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Online Master’s in Healthcare Informatics and Healthcare Informatics Management (HIM) Degree Programs

Healthcare informatics refers to IT systems used by hospitals, clinics, pharmacies, insurers, and other entities within the healthcare system to collect, track, and analyze data pertaining to patient care, operational efficiency, and cost management. The move from paper-based filing systems to electronic medical records (EHRs) is just one of many factors that have created demand for qualified healthcare professionals with training in technical aspects of informatics, as well as in the complex legal, ethical, and security concerns associated with data protection. Concerns about the escalating cost of healthcare have also intensified the need for data that can improve business functions in areas such as budgeting, staffing, marketing, logistics, and operations. Working in informatics requires knowledge of the healthcare system and health policy and law; familiarity with the design and secure use of database systems; and quantitative tools to analyze large datasets and communicate the findings to clinicians and non-technical staff. Training in these proficiencies forms the foundation of a master’s in healthcare informatics or healthcare informatics management (HIM) curriculum.

What Is a Master’s in Healthcare Informatics Degree?

A master’s in healthcare informatics is typically a Master of Science (MS) degree program that prepares students for the technical and administrative challenges of managing and working with data systems in hospitals, medical groups, and other clinical settings. Students in these programs receive training and instruction in data mining, data analytics, and data security. They learn how informatics technologies are used to support decision-making, improve patient safety, and coordinate operational efficiency in various healthcare settings. And they study federal and state regulations that apply to healthcare data. In addition, some master’s in healthcare informatics programs offer elective coursework in specific HIM applications, such as clinical bioinformatics, community health informatics, pharmacy informatics, and/or informatics used for health and medical research and education.

Online Master’s in Healthcare Informatics Programs

Online master’s in healthcare informatics and HIM programs offer a convenient and flexible alternative to campus-based programs by using distance learning technologies to deliver lectures and coursework. An online program is often a good option for students who are working full-time or have other significant commitments outside of school, as well as for those who would prefer not to relocate or commute in order to earn their degree. Students in an online program access all or most of the program’s coursework through a learning management system (LMS), which is an online platform that facilitates the streaming of lectures, the submission of assignments, participation in online discussion groups, and other instructional activities. Instructors in these programs typically hold online office hours and/or interact with students via email and other modes of electronic communication.

How OnlineEducation.com Identifies and Classifies Online HIM Programs

OnlineEducation.com conducts independent research into online master’s program and identifies programs that offer professional training and instruction in healthcare informatics. There are several common designations these programs, including:

  • Master of Science in Health or Healthcare Informatics
  • Master of Science in Health or Healthcare Informatics Management (HIM)
  • Master of Science in Healthcare Informatics Administration
  • Master of Science in Health and Medical Informatics
  • Master of Applied Science in Healthcare Informatics
  • Professional Science Master’s in Healthcare Informatics
  • Master of Science in Information Technology with a Specialization in Healthcare Informatics

Programs included on the site must meet several additional criteria: they must be offered by regionally accredited, non-profit colleges and universities; and they must offer all or most of their coursework online. Programs that require students to attend more than two campus visits per year are not listed on the site.

Note: A Master of Science in Informatics is not the same as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program with an informatics specialization. MSN in informatics programs are designed for Registered Nurses (RNs) and require applicants to hold a valid RN license. RN licensure is not required for admissions to an MS in Informatics program.

What Students Learn in an Online Master’s in Health Informatics Program

There are several organizations that publish guidelines for a master’s-level curricula in healthcare and medical informatics, including the American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA) and the Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education (CAHIIM). (CAHIIM also provides voluntary accreditation to HIM programs at the associate, baccalaureate, and master’s levels.)

Core training in healthcare informatics includes introductory coursework in database systems, the data mining process, and data analytics methods, as well as an overview of how informatics technologies are integrated into operations, personnel, and project management functions of hospitals, clinics, and other organizations that provide healthcare services. Students in these programs explore legal and ethical concerns, particularly as they apply to patient safety and data privacy protections outlined in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). They are introduced to electronic medical records (EMR) and other data collection and storage systems. And, they receive training in information security protocols, human-computer interfaces, and emerging informatics technologies.

Most master’s in HIM programs incorporate a capstone project in which students address a relevant issue in the field of healthcare using the informatics tools and knowledge they have learned in the program.

Online Master’s in HIM Program Courses

The table below provides a representative overview of the types of courses students typically take as part of the core master’s curriculum in healthcare informatics. The course names and descriptions are adapted from actual online master’s in HIM programs.

Course TitleCourse Description
Introduction to Database ManagementAn overview of database design, data manipulation, and database integrity.
Introduction to Data AnalyticsData analytics foundations and techniques for information professionals, including methods for data representation, data analysis, and data visualization.
Human Computer InteractionThe physiological, psychological, and engineering basis of design and evaluation of human-computer interfaces, with a focus on theoretical foundations, cognitive modeling, task analysis, iterative design cycles, and usability testing.
Vocabularies, Terminology, Knowledge Discovery, & Related Health Information Technology StandardsStandards for healthcare data communication, storage, and representation, including vocabulary, terminology, and messaging standards, and extraction techniques such as natural language processing and text mining.
Health Data and Electronic Health Records (EHRs)An examination of hospital IT systems, methods used to interface between IT systems, and typical IT operational issues encountered in the use of electronic medical records and data.
Business Management and Communication for Health InformaticsBusiness management principles and practices essential to the health informatics field, with a focus on budgeting, governance, and the evaluation of IT services in a healthcare organization.
Health Information Legislation, Privacy, & SecurityAn overview of legislation relevant to electronic health information privacy, including data security safeguards, risk assessment methodologies, and contingency planning for security breaches.
R Programming for Biomedical InformaticsData analysis methods and statistical testing using the programming language R for biological data mining, data modeling, and the design and analysis of microarray and other types of experiments.
Emerging Technologies in Health & Medical InformaticsAn examination of emerging healthcare IT and the challenges of planning, implementation, and adoption of new technologies in the healthcare sector.
Strategic Application of IT in HealthcareAn overview of challenges facing the healthcare CIO/director with respect to organizational structure, alignment with enterprise strategy, portfolio management, and regulatory compliance.

Admissions to Online Master’s in Healthcare Informatics Programs

Applicants to online master’s in healthcare informatics programs must have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university. Some programs require students to have majored in biology, computer science, medicine, nursing, pharmacy, public health, or another field that provides a foundation for informatics, while other have a list of undergraduate prerequisite courses that applicants must complete prior to admission. In addition to undergraduate transcripts, applicants may be asked to submit GRE test scores, two or more letters of recommendation, and/or a written statement of purpose. More selective programs may have a minimum undergraduate GPA requirement for applicants, although this and other admissions requirements may be waived for applicants who hold an advanced degree.

Online Master’s in HIM Program Formats

There are several variations in online instructional formats and online program design that may be important considerations for prospective applicants to online programs. These variations can affect the relative convenience and flexibility of a program. They include: online instructional methods; enrollment options; and whether or not the program includes required campus visits.

Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Instruction: Synchronous instruction is analogous to traditional, classroom-based learning in that it requires students to be logged on to the program’s LMS in order to view lectures and participate in class activities in real-time. Online courses that have a synchronous instruction component have designated class meeting times that students must incorporate into their schedules. Asynchronous instruction does not include a real-time component or require designated meeting times. Courses that utilize asynchronous instruction allow students to log on to the program’s LMS at their own convenience to view lectures and complete assignments. While asynchronous instruction provides more flexibility and may be preferable for students who anticipate scheduling conflicts, it requires a greater amount of self-discipline, as students are responsible for keeping up with lectures and submitting graded work by set due dates.

Part-Time vs. Full-Time Enrollment: Master’s in HIM curricula are generally comprised of between ten and 12 courses, which may or may not include a capstone project. Full-time students can typically complete these programs in roughly two years, or four traditional academic semesters, by taking two or three courses per semester. Some programs adhere to a shorter, eight-week term system that allows full-time students to take two courses per term and graduate in 16 to 20 months of year-round attendance. Many online programs are also set up to accommodate students who enroll on a part-time basis, which generally means taking one or two courses per semester or term. Students who opt for part-time enrollment typically take two or more years to graduate, depending on whether or not they attend summer sessions.

Campus Visits: Many of the online master’s in healthcare informatics programs included on this site are 100% online and do not require students to attend orientation or instructional sessions on campus. However, some online master’s programs incorporate a limited number of campus visits into their curriculum. These on-campus sessions, often referred to as intensives or immersions, may last between three and ten days, depending on the program. They often add a valuable face-to-face component to an online program, but students may incur expenses in addition to program tuition and fees in order to attend campus sessions. Prospective applicants should check with a program administrator to determine whether or not the program requires on-campus sessions prior to submitting an application.