Medicine in the digital age means mountains of health data accruing every day. Doctors' notes, test results, wearable devices, medical research, insurance claims, and many similar sources create billions of gigabytes of information each year.
This is Big Data at scale. Figuring out what to do with all this organizational and patient data (some of it collected using low-tech means) remains a significant challenge for the healthcare industry. The technology required to harness the power of exabytes of health data is still evolving, and the workforce capable of working with all that information is still being trained.
It's an exciting time to work in health informatics, information management, and IT. Because these disciplines are so new, professionals in this space have a unique opportunity to shape how data is used to improve patient care, expand access to treatments and medications, and lower healthcare costs. They also have some tough decisions to make where health informatics vs. health information management (HIM) are concerned.
There is no consensus regarding whether these two disciplines are the same or different. Colleges and universities, employers, and professionals who work with healthcare data draw varying distinctions between careers and specializations in this space. That can make choosing between a Master of Science in Health Informatics (MSHI) and a Master of Science in Health Information Management (MSHIM or Master of Health Information Management) tough. It means you have to look at the academic pathways that lead to careers involving working with health data very carefully. You can't make assumptions about the content of programs based on degree names alone.
In this article, we look at health informatics vs. health information managment and cover:
The answer to this question is anything but clear. The American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA) defines health informatics as "the science of how to use data, information and knowledge to improve human health and the delivery of health care services." According to the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA), meanwhile, health information management is "the practice of acquiring, analyzing, and protecting digital and traditional medical information vital to providing quality patient care. It is a combination of business, science, and information technology." Those are pretty similar definitions.
Here's what we do know: both disciplines use databases and other software, financial accounting systems, and other tech to collect, optimize, and analyze information. Informatics tends to look at a broader range of data; that's one distinction, albeit a small one.
Professionals in health information management tend to work with information generated by patients and patient care, like electronic health records and test results. On the other hand, health informatics looks at many different kinds of data, from insurance information to pharma research results to public health statistics. Titles in health informatics and health information management overlap significantly, as you'll see below.
The core coursework and electives in MSHI and MSHIM programs are quite similar. Topics covered include:
The University of Pittsburgh's School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences offers an online MSHI program. The UPitt health informatics curriculum includes courses like:
Texas State University has a Master of Health Information Management program with core classes that include:
Elective options in the Texas State program include:
Some, but not all, programs prepare students to sit for the Registered Health Information Administrator (RHIA) exam or Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT) exam.
You can advance in health informatics and health information management without a doctoral degree unless you plan to go into academia or research. A master's degree will probably do more to boost your salary than a doctorate. If you're really worried about not having multiple advanced degrees on your resume, specialty certifications like the Certified Health Data Analyst (CHDA) and Certified in Healthcare Privacy and Security (CHPS) credentials can help you advance more quickly.
Informatics is a broad discipline with many branches. Consequently, concentration tracks are a feature of many MSHI programs. MSHIM programs are less likely to have concentration tracks, but they tend to be similar to those in health informatics specializations when they do.
Health informatics concentrations vary by program, but common specialization options include:
There are fewer health information management master's concentrations—possibly because, as you'll see below, there are fewer MSHIM programs. Most graduate-level health information management programs don't offer specialization options. Those that do let students choose from among HIM concentrations like:
Traditionally, full-time students would earn a graduate degree in two years, while part-time students might finish in three. In health informatics and health information management, however, it's more common for programs to be structured around working professionals' needs.
Informatics master's programs sometimes follow the traditional two-year schedule, though there are plenty of faster and slower options. You can choose from among accelerated one-year, 15-month, and 18-month MSHI programs if your goal is to earn a graduate degree as quickly as possible. There are also flexible self-paced programs that take three years or more to complete.
Most MSHIM programs are delivered online and designed to give students the flexibility they need to study while employed. Some are self-paced and let motivated students who take classes year-round finish in fewer than two years. You can even earn this degree in 18 months at some schools as a part-time student, and it's worth noting the line between full-time and part-time study is not always clear. Full-time online MSHIM course schedules are typically structured around the typical workday, and students can often handle a full-time course load while working.
There are more informatics master's degree programs than there are health information management master's programs. This isn't because informatics is more popular or useful, but because many colleges and universities transitioned their HIM programs into HI programs (sometimes with minimal changes to the curriculum).
There are highly respected Master of Science in Health Informatics programs at:
The MSHIM has become a relatively rare degree, but there are still strong programs at:
Again, there are more online MSHI programs than online MSHIM programs, but this is likely the result of changing naming conventions. Curricula in online informatics master's programs are often similar to, if not identical to, those in online health information management master's programs.
These schools are home to some of the best online health informatics master's programs:
To find the top online MSHIM programs, just refer to the list above. Most colleges and universities with health information management programs deliver them online or in a flexible hybrid format requiring little time on campus.
Think of the cost of a master's degree in informatics or information management as an investment in yourself. In one survey, health information management professionals reported education had the second biggest impact on advancement. Another found that health informatics professionals with master's degrees earn 30 percent more than colleagues with bachelor's degrees.
The typical MSHI program costs between $20,000 and $30,000 in total tuition (not including extras like fees and books). More expensive programs cost between $50,000 and $70,000.
The cost of a master's in health information management is comparable to the MSHI, though MSHIM programs may be more affordable than health informatics master's programs on average. This may be because more prestigious schools have rebranded their HIM programs, leaving only the MSHIM programs at less expensive colleges and universities.
There will always be a demand for clinical and non-clinical healthcare professionals for two reasons. One, people won't ever stop aging or getting sick; and two, governments won't ever stop regulating medicine. More importantly, the quantity of healthcare data being generated and analyzed today may look like peanuts compared to what we can analyze in the future.
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts jobs for medical records and health information technicians will grow at twice the rate of the entire job market over the next decade. However, it's worth considering that jobs related to some specialties in this discipline (e.g., data science) may be where most growth occurs.
The health information management job outlook is either as strong as the outlook for informatics careers or stronger, depending on how you categorize this discipline. Some sources treat informaticists as part of health information technology and HIM professionals as health services management. If those sources are right, jobs in health information management will be created twice as quickly as jobs in informatics.
All types of healthcare organizations (including insurance companies and health-focused government agencies) employ informaticists and health information managers. Salaries are affected more profoundly by job title than by discipline.
Common roles in informatics include:
Common roles in HIM include:
The best-paying roles in informatics include:
The top-paying roles in HIM include Chief Clinical Information Officer, clinical informatics director, and other high-level positions also found in informatics. Other lucrative positions in health information management include:
Choosing between health informatics and health information management programs is trickier than choosing between health informatics and nursing informatics or health informatics and bioinformatics. There's no clear and quantifiable dividing line between informatics and information management, and some colleges and universities combine the two in Master of Healthcare Informatics and Information Management programs. Some guides assert that health information management is a less technical discipline; others, that HIM is just another name for health informatics. Still others that health information management is patient record-focused while informatics encompasses a broader range of healthcare data.
This means you can't just look at health informatics vs. health information management and pick a graduate degree pathway. The MSHI at one school may be identical to the MSHIM at another—or very different. Consequently, you'll have to look at individual master's in health informatics and master's in health information management programs to figure out which MSHI and/or MSHIM programs will do the most to support your career goals.
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