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:
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."
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.
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:
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.
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:
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 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:
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.
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.
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.
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 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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