The Guide to Online Master’s in Health Informatics Programs

Data, Healthcare, and Technology. All three come together when you earn an online Master of Health Informatics (MHI). Health Informatics is about developing an analytical and statistical framework for learning about—and solving—our world’s biggest healthcare issues.

Health informatics graduate programs provide students with comprehensive, foundational knowledge of healthcare-based legal issues, data analytics, database design, and information technology, and offers them openings into a wide variety of fields across the rapidly evolving healthcare and technology industries—and the basic skills needed to pursue a specialty in any one of them.

What Is Health Informatics?

So, what is informatics in healthcare—and why is it important? Health informatics is a field based specifically on the technological tools and platforms used to store, organize, and analyze electronic medical records. But the impact extends to more than just the technology itself. Health informatics professionals develop and evaluate these tools with the end goal of improving patient outcomes. In other words, they leverage evolving medical science solutions to evaluate patient data and deliver patient care more efficiently and effectively.

Health informatics programs cater to students from a wide variety of educational and professional backgrounds, from practicing healthcare professionals to IT workers interested in making the transition to healthcare. With the foundational knowledge and unique technological skills from an online master’s in health informatics, graduates can emerge as potential candidates for managerial positions, improving the overall health and data standards of individuals, families, and communities.

Can You Earn Your Master’s in Health Informatics Online?

When taking the initial steps to pursue an MHI program, the most important thing is that you find the best health informatics program for you. For many people, online programs offer the flexibility they need to continue working while completing their degree. Along that vein, you can also choose to take the program part-time or full-time. Depending on which you choose, an MHI program can take anywhere from 18 months to two years to complete. Regardless of whether you choose online, in-person, part-time or full-time, the curriculum will be fairly consistent, and you’ll likely reap the same rewards after it’s complete.

Online Health Informatics Program Admissions Requirements

Admissions requirements for an online health informatics program consists of standard academic materials, including test scores, transcripts, letters of recommendation, and a personal essay. Though the specifics and number of each item may vary by university, all MHI program applicants will typically be required to submit the following to be considered for admission:

  • A bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited university.
  • Letter(s) of recommendation from academic or professional reference(s).
  • Official academic transcripts from any previously attended institutions.
  • Test scores from the GRE, GMAT, MCAT or DAT.
  • Resume that includes all relevant experience and credentials.
  • Personal essay answering a given prompt or describing your reason for applying.
  • Interview (typically video) with an admissions professional.

Master’s Programs in Health Informatics, No GRE Required

Some online MHI programs have no GRE requirement, meaning they don’t require you to submit GRE scores to complete your application and be considered for admission. If this is the case, it will be marked on the university website under admissions requirements. Depending on the program, GRE waivers may be available based on the applicant’s prior level of work experience or academic degrees—like if they have already received a different graduate degree.

GRE waivers can be appealing to prospective students who are already well into their careers and may have never had cause to take the GRE previously, but are still looking for a career transition. According to the Educational Testing Service, standard GRE test administration costs roughly $200 in the U.S., not including any preparation costs, late registration fees, rescheduling fees, or scoring services. By saving applicants the money and time associated with test preparation—and reducing the pre-application workload in general—a GRE waiver offers significant benefits to qualified applicants.

Online Master’s in Health Informatics Curriculum

Master’s in Health Informatics programs start off covering the core pillars of the practice. Depending on the program, titles of courses vary but students can expect to gain knowledge in the following topic areas:

  • Healthcare Management and Strategy. An introduction to the foundational aspects of healthcare management, strategies, and information systems.
  • Medical Informatics and Decision Management. A deeper look into healthcare information systems, medical informatics, and decision management.
  • Health IT Project Management. An introduction to the principles and applications of project management in the healthcare IT field.
  • Population and Community Health Analytics. An overview of healthcare data analytics on the community and population levels.
  • Research Analytics and Predictive Analytics. An introduction to data science and analytics adapted specifically to the healthcare field.
  • Health Law and Policy. An overview of healthcare policy and the associated legal aspects of healthcare.
  • Health Innovation and Entrepreneurship/Capstone. A culmination of the program, in which students use informatics to develop a practical solution for a central issue affecting the current healthcare climate.

In some university programs, students have the option to select electives and track-specific courses, depending on their interests, prior to completing a capstone. Some examples of such offerings are listed below:

  • Informatics Fundamentals. An overview of health informatics, including organizational issues, business processes, roles, information systems, data, and algorithms.
  • Quality and Outcomes. Covers the fundamental steps, measures, and data analysis requirements for healthcare quality, process, and systems improvements.
  • Informatics for Healthcare Professionals. An overview of use cases and functional requirement analyses of clinical documentation, medical management, and patient care delivery.
  • Informatics for Public Health Professionals. An overview of use cases and functional requirements analyses relevant to public health practices, health statistics, and electronic data reporting.
  • Informatics for Clinical Research. Explores the tools, principles, and recent initiatives of informatics that support the clinical-research life cycle.
  • Project Management. An introduction to project management in healthcare—equipping students with the foundational skills, tools, and techniques they need to manage health informatics and analytics projects of any size and complexity.
  • Multivariable Data Analysis and Visualization. Explores sophisticated data presentation methods and techniques through statistical software R and Tableau, eventually culminating in the development of a replicable data analytics workflow.
  • Big Data, Data Mining, and Knowledge Discovery. Covers all relevant aspects of big data—large volumes of structured and unstructured business data including common software solutions, and the general pros and cons of using big data in the healthcare space. Topics also include big data’s relationship to data mining—discovering patterns in large data sets—and business knowledge discovery.
  • GIS/Spatial Epidemiology. An introduction to the impact of geography on public health, from social and economic disparities to environmental exposures. The course equips students with the basic skills they need to obtain, clean, analyze, and decipher spatial data in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) tools, using real-life examples from public health and the U.S. Census Bureau.
  • Business of Healthcare. Provides the foundational knowledge and skills for understanding, implementing, and managing a financial and operational budget at a healthcare organization, eventually zooming out from finances into general healthcare business management skills and tactics.
  • Fundamentals of Privacy and Security in Health IT. Covers best practices in health information technology security and privacy including protecting the integrity, availability, and confidentiality of health data down to the individual level of personal health information (PHI). Students develop an understanding of relevant laws, regulations, and policies including the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), active risk management, and how to proceed in the event of a security threat or breach.
  • Organizational Behavior, Leadership, and Change Management. Introduces the principles of organizational behavior, leadership, and change management, with a focus on producing positive informatics and analytics project outcomes. Students will develop strategies for engaging relevant stakeholders and honing interpersonal skills of collaboration, conflict resolution, negotiation, management, and leadership.
  • Introduction to Python for Health Informatics and Analytics. Offers a high-level introduction to Python—one of the most widely used programming languages for health informatics and analytics—and helps students become familiar with its interfaces and applications in healthcare and public health.

What Can You Do with a Health Informatics Degree?

There are a wide variety of health informatics jobs, fields, and career paths you can pursue with an online master’s in health informatics, or any MHI degree. Here are some of the most common:

  • Health Informatics Systems Manager/Clinical Informatics Manager. Handles the creation, repair, and maintenance of computer systems that store health data. Possessing a combination of computer information systems and healthcare domain expertise, these professionals can work at public health agencies, medical centers, or hospitals, and are often leaders in ensuring their team’s software tools and platforms are as secure, updated, error-free, and as efficient as possible.
  • Medical Records and Health Information Technician. Ensures that all patient information remains accurate, accessible, and secure across all electronic systems and records. These professionals also track patient outcomes for quality assessments, use classification software to assign appropriate procedure and diagnosis codes for patient care, as well as codes for population health statistics and billing processes.
  • Health Information Management DirectorOversees and maintains the integrity of all clinical and financial data, ensuring that healthcare providers can access accurate, comprehensive health information at any time, from any system. HIM directors can work in hospitals or at a variety of inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation or long-term care facilities, and often play a role in hiring, recruiting, hiring, budget planning, and other administrative functions.
  • Clinical AnalystImproves the efficiency of healthcare delivery by maintaining and optimizing patient health information systems, or otherwise. Often, Clinical Analysts have a clinical background—whether as nurses, physicians, respiratory therapists, or pharmacists—but this is not necessarily required. Clinical analysts manage and solve user problems, leveraging their deep understanding of clinicians’ daily processes and workflows to better support the technology system.
  • Clinical Applications SpecialistWorks for medical equipment manufacturers and with healthcare professionals and personnel to implement and integrate new technologies.
  • Nursing Informatics Provides data, health information, and medical expertise that healthcare providers can use to make informed patient care decisions.
  • Chief Informatics OfficerLeads healthcare organizations, health systems, and hospitals in using clinical health information systems to optimize medical research, patient care delivery, and patient outcomes. In addition to leveraging information technology to support clinical quality and safety, the Chief Informatics Officer also oversees the integration of technology and data with clinical practice, designing and managing workflow analyses across the organization to meet regulatory requirements.

Master of Health Informatics Salary and Career Outlook

Healthcare needs are continuously evolving, and so is the workforce. More and more employers are seeking out highly-skilled workers who understand and are able to help them tackle unique challenges, from data integration and standards to cybersecurity. It’s no surprise then that health informatics careers are a fast-growing field.

The average growth rate for all occupations is 5 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). But the projected growth rate for health information technicians, from 2018 to 2028, is 11 percent—more than double the average. The demand for health information technicians is partly due to the aging population. While demand is consistent across the industry, median pay and salary outlooks vary per role, employer, and location.

So How Much Do Health Informatics Make?

The median annual pay in 2018 for medical records and health information Technicians was $40,350, according to the BLS. For medical and health services managers, the median annual pay in 2018 jumped to $99,730, and the job outlook for 2018-2028 is growing at a faster-than-average rate of 18 percent. At $142,530, health informatics and computer and information systems managers had the highest median annual salary for 2018 out of all the professionals mentioned here.

Why Pursue an MHI Degree Program?

With an MHI degree, you can transition into or advance further in the healthcare world. With a keen knowledge of healthcare technology, information systems, and healthcare data analytics, you can leverage your degree and have an impact on the patient, doctor, hospital, and even the public health level. Pursue an online master’s in health informatics to:

  • Improve the quality, organization, and management of patient care
  • Analyze critical public health information and data
  • Use technology for public health education and research
  • Optimize hospitals’ patient records and health information systems
  • Help further the research and development of healthcare technology
  • Assist doctors and nurses in efficient and effective care delivery