What Degrees Do You Need to Become a Healthcare Data Analyst?
March 10, 2021
Healthcare data analysts collect, examine, and organize information to help create better medical practices. It's an essential job that doesn't require interacting with patients or even attending graduate school.
Healthcare data saves lives. Digital medical records mean healthcare professionals can access a patient's history anywhere at any time, allowing them to make more informed prognoses. By aggregating those medical records, researchers and analysts can learn about trends within different populations and alter health policy accordingly. In times of crisis—the COVID-19 pandemic, for example—data gives insight on the effectiveness of different practices and the needs of the medical community.
Medical data does not just appear neatly written out in a spreadsheet. Instead, a healthcare data analyst must collect the raw information and package it in a way that other medical professionals can understand. It is a crucial job, but it's one that doesn't require the advanced medical training needed to become a doctor or nurse. You might begin your career in health data analytics with only a bachelor's degree, though some professionals attend a graduate program later on in their careers.
How can you influence healthcare practices without ever picking up a stethoscope? In this article on the degree you need to become a healthcare data analyst, we cover:
- What does a healthcare data analyst do?
- What degree does a healthcare data analyst need?
- Should health data analysts earn a graduate degree?
- What are the best certifications for healthcare data analysts?
- How much do healthcare data analysts make?
What does a healthcare data analyst do?
A healthcare data analyst's job focuses on statistics. "Health data analysts collect, manage, and analyze health-care information," according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). "They use this information to identify ways to lower costs and improve services." As an analyst, you might compare your hospital to other top facilities so you can find areas that need improvement. Analysts might also work to identify healthcare tendencies and analyze how one patient's experience exemplifies a larger trend.
The skills needed to become a healthcare data analyst are very similar to those used by any data analyst. The main difference is that healthcare analysts use their skills to collect clinical data (a fancy word for medical data) for healthcare organizations. Basic job duties include:
- Developing collection systems
- Examining old data
- Maintaining databases
- Mining data
You also need excellent communication skills to translate data sets into plain English (or whatever language your audience speaks). Healthcare analysts must use their problem-solving abilities to wrangle unwieldy information into a universal format so that it can be useful. Finding data is not that hard. Translating it into usable, clear guidance is the challenge.
Healthcare data analysts work in:
- Insurance companies
- Government agencies
Data analysis is not a job that requires lots of technical skills (that's more data scientist territory), but you do need some technical skills. One of the primary skills employers seek in a health analyst candidate is knowledge of at least one major programming language, such as:
Knowing machine learning can be beneficial, especially when trying to advance your career, but again that is more of a data scientist skill. Similarly, you probably won't need to know much about setting up a data warehouse. That's the domain of a data architect or a database administrator.
To specialize in health analytics, you might need to learn:
- Healthcare laws for programs like Medicaid and Medicare
- Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) codes
- International Classification of Diseases (ICD) codes nine and ten (for billing purposes)
- Drug classifications
What degree does a healthcare data analyst need?
According to the BLS, health data analysts need only an associate's degree to break into the field. However, you likely won't earn as much as someone with a bachelor's or master's degree.
Bachelor's programs in data analytics do exist, but not very many. Instead, you will likely need to pursue a related major and fill in any gaps with additional coursework, or even certifications.
Some possible bachelor's degree paths include:
- Behavioral sciences
- Computer science
- Health informatics
- Social sciences
When researching programs, look for those that cover subjects like:
- Business intelligence
- Data visualization
- Information technology
- Regression analysis
Health information management (HIM) is a popular major among healthcare analysts. According to the American Health Information Management (AHIMA), those who earn a health information management degree subsequently work in:
- Healthcare companies
- Physician offices
- Public health organizations
The benefits of earning a health information management degree
An HIM degree delivers excellent preparation for a career in healthcare analytics. There are many HIM degrees to choose from, but not all are accredited by The Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education (CAHIIM). Accreditation adds a level of authority to your education and job search.
The CAHIIM accredits a number of online bachelor's degree programs (there are also quite a few online master's programs), including
- Indiana University - Bloomington
- Louisiana Tech University
- Saint Louis University
- SUNY Polytechnic Institute
- University of Detroit Mercy
Should health data analysts earn a graduate degree?
You do not need a master's degree—which typically requires two years of full-time study to complete—to work in health data analytics. A master's degree could help you qualify for a senior position, however, and almost always provides a competitive advantage in your job search.
There are numerous master's programs in data analytics; some even offer a focus on health analytics. Schools with master's in analytics programs include:
According to Northwestern, graduate education in data analytics can prepare you for job titles like:
- Senior analyst
- Healthcare economist
- Analytic consultant
- Data scientist
- Data architect
Some institutions, like Texas Tech University, offer a graduate certificate in health analytics. In these programs, students complete several career-specific courses on an accelerated timeline.
What are the best certifications for healthcare data analysts?
You do not need a certification to become a health data analyst. Even so, certifications will improve your prospects with some employers. They definitely can't hurt.
The Certified Health Data Analyst (CHDA) from the AHIMA is among the most popular certifications. According to the AHIMA website, the CHDA "provides practitioners with the knowledge to acquire, manage, analyze, interpret, and transform data into accurate, consistent, and timely information while balancing the 'big picture' strategic vision with day-to-day details."
To qualify for CHDA certification, applicants must meet one of the following requirements:
- Holding a bachelor's degree, plus at least three years of experience in healthcare data
- Being a Registered Health Information Administrator (RHIA) or a Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT) with three or more years of experience in healthcare data; professionals with these certifications work in data roles to manage patient records as well as assist healthcare providers and officials
- Holding any master's degree plus one year of experience in health data
- Holding either a Master of Health Information Management (HIM) or a Master of Health Informatics from a CAHIIM-accredited program
Accredited Master of Health Informatics programs include:
- Boston University
- Marshall University
- University of Central Florida
- University of South Carolina - Columbia
- University of Washington - Seattle Campus
Accredited master's degree programs for health information management include:
- The College of Saint Scholastica
- Temple University
- Texas State University
- University of Pittsburgh - Pittsburgh Campus
- The University of Tennessee - Health Science Center
Other certifications include:
How much do healthcare data analysts make?
Data analytics pays decently, with most data analyst salaries falling in the $60,000 range, according to Glassdoor. The BLS reports that health data analysts earn between $40,000 and $60,000 per year. Senior analysts usually earn more; Glassdoor indicates that they can command an average yearly salary of $78,204.
Some data analysts eventually transition into a data science career, which requires a similar skill set but generally offers a much higher salary. Glassdoor reports that data scientists earn an average salary of $113,156 per year. To make this transition, you will need a master's degree in data science or a related field.
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