The healthcare industry’s IT needs are complex and ever-changing. That’s why there are information technology professionals who specialize in medicine. They’re comfortable working with the huge amounts of data generated in healthcare. They’re experts in the voluminous regulations that govern medical data, and they understand how to protect patient privacy without limiting provider access. They are able not only to use but also to build electronic health records (EHR) systems. And they understand that strategic information management can literally prevent medical mistakes and keep patients safer.
Becoming one of these IT professionals usually means earning a degree in healthcare informatics—a discipline that’s sometimes referred to as health informatics, medical informatics, clinical informatics, or biomedical informatics. That might mean earning a bachelor’s degree in health informatics, but more often means earning a master’s in health informatics. These advanced degree programs typically cover everything from healthcare data management to health information systems analysis and design. They prepare students to tackle advanced clinical IT challenges and to step into leadership roles in healthcare IT.
Today, it’s possible to launch a career in health informatics without relocating for school or taking a sabbatical. That’s thanks to programs that let students earn a health informatics master’s degree online. If you have any reservations about studying remotely, let them go. As you’ll see below, there’s virtually no difference between pursuing a Master of Science in Health Informatics (MSHI) on campus and pursuing a health informatics master’s degree online.
In this article about earning a health informatics master’s degree online, we cover:
Health informatics occupies the intersection of IT and medicine. Healthcare IT stands apart from information technology in other fields because medical facilities have unique needs when it comes to records-keeping, data analysis, the accessibility of data, and information storage.
Qualified health informatics specialists are an essential part of healthcare teams even though they don’t interact with patients. Their work makes care more efficient, helps providers make clinical decisions, and can even save lives. That’s because information is everything in healthcare. Having complete medical records can prevent everything from dangerous drug interactions to overtreatment and make preventative care more effective.
Students who decide to specialize in this discipline come from backgrounds as diverse as computer science, medical administration, data analytics, and even nursing. Consequently, the prerequisite requirements of online Master of Science in Health Informatics programs vary widely. Some MSHI programs accept applications from students with all educational and professional backgrounds. Others accept only applicants who have degrees in computer science or healthcare or significant professional experience in IT, healthcare administration, or medicine.
All health informatics master’s degree programs prepare students to improve medicine by improving the way digital healthcare data is stored, accessed, and used. According to the University of Pittsburgh‘s School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, professionals with this degree are able to:
Health informatics careers are growing faster than average as more healthcare systems switch to cloud storage databases to sort, organize, and analyze patient data. The job outlook is strong for health informatics professionals, as are salaries, particularly at the management level and above. Approximately 34,300 jobs in the health informatics medical records and health information openings will open each year from 2020 through 2030. (
A Master of Science in Health Informatics (MSHI) broadens your skill set and, as a result, your career options. An advanced degree in this field can offer even more opportunities to make your mark in this growing industry. ( )
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There was a time when online degree programs at both the bachelor’s and master’s degree levels were seen as watered-down substitutes for on-campus learning. Now, however, online degree programs across the board tend to follow the same curriculum and give professionals the same career boost as traditional programs.
Students who choose to pursue health informatics master’s degrees online do so for a variety of reasons. In some cases, the most prestigious MSHI program is at a faraway school, or there aren’t any nearby colleges or universities with health informatics programs. Some students choose online MSHI programs because the lack of commuting costs make them less expensive. Others prefer to study in 100 percent online MSHI programs or in hybrid programs because they can complete coursework on their own schedules and continue to meet professional and personal obligations while earning a master’s degree.
The curriculum in online health informatics master’s degree programs is typically identical to that in traditional on-campus programs. Courses cover data analytics in healthcare, health informatics management, IT in clinical settings, and medical records management. Students in the MS in Health Informatics program attending the University of Pittsburgh’s online health informatics master’s degree program take classes like:
Many MSHI programs allow students to choose a specialization track focused on medical informatics subfields or niche IT roles. Popular health informatics specializations include clinical informatics, health technology informatics, and health administration informatics. Other options::
Internship, practicum, capstone, and thesis requirements vary from school to school—and even from program to program. Some colleges and universities offer online MSHI students the option of choosing between a thesis track and a non-thesis track (in which students complete a capstone course in lieu of writing a thesis).
Hands-on work is an integral part of most MSHI programs, but this hands-on work can take many forms. As you research online health informatics master’s degree programs, consider whether you want to conduct original research while pursuing your master’s degree or would be happier completing a clinical internship or practicum experience. Do you want to graduate with a publishing credit? Some health informatics master’s degree programs support students who wish to submit their capstone project research for publication.
Earning a health informatics master’s degree online won’t mean choosing a second-rate school. There are many online MSHI programs at well-regarded colleges and universities with expert faculty, up-to-date curricula, and active professional organizations and alumni networks. Some of the best online health informatics master’s programs are at:
The answer to this question depends on which program you choose. As is the case with many master’s degree programs, online MSHI programs typically take two years to complete full-time. There are faster and slower options, however. You can earn a health informatics master’s degree online at the University of Washington – Seattle Campus in just 15 months, and the University of Denver has an 18-month online program. There are also self-directed, asynchronous online MSHI programs that can take three years or more to complete, depending on how much time you can devote to your studies.
Today, online master’s degree programs across disciplines are typically accredited by the same organizations, taught by the same instructors, and designed to cover the same materials as traditional programs. They’re also offered at highly respected colleges and universities.
More importantly, online MSHI programs confer the same degrees and carry the same weight—especially in IT, where the people in charge of making hiring decisions tend to be more open to online learning (it’s how much of their professional development takes place). As more schools expand their distance learning options, employers are no longer differentiating between degrees earned on campus and degrees earned online. Graduates of online health informatics master’s degree programs are in-demand in hospitals, medical practices, healthcare startups, government agencies, and pharmaceutical manufacturers.
After earning a health informatics master’s degree online, you’ll be qualified to step into a variety of positions, including:
Some roles in healthcare informatics are quite lucrative. The average clinical informatics manager salary is about $94,000. If you become a health IT project manager, you’ll earn close to six figures. The average health informatics consultant salary is just over $73,000, but in this role you can set your own rates and earn well over $100,000.
The highest-paid role in health informatics is chief medical information officer (CIMO). According to the 2019 Association of Medical Directors of Information Systems salary survey, 47 percent of CIMOs earn between $251,000 and $350,000 before bonuses and other forms of compensation.
In most of the above roles, you’ll have a hand in overseeing medical and health records, administering informatics tools, improving the efficiency of medical records delivery, and designing or choosing EMR systems. While it might be a tad hyperbolic to suggest that clinical IT professionals save lives, the fact is that in this field, you will play a part in making medicine better and improving patient outcomes. To put it another way, earning this degree will give you the skills and knowledge you’ll need to build and manage the IT backbone that keeps our healthcare system running.
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