Many schools offer online master's degree programs in clinical information, a sub-field of health or medical informatics. Students can watch lessons through video streaming, usually as their schedules permit. While many courses can be completed online, most programs require hands-on experience in the form of an internship or practicum. A master's thesis or research project is usually mandatory, too.
These programs are open to students with bachelor's degrees and take 2 to 3 years to complete, depending on if they are full- or part-time. Some master's programs allow students to choose a specialty track as a clinician. In this track, students might take courses in telecommunications and computer networks and the design and implementation of database systems. Other courses may cover project management, the impact of new health information technology on society and health information systems.
Graduates of a master's degree program in health informatics may be eligible to apply for certification from professional health information organizations. If this is their goal, they should make sure their program is accredited by the proper agency.
Master's Degree in Clinical Informatics
Health informatics, including the sub-field of clinical informatics, is the integration of technology into healthcare delivery and research. With a focus on improving patient care and safety, clinical informatics programs combine computer and information science with knowledge of the healthcare industry and clinical practices. Students learn about health information systems evaluation and management, interactive health technologies, data analysis, current legal and social issues in informatics, research methods and system security.
Candidates should have a bachelor's degree, and schools may require a minimum undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or a year of healthcare experience. Some online programs are accredited by the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA), and graduates from these programs can seek certification as registered health information administrators.
Information and Requirements
Online master's degree programs in clinical and health informatics can be pursued part- or full-time, and are generally completed in 2-3 years. Online instruction is delivered in the form of video streaming, assigned readings, PowerPoint presentations, live Web conferences and discussion forums. Course content can usually be accessed at any time, but some sessions may be scheduled at specific times or dates. Most programs require completion of an internship, practicum, master's thesis or research project, and several days of on-campus attendance may be mandatory.
A high-speed Internet connection and headphones or speakers are a must. Web cams and microphones may be necessary for some interactive multimedia content. Other possible requirements are a minimum of two gigabytes of free disk space, Windows Media Player and an Adobe Flash plug-in.
Sample Master's Degree Courses in Clinical Informatics
Course offerings and content in informatics programs can vary widely between schools. Below are examples of typical required courses for a clinical informatics master's degree candidate.
Introduction to Health Informatics
This is a general overview of the history and current role of information technology in the healthcare industry. Students are introduced to health information-related technology concepts such as bioinformatics, evidence-based medicine, information retrieval, decision science and security concerns.
Health Information Systems
Instruction emphasizes the evaluation, selection and implementation of healthcare informatics systems in a variety of organizational settings. Topics such as industry standards, regulatory policies, organizational behavior and economic impact are covered.
Data Management and Applications
Students learn about data representation concepts and database technology relevant to healthcare delivery. Topics may include data warehousing, provider and patient identification, data analysis, computerized provider order entry (CPOE) and electronic health records (EHR).
Project Management for Health Informatics
Standard project management concepts, skills and tools are covered, including terminology, project planning, budgeting and human resource management. Students may be required to design and plan their own health informatics project.
Issues in Health Informatics
The effects of information technology on our society are explored. Possible topics include patient confidentiality, U.S. healthcare regulations, intellectual property rights and other legal, ethical, political and economic issues.
Career Information for Graduates
Graduates with a master's degree in clinical informatics often become healthcare executives or administrators, clinical database managers, clinical information systems analysts and clinical project managers. Opportunities can be found in medical practices, hospitals, nursing facilities and non-clinical environments such as research labs, pharmaceutical companies and insurance agencies.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in 2016, the continuing expansion of the healthcare industry portends faster than average job growth for medical and health services managers. Employment in the field is expected to increase at a rate of 17% from 2014 to 2024, with growth especially fast in medical group practices, which are becoming larger and more complex as technology advances (www.bls.gov).
The BLS also reported that as of May 2015, the average annual salary for medical and health services managers was $114,180 in hospitals and $102,080 in physicians' practices. Average salaries ranged even higher in non-clinical settings, with pharmaceutical companies paying medical managers an average of $161,530 per year.
Continuing Education Options
Postgraduate and post-masters certificate programs are available in health and clinical informatics. Students complete 3-8 courses and usually have to maintain a 'B' average or better. These programs can serve as an introduction to health informatics or provide professional health service managers with specializations such as clinical software engineering, clinical informatics management or informatics privacy and security.
Online master's degree programs in clinical informatics are widely available as fully online programs. Courses on topics such as project management, health informatics and data management prepare students for managing and executive positions in the healthcare industry.