Health informatics, a form of information engineering, uses technology to improve the efficacy of patient care. By focusing on the management and use of healthcare records, health informatics professionals cultivate collaboration between patients and their providers. Additionally, they help bridge the divide between medicine and information technology (IT) and foster communication between staff, providers, and vendors through electronic applications. Professionals working in health informatics may focus on community health, pathology or imagery informatics, or clinical research.
Health informatics is a flourishing field due to the current efforts to standardize health information. Entering the profession requires a solid foundation in both medicine and computer information science, a combination hard to obtain without advanced training. While students can pursue bachelor’s degrees in health informatics, graduates typically earn around $60,000 per year and may not be eligible for career advancement without significant experience. A master’s degree in health informatics, however, ensures an advanced level of knowledge in both IT and healthcare upon graduation. Nurses who wish to combine their medical knowledge with applied data often pursue a master’s in nursing health informatics which can help expand a nurse’s role beyond direct patient care into a lucrative and growing medical IT profession. According to a 2017 report , nearly half of all nursing informatics professionals earn an annual salary of over $100,000.
Prospective students should be aware that health informatics and health information management, though similarly named, are distinct fields. Health informatics uses technology to improve the patient experience. Health information management concentrates on the efficiency, efficacy, and compliance of technological processes in the storage and retrieval of health data.
Is an Online Master's Degree in Health Informatics Right for Me?
Succeeding in the Field of Health Informatics
Health informatics professionals manage the use and security of confidential patient information to improve communication between patients and clinicians through the use of new technologies. They may analyze data to assist in decision making, design new tools for success and efficacy measurement, or develop evidence-based solutions to improve patient care. These workers often take on management and administrative jobs in healthcare settings, such as hospitals, nonprofit organizations, and other healthcare provider offices. As many of these facilities are open around the clock, students considering health informatics must realize that their schedules may be correspondingly erratic.
A career in health informatics particularly suits individuals passionate about medicine who can quickly adapt to quickly changing technology and regulations. Health informatics professionals must understand complex concepts from both a nursing standpoint and a technologically-driven position focused on compliance and regulations. With the constant evolution of new technologies and federal regulations on health records, and the need for corresponding policies and procedures, the healthcare arena highly values these interdisciplinary professionals. Earning a master’s in health informatics can be a great career step for those who want to be at the forefront of innovations in medicine.
Benefits of Online Learning
Earning an online master’s in health informatics offers a convenient way for students to advance their careers from the comfort of their own homes. Online learning offers many benefits, including convenience and cost. Online master’s in health informatics programs allow students to submit assignments, take exams, access coursework, and communicate with instructors from any location with internet access. Many learners who want to undertake a master’s degree in health informatics need to continue working to support themselves and pay for tuition. As many programs offer their coursework asynchronously, working professionals and students with families can fulfill course requirements when their schedule allows.
Additionally, many nurses work erratic hours but still want to earn a master’s in nursing health informatics; the convenience of online education in these cases cannot be overstated. Most programs require clinical internship components, and online programs allow students to complete these requirements at an approved location convenient to them. Online education may also prove more affordable, as students do not need to commute to classes or pay for on-campus accommodations when completing an online master’s in health informatics.
Admission requirements for master’s degrees in health informatics vary according to the program. Students hoping to undertake a master’s in nursing health informatics must first earn a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) and complete professional experience as a registered nurse (RN) before applying. Most schools look for applicants who exhibit a strong combination of nursing experience and technology skills.
Nurses completing clinical coursework or a practicum component of their master’s program outside of their home state may need to apply for RN licensure in their new state of practice before beginning the master’s program. Though some online master’s programs require GRE scores, many do not. In some cases, schools requiring standardized testing may waive the exam for students who achieve a certain GPA, such as 3.5 or above.
Many programs focused on health informatics require prerequisite coursework in addition to a BSN and professional experience. Obligatory coursework may include statistics, computer science, or information science, and students must pass these courses with above-average grades. Students with a strong IT background and an undergraduate degree but little experience in medicine often pursue the more general master’s degree in health informatics rather than the nursing informatics degree.
What Can I Do with a Master's in Health Informatics?
Graduates with a health informatics master’s degree can enter a variety of careers and employment settings. Though a diverse field, program emphasis and prior experience strongly influence graduates’ career paths. Professionals choose positions based on their qualifications and interests, and may fill roles such as clinical data analyst, informatics nurse, chief medical information officer, or health informatics specialist. Hospitals, clinics, government agencies, and nursing facilities all employ health informatics professionals.
Informatics nursing professionals select healthcare IT programs, train staff, and facilitate communication between patients and their healthcare teams. The field requires a BSN, though a master’s degree provides access to more high-paying job opportunities and prepares graduates for additional speciality certification.
Clinical Informatics Specialist
These professionals are nurses who have completed years of medical experience before specializing in informatics. These specialists oversee the digitization of medical records and procedure documentation. A master’s degree provides the healthcare and IT background necessary for success in this role.
Clinical analysts evaluate data, develop evidence-based procedures, create database systems for records, and ensure regulatory compliance. These professionals must hold a bachelor’s degree, though a master’s can provide further expertise in technology and healthcare.
Health Informatics Director
This management position introduces new technologies to healthcare practices and addresses any problems that may occur during implementation. While a bachelor’s-level candidate with experience may be able to fulfill this role, most employers require a master’s degree for director positions.
Health Informatics Specialist
Health informatics specialists integrate medical practices and IT. These professionals create manuals, train staff, and serve as a liaison between staff, vendors, and IT workers. Most positions require a bachelor’s degree, though master’s degrees result in higher salaries and more advancement opportunities.
Salaries and Job Outlook for Health Informatics Professionals
|Occupation||Minimum Degree Required||Annual Mean Wage|
|Clinical Informatics Specialist||BSN||$72,932|
|Clinical Analyst||Bachelor's in a related field||$66,795|
|Health Informatics Director||Bachelor's in health informatics||$91,009|
What to Expect From a Master's in Health Informatics Program
How Long Does It Take to Earn a Master's in Health Informatics Degree Online?
Online master’s in health informatics programs typically take two years of full-time study to complete. Some accelerated programs allow students to graduate in 12-18 months. On the other hand, specialized degrees may take up to five years. Completing master’s degrees in health informatics online require anywhere from 30 to 54 credits. Graduates do not need to earn licensure prior to entering the field, though many opt to pursue certifications to emphasize a particular skill set.
Courses in an Online Health Informatics Master's Program
Health informatics master’s degrees provide a thorough overview of the field along with a detailed look at the the nursing profession’s intersection with IT. The curriculum may include coursework on business administration, computer science, biomedical informatics, leadership development, or legal considerations related to electronic health technologies. Some programs may also offer specialization tracks with associated specific coursework.
Fundamentals of Health Informatics
This course provides an introduction to health informatics, covering topics in healthcare computing, theoretical modeling and methodology, and evidence-based applications. Students learn to evaluate health systems from the perspectives of both healthcare and computer science professionals.
Ethics for Advanced Practice Nursing
This ethics class instructs students in ethical decision making in clinical, research, and organizational settings. The curriculum specifically covers topics relevant to advanced practice nursing and highlights the ethical intersections that exist in new specializations.
Health Informatics Database Modeling
Students in this course learn the basis of computer modeling for healthcare and biomedical environments. The class covers database design and markup languages relevant to the medical field.
Communication Skills in Health Informatics
As interpersonal relationships make up a large part of the health informatics profession, studying effective communication is critical. In this course, students learn both written and oral methods of communication as they pertain to protected health information.
Legal Issues in Health Informatics
An incredibly important subject, this course covers the ethical issues that arise with the use of computerized information systems. Topics may include privacy law, confidentiality, and the meaningful use of records.
Health informatics master’s degrees often include internships, practical field experiences, and capstone projects. For programs that offer internships or practicums, whether as a required component or an elective option, students must demonstrate their clinical knowledge and applicable skill set in a relevant professional setting approved by their school. These internships often take place over the course of a semester, and may require up to 400 hours of supervised clinical experience. Learners select a project that focuses on their desired speciality, such as public health or technology integration, to enhance their professional network and increase job opportunities after graduation.
Licensure and Certification
Though most general health informatics positions do not require licensure, nursing informatics positions do, as applicants must be licensed as RNs before going on to specialize in nursing health informatics. Due to the newness of the field, employers may still be unsure of what skills to prioritize and what education to emphasize when hiring an informatics specialist. Many health informatics workers choose to obtain professional certification for this reason. Some certifications benefit entry-level employees, while others aid experienced workers. The voluntary process of obtaining certification assures employers that their applicants meet rigorous qualifications. The American Nurses Credentialing Center offers an informatics nursing certification . Though not required to work in the field, this type of certification signifies industry competence and can lead to career advancement.
Accredited Online Master's in Health Informatics Programs
When selecting an online master’s in health informatics program, it’s important to check for accreditation. Accredited colleges, universities, and programs are recognized and approved by accrediting bodies, ensuring that they meet high educational quality standards. The U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) vet and monitor these accrediting bodies. Schools can earn either regional or national accreditation.
Often considered more prestigious, regionally accredited schools allow students to easily transfer credits. Technical, vocational, and religious schools often hold national accreditation instead, which can make transferring credits and applying to graduate school more challenging; regionally accredited schools often do not recognize credits from nationally accredited schools. Attending an accredited school is crucial to students who wish to pursue graduate education, any additional professional certifications, or licensure. Prospective students can check the accreditation status of their institution of interest on the CHEA or ED websites.
Students considering an online master’s in health informatics program should also check for industry-specific accreditation. The Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education (CAHIIM) provides consistent quality monitoring of health informatics programs. Programs must undergo a voluntary review process and prove that they meet or exceed industry standards in order to earn CAHIIM accreditation.
Online Master's in Health Informatics Scholarships
The cost of an online master’s in health informatics can add up. And prospective nursing informatics professionals face an additional financial burden, as they must first earn a nursing license. Nursing.org provides scholarships for students actively enrolled in nursing programs and maintains a scholarship database to advance nurses of all levels. And fortunately, many additional scholarships exist for master’s-level students focusing on healthcare.
Barbara B. Watson National Scholarship
Who Can Apply: The Medical Group Management Association awards this scholarship to students enrolled in bachelor’s and master’s programs related to health informatics and health administration. Candidates must demonstrate their career goals in medical practice management to be considered. Applicants must be enrolled in an accredited university and demonstrate a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or above.
Charlotte Lefert Memorial Scholarship
Who Can Apply: The American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) Foundation sponsors this scholarship for AHIMA members who demonstrate commitment to health informatics in the long-term or post-acute care sector. Applicants must be pursuing a CAHIIM-accredited degree and have completed at least 24 credits with a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or above to apply.
HIMSS Foundation Master's Scholarship
Who Can Apply: The Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) Foundation awards one master’s-level scholarship per year to a student enrolled in a healthcare informatics or management systems program. Applicants must maintain good standing with HIMSS and demonstrate potential for success in the field.
John Glaser Scholarship Program
Who Can Apply: Offered through the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME), this scholarship promotes professional development in the informatics field. Each year, CHIME awards this scholarship to two recipients seeking to improve their leadership skills in healthcare IT. Applicants must submit an essay on their professional IT goals, a resume, and references.