Health informatics programs focus on information systems, computer theory, computerized records and health statistics. Emphasizing clinical practice informatics and nursing databases, the nursing informatics program usually requires a valid RN license. It, too, may be offered primarily through distance learning. Specific educational requirements of these programs vary.
For admission into bachelor's programs, a high school diploma or GED will be required. Some bachelor's programs in health informatics may require a specialized associate's degree or specific preparatory courses before admission is offered. Master's level health informatics programs will require an appropriate bachelor's degree with minimum GPA of 3.0. Some programs may require work experience, as well as a nursing license for nursing informatics programs.
Bachelor's Degrees in Health Informatics
Students should be aware that health informatics (HI) is not the same thing as health information management (HIM). HIM focuses on data and its uses. HI focuses on information systems that aid in transforming health data into information that can be used for making decisions, as well as all of the support factors for those systems. Some bachelors' programs encompass both areas in one degree. The goal of many programs is to prepare graduates to design, develop, and manage health information systems for a specific problem or organization. A few programs are available online.
The number of semester hours of required major-specific courses varies from school to school, ranging from 49-64. Most programs require a capstone project or an equivalent. Courses can include:
- Analysis and design of software systems
- Healthcare informatics
- Healthcare research and statistics
- Improving healthcare processes
- Managing health data
- Managing performance and quality
Master's Degree in Health Informatics
Master's degree programs in health informatics are usually designed for those who are already healthcare professionals, including nurses, physicians, pharmacists, or healthcare IT professionals. Required program credit hours vary from 24-45. Programs integrate healthcare with computer science and information science. A number of programs may be taken online.
Many master's degree program requirements are adapted for students' individual needs, dependent upon the undergraduate major. A program may have only two required courses and then offer groups of three or four courses, from which the student must choose two. Core courses usually include:
- Acquiring and analyzing clinical data
- Applying healthcare information systems
- Computerized patient records
- Health informatics and health information systems
- Managing healthcare knowledge
- Terminology and standards of health informatics
Master's Degree in Nursing Informatics
There are two educational approaches to informatics for nurses. The first approach is to enroll in a master's degree program in nursing informatics. The second approach is to take a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program with a specialization in nursing informatics. Usually there is very little difference between the degree programs in these two approaches. Many times these programs are available completely online, or with minimal campus attendance, such as three times during the program.
Master's degree programs typically require 36-45 credits. Most programs include some electives in these requirements, but a few offer no electives. Courses specific to informatics may include:
- Clinical practice informatics
- Evaluating and managing nursing systems
- Healthcare and nursing computer applications
- Healthcare applications and the Web
- Interactive healthcare and consumers
- Nursing databases
Popular Career Options
A clinical analyst looks at clinical questions that are so complex that using computerized systems is necessary to solve them. Clinical analysts and informaticists will find the most job opportunities in hospitals. Other opportunities may be found in mental health or nursing care facilities, large medical groups, or clinics. Since most job listings require experience in addition to a degree, graduates might expect to begin their careers as support personnel to professionals as a clinical data analyst, clinical informatics coordinator, IT clinical analyst, medical informatics researcher, or meditech clinical analyst.
Nursing experience is required for nurse informatics specialist jobs. Career options include: clinical applications specialist, director of nursing informatics, nursing informatics analyst, nursing informatics specialist, or nursing information systems coordinator.
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
U.S. government employment statistics do not have a classification specifically for clinical analysts. Clinical analysts with health informatics degrees most closely fit the classification of medical and health services managers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov), this occupational category should experience a much-faster-than-average increase in jobs (18%) from 2018-2028, with the largest number of jobs in hospitals. According to the BLS, the median annual wage earned by such managers in May 2018 was $99,730. PayScale.com reported the salary range of health informatics specialists was $41,000-$94,000 in September 2019.
Although there are no required certifications for clinical analysts, a number of voluntary certifications are available through the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA). Although health informatics and health information are not the same, there is enough overlap that certification in either area can be helpful in obtaining jobs.
Certification exams may be taken at different times in a student's studies. The Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT) exam may be taken approximately half-way through the bachelor's program and Registered Health Information Administrator (RHIA) exam during the last term of the program. The test for the Certified Coding Associate (CCA) might be taken following completion of the coding courses. With the addition of a few specific science courses to the curriculum students may be eligible to test for the Certified Coding Specialist (CCS).
After receiving the bachelor's degree, graduates can test for the Certified Health Data Analyst (CHDA) credential. Other certifications require several years of experience.
Recertification for each of these credentials is required every two years. Coding certifications call for 20 continuing education units (CEUs). The other certifications require 30 CEUs. AHIMA offers a variety of continuing education options. The American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA) offers Continuing Medical Education (CME) and Continuing Education (CE) units for attending the annual symposium and turning in an evaluation.
Some job discussions on university websites indicate a possible need for a nursing informatics specialist certification from the American Nurses Association. However, that certification was no longer available by 2010. The only certification listed at that time was the Registered Nurse-Board Certified (RN-BC), available through the American Nurses Credentialing Center.
Nonetheless, nurse informatics specialists will need to regularly take continuing education courses to keep up in the field. These courses can include health care courses, as well as courses in information science or computer science. The American Nursing Informatics Association (ANIA) has an annual conference for networking and continual updating of information.
Health informatics and nursing informatics are more specialized fields than health information management and may require students to hold degrees or licensure before admission to a program. Students in bachelor's and master's degree programs can expect to take courses covering statistics, computer technology, and health informatics standards.