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Question: What Are the Differences Between a Master of Health Administration (MHA) Program and a Master’s in Health Informatics Management (HIM) Program?

Answer: An MHA is a Master of Health Administration degree, which is the designation for a master’s program that prepares students for the challenges of managing businesses and organizations in the healthcare sector. HIM is short for health informatics management. Master’s in HIM programs provide training and instruction in the management of healthcare information technologies, electronic medical records systems, and other elements of an organization’s IT infrastructure. Both types of degree programs provide professional training in administrative aspects of healthcare, and there can be overlap between a master’s in health administration curriculum and a master’s in HIM curriculum. However, an MHA program offers broad training in healthcare business operations and finance, while HIM programs focus more narrowly on the design and management of healthcare data and information systems.

Healthcare Administration and Informatics

Healthcare represents one of the largest and more complex sectors of the US economy, encompassing hospitals, clinics, and other health service providers, medical device manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies, private insurers, and government healthcare programs. Businesses operating within this system are subject to laws and regulations that are unique to the healthcare sector, as well as to ethical constraints pertaining to the safety, wellbeing, and privacy concerns of patients and their families. Professionals who work on the administrative side of healthcare must contend with these issues, as well as with many of the same logistical, financial, and managerial challenges as business people in other fields. This involves cultivating specialized knowledge of healthcare economics, the regulatory environment, and the American healthcare system.

In addition to business concerns, changes in healthcare are driven by technological innovation, particularly in the area of information systems. Computer technologies allow for the collection and use of big data to optimize operational efficiency, lower costs, and improve patient outcomes in healthcare. Healthcare management and administration in today’s environment generally requires some knowledge of data technologies, but managing these systems and their operations is a specialized field known as healthcare informatics.

Informatics, or the science of storing, processing, and distributing information within a system or organization, requires technical knowledge of database systems and how data in these systems is collected, warehoused, protected, and retrieved. Healthcare informatics, as defined by the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), comprises “the integration of healthcare sciences, computer science, information science, and cognitive science to assist in the management of healthcare information.” Healthcare informatics management, or HIM, refers to the protocols employed by professionals tasked with handling digital medical information, electronic patient records, and other important healthcare data. As defined by the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA), “HIM 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.”

Master’s in Healthcare Administration and Healthcare Informatics Degree Programs

Academic training for healthcare management and healthcare informatics professionals takes place at the graduate level in different types of master’s degree programs. General business training for healthcare professionals is offered in master’s in health and healthcare administration and management programs, including MHA programs and largely equivalent Master of Science in Health Administration (MSHA) programs. These programs are analogous to Master of Business Administration (MBA) programs in that they provide broad instruction in a full range of healthcare business knowledge and management skills, including accounting, finance, logistics, marketing, and operations and personnel management. The core MHA curriculum also addresses legal and ethical concerns in healthcare, as well as organizational leadership and professional communication proficiencies.

Health informatics and healthcare IT systems management is a narrower, more specialized field of study. Some MHA programs offer elective coursework and/or an optional concentration in informatics/HIM. However, advanced technical skills and proficiencies in informatics technologies and the management of healthcare informatics systems are covered in greater depth by master’s in HIM programs. Students in these programs learn about healthcare database systems, the use of data to improve safety and efficiency in patient care, and the protocols for storing, accessing, sharing, and protecting healthcare data. As part of master’s-level training in HIM, students are introduced to medical terminology and classification systems, as well as to the compliance issues that apply to organizations that handle healthcare data as mandated federally by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH). These programs typically require students to learn coding skills and may include coursework in specialized areas of healthcare informatics, which include:

  • Clinical Research Informatics
  • Consumer Health Informatics
  • Nursing Informatics
  • Pharmacy Informatics
  • Public Health Informatics
  • Translational Bioinformatics

It is important to note that MHA and master’s in HIM degree programs are not the same as Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree programs with specializations in healthcare administration or healthcare informatics. MSN programs are designed for Registered Nurses (RNs) and include clinical training. MHA and HIM programs do not require an RN license and do not include clinical training.

MHA and Master’s in HIM Coursework

The table below offers a comparative overview of typical core coursework in master’s programs in healthcare administration and healthcare informatics:

MHA ProgramsMaster’s in HIM Programs
Healthcare Organization AdministrationDatabase Management
Healthcare Financial ManagementHealthcare Analytics
Healthcare Operations & Quality ControlHealth Data & Electronic Health Records
The American Healthcare SystemHealthcare Legislation & Information Privacy
Human Resource Information SystemsHuman Computer Interaction
Healthcare Statistics & Research MethodsHealthcare Terminology & Medical Classifications
Healthcare Economics & PolicyStrategic Management of Healthcare IT Systems
Healthcare LawBusiness Management & Communication for HIM Professionals

Accreditation for MHA and HIM Degree Programs

Another key difference between MHA and HIM master’s programs concerns accreditation. MHA programs may receive programmatic accreditation from the Commission on the Accreditation of Health Management Education (CAHME). Master’s in healthcare informatics and HIM programs may receive programmatic accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education (CAHIIM). Both organizations have formal recognition from the Council for Higher Education and Accreditation (CHEA), an independent organization representing degree-granting colleges and universities. Programmatic accreditation indicates that a degree program meets certain standards for institutional integrity, academic resources, and training in a particular field.

In addition to MHA program, CAHME accredits MS, MBA, and Master of Public Health (MPH) programs that offer training in healthcare management. In order to accommodate these different types of master’s programs, the CAHME Criteria for Accreditation focus primarily on functional and administrative aspects of a program, rather than on a program’s curriculum. There are eleven criteria that programs must meet in order to receive CAHME accreditation:

  • The university will have established healthcare management as a major course of study leading to a master’s degree.
  • Programs will be a part of an institution of higher learning that has achieved regional accreditation or equivalent recognition.
  • If the program is in a specialized graduate school or schools (such as a medical school, school of public health, or school of business administration) within the university, the school(s) should be accredited by the appropriate recognized specialized accrediting agency.
  • The program will require full-time study beyond the baccalaureate level of not less than the equivalent of two academic years as defined by the university.
  • The program in healthcare management will have graduated at least two classes.
  • The program will require at least 120 contact hours of synchronous instructional time. This may be accomplished online or in a non-university setting, as long as students are synchronously learning course material under the supervision of and in learning sessions that are facilitated directly by program faculty.
  • The program will ensure that facilities, equipment, and supplies are sufficient to support quality and achieve the program’s mission, goals, and objectives.
  • There will be no discrimination on the basis of gender, age, creed, race, ethnicity, disability, or sexual orientation in any aspect of the program’s activities.
  • The program will have a process for handling formal student complaints and use these complaints, where appropriate, for program evaluation and improvement.
  • University polices will provide time and support for faculty development, research, and/or scholarship and service.

CAHIIM maintains a similar set of functional guidelines for master’s programs seeking accreditation, and also includes guidelines for a master’s-level curriculum in healthcare informatics and HIM. The curricular guidelines referred to in CAHIIM’s 2017 Health Informatics Accreditation Standards and its Standards and Interpretations for Accreditation of Master’s Degree Programs in Health Information Management include ten foundational areas of training and instruction outlined by the American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA). These include:

  • Health, which refers to the biomedical and health sciences underlying AMIA’s five major informatics areas: translational bioinformatics, clinical research informatics, clinical informatics, consumer health informatics, and population informatics.
  • Information Science & Technology, which refers to the key concepts, methods, and tools for creating, acquiring, storing, representing, accessing, merging, organizing, processing, transferring, analyzing, reporting, and visualizing data, information, and knowledge.
  • Social & Behavioral Science, which refers to basic social, behavioral, psychological, and management theories, methods, and models as well as the legal and regulatory frameworks that seek to describe human actions and interactions as well as human behavior in society.
  • Health Information Science & Technology, which refers to the array of health information science and technology methods, tools, and standards for collecting, organizing, representing, sharing, integrating, using, governing, and learning from biomedical and health data, information, and knowledge, across the entire spectrum of informatics domains.
  • Human Factors and Socio‐Technical Systems, which refers to the interactions between human behaviors (physical, social, cognitive, and psychological) and information technologies.
  • Social and Behavioral Aspects of Health, which refers to action(s) taken by an individual, groups of individuals, or an organization to manage the health of an individual or population.
  • Social, Behavioral, and Information Science & Technology Applied to Health, which refers to the integration of social, business, human factors, behavioral, and information sciences and technology on the design, implementation, and evaluation of health informatics solutions.
  • Professionalism, which refers to the level of excellence or competence that is expected of a health informatics professional and includes such concepts as the maintenance and utilization of knowledge and technical skills, which may be dependent upon the application area of the training program.
  • Interprofessional Collaborative Practice, which refers to the shared, coordinated work among peers from different professions in order to achieve a common goal or mission.
  • Leadership, which refers to the interactive process for which the output is vision, guidance, and direction. Essentials of leadership include vision, communication skills, stewardship, acting as a change agent, and the developing and renewing of followers and future leaders.

MHA vs. Master’s in HIM Programs

For students looking for professional advancement in the field of healthcare management and administration, MHA programs can provide the necessary academic training and job skills for a broad range of careers in healthcare organizational leadership. Students interested in learning the technical and administrative skills required for advancement in the specialized field of healthcare data technology management and administration should consider master’s degree programs with a health informatics or HIM specialization.


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