees

A Guide to University of Pittsburgh’s Health Informatics Degrees
There are still relatively few professionals qualified to analyze both the quantity of data healthcare systems generate and the kind of data generated. Image from Unsplash
Christa Terry profile
Christa Terry October 12, 2020

The University of Pittsburgh–Pitt, more familiarly—excels across healthcare disciplines, including the fast-growing field of health informatics. The school offers multiple degree pathways for students who want to work at the intersection of data science and healthcare.

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The field of health informatics (HI) is booming as healthcare organizations transition to electronic health records (EHRs). What’s driving the rapid creation of healthcare informatics jobs isn’t just the switch from filing cabinets to digital filing systems, however. Healthcare organizations generate thousands of exabytes of data each year in the form of information gleaned from diagnostic imagery, real-time vital sign monitoring systems, drug interaction and side effects tracking systems, and yes, digital medical records. All that data has the potential to make healthcare more efficient, less costly, and more effective.

The problem is that there are still relatively few professionals qualified to analyze both the quantity of data healthcare systems generate and the kind of data generated. Data scientists and Big Data experts may have the technical skills to work with vast quantities of information, but they often don’t have the in-depth domain knowledge necessary to leverage it to improve patient care and save lives. Health informatics professionals, on the other hand, are data science and database experts who also know a thing or two about anatomy, physiology, pathophysiology, and pharmacology.

Health informatics programs like the one developed by the University of Pittsburgh‘s School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences train technically savvy students to apply organizational and analytical skills in the medical arena. Pitt’s Department of Health Information Management is recognized nationally and abroad as a leader in this emerging discipline, which may ultimately impact medicine as powerfully as treatments like genetic sequencing and immunotherapy.

In this article about University of Pittsburgh’s health informatics programs, we cover:

  • What health informatics is and isn’t
  • Features of Pitt’s health informatics program
  • The health informatics pathways offered by the University of Pittsburgh
  • Pitt’s health informatics concentration options
  • Online health informatics programs at the University of Pittsburgh
  • Research degree options for Pitt health informatics students
  • Tuition and financial aid options at the University of Pittsburgh
  • The value of a health informatics degree

What health informatics is and isn’t

The US National Library of Medicine defines health informatics as the “interdisciplinary study of the design, development, adoption, and application of IT-based innovations in healthcare services delivery, management, and planning.” It isn’t the same thing as medical records management, though the disciplines are related. Medical records managers are responsible for ensuring medical data is secure, of the highest quality, and accessible when healthcare providers need them. However, they don’t work with that data to improve the delivery of healthcare services and patient outcomes.

Informatics professionals, on the other hand, are the data scientists of the medical field. They sift through the vast quantities of data collected by the healthcare industry to find actionable insights. Health informatics is often described as the discipline at the intersection of medical records keeping and Big Data, which is apt. The work of health informatics professionals can involve programming, systems integration, database design, and systems optimization. Their job, according to the American Medical Informatics Association, is to apply the “principles of computer and information science to the advancement of life sciences research, health professions education, public health, and patient care.”



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Features of Pitt’s health informatics program

  • Pitt’s School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences has been __recognized by US News & World Report as having some of the nation’s best graduate healthcare management programs.
  • The health informatics faculty includes healthcare analytics experts whose research focuses on the applications of information technology in healthcare. Students have the opportunity to participate in ongoing research projects.
  • While HI students typically arrive with experience in health and rehabilitation sciences, health information management, information science, computer science, biology, management, nursing, or other clinical fields, the program accepts applicants from all academic and professional backgrounds.
  • Students in the Registered Health Information Administrator track are eligible to sit for the American Health Information Management (AHIMA) credentialing examination. 100 percent of Pitt students who take the AHIMA exam pass.

The health informatics pathways offered by the University of Pittsburgh

The University of Pittsburgh offers several HI degree options, including a BS in Health Information Management with a data analytics focus, health informatics graduate programs with four concentration track options and four graduate certificates in HI. There is also an alternative research-intensive informatics option offered by the Department of Biomedical Informatics at University of Pittsburgh’s School of Medicine, which we’ll cover in more depth below.

Pitt’s Bachelor of Science in Health Information Management

Students accepted into this 63-credit, junior-entry program have completed a rigorous slate of prerequisites that include coursework in mathematics, natural science, statistics, computer program, and psychology. The HIM undergraduate program at Pitt includes hands-on training and mentoring by renowned faculty, small class sizes, and a clinical internship (minimum 120 hours).

Graduates are eligible to sit for the RHIA exam before graduation, which means they enter the working world with a credential that’s in demand in both clinical and non-clinical healthcare settings. HIM majors can also join the Health Information Management Student Association and take advantage of clinical volunteering opportunities.

The BS curriculum includes the following classes:

  • Clinical Sciences in Health Information Management
  • Health Data Science Programming Using Python and r
  • Health Information and the Health Care System
  • Foundations of Health Informatics and Information Management
  • Leadership
  • Classification Systems in Healthcare
  • Database Design and Big Data Analytics
  • Digital Health and Electronic Health Record System
  • Data Science in Health Informatics
  • Intro to Statistics and Research Design
  • Financial Management & Health Care Reimbursement
  • Health Vocabulary, Terminology & Classification Systems
  • Quality Management
  • Security, Privacy, Legal & Ethical Issues in Health Care
  • Data Analytics and Machine Learning in Health Science
  • Project Management & Systems Analysis
  • Talent Management and Human Resources
  • Revenue Cycle Management
  • Intro to Healthcare it and Emerging Technologies
  • Clinical Internship
  • Capstone Project

A clinical internship and a capstone course give HIM students a chance to interact with informatics professionals and other professionals in the health care field. As of 2019, the program had a 100 percent student satisfaction rate and a 100 percent employer satisfaction rate.

Pitt’s Master of Science in Health Informatics

Students in the 36-credit MSHI program (which can be completed on a full-time or part-time basis) learn to design health information systems, evaluate information management practices in healthcare settings, and use data analytics to improve the quality of and reduce the cost of health care services. The program is delivered both online and on-campus—the curriculum is identical across formats—and takes 16 to 24 months to complete. The program offers four tracks:

  • Data Science
  • General Health Informatics
  • Health Care Supervision and Management
  • Registered Health Information Administrator (RHIA)

Coursework must include five electives offered by the Department of Health Information Management; two can be classes offered by other departments in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences or other academic programs in the school.

Pitt’s Health Informatics certificates

Pitt offers four 12-credit HI certificate programs consisting of four three-credit courses earned over two terms, either on-campus or online. Certificate options include the:

  • Certificate in Health Data Analytics
  • Certificate in Health Information Cybersecurity
  • Certificate in Leadership in Health Informatics
  • Certificate in Revenue Cycle Management

Students enrolled in the MS in Health Informatics program can opt into one of the four certificates while completing the HI program by filling out a certificate program declaration form. Graduate students in other programs offered by the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences can also opt into an HI certificate program, provided they have the approval of a Health Information Management faculty member.

Pitt’s health informatics track options

The general health informatics track is just one of the University of Pittsburgh’s MSHI options. Students in the master’s program can choose the Health Care Supervision and Management track, the Data Science track, or the Registered Health Information Administrator track—each of which has slightly different core classes. The Health Care Supervision and Management track adds courses in administration and supervisory management to the health informatics master’s curriculum, including Leadership and Project Management, Talent Management and Human Resources, and Financial Management and Health Care Reimbursement. Students in the Data Science track take additional courses in data analytics, machine learning, statistics, programming, and data science. The curriculum in the Registered Health Information Administrator track emphasizes administrative, ethical, and legal issues and standards related to healthcare delivery, records-keeping, and privacy.

Online health informatics programs at the University of Pittsburgh

Pitt’s online graduate-level HI program is unique in that it is virtually identical to the on-campus programs. Online MSHI students can choose from among the same four concentration tracks. The coursework is the same across formats, and online students can pursue any of the four available graduate certificates. Additionally, the online program can be completed in the same amount of time as the on-campus programs.

Tuition and financial aid options at the University of Pittsburgh

The price of a Pitt bachelor’s degree or master’s degree is competitive. Visit the school’s financial aid website for the latest information regarding in-state and non-resident tuition, fees, typical expenses, grants, loans, and other financial assistance.

Students at Pitt finance their degrees in several ways, including federal government loans, private loans, and alternative education loans. There are also some scholarships just for students enrolled in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences.

The value of a health informatics degree

The Princeton Review has ranked the University of Pittsburgh among its Best Value Public Colleges, so we already have evidence that a degree from Pitt is worth the cost. A health informatics degree, in particular, can lead you down many lucrative career pathways. Some of the most common jobs in healthcare informatics include:

Upper-level informatics specialists like senior clinical analysts and health informatics directors can earn a lot more. There are even health informatics professionals in the c-suite, working in roles like Chief Information Officer, Chief Clinical Informatics Officer, and Chief Medical Information Officer. Chances are good that some of them got their start in high-quality informatics programs like those offered by the University of Pittsburgh.

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About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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