Online MHI/MSHI Degree Programs

An online master’s in health informatics (MHI), sometimes referred to as an MSHI degree (for Master of Science in Health Informatics), can be a great choice for people interested in advancing or re-directing their career, particularly if they already have a background in healthcare or IT. However, experience in either of these fields is not always necessary as some master’s degree programs in health informatics accept individuals who have any four-year degree.

The truth is that the need for skilled health informatics workers is growing. And to meet this need, there are now more than 70 advanced degree programs in the field in the U.S., according to an article in U.S. News & World Report. Federal government incentives for implementation of electronic health records (EHRs), an interest in improving the security of patient information and the desire to apply analytics to healthcare decision-making are all helping drive the demand.

Is an Online MHI or MSHI Degree for Me?

As healthcare providers increase their reliance on data to optimize service and delivery, a variety of new positions are becoming available. A master’s of science degree in health informatics (MSHI) can enable individuals to enter the healthcare field and pursue employment positions such, as:

  • Chief Information Officer
  • Chief Safety Officer
  • Clinical Data Analyst
  • Compliance Officer
  • Health Data/Information Resource Manager
  • HIM Director

In fact, a report from Burning Glass suggests that jobs in the field are expected to grow at twice the rate of all other jobs, and that already there may be evidence of a shortage. Positions for clinical analysts are some of the job openings that stay on the job market longest — up to 38 days on average. Other jobs are taking even longer to fill, according to the report:

  • Medical coder: 40 days
  • Clinical application developer: 40 days
  • Medical records and coding supervisors: 41 days
  • Health information managers and directors: 42 days

Demand in the field also is shifting due to the adoption of an updated international coding system, ICD-10. Under this new system, the number of available codes will increase to about 150,000 from about 18,000 in the previous system, according to Burning Glass, meaning that new and qualified workers will be in demand.

Also, some of the jobs are very complex, combining a variety of roles and responsibilities or changing with demand as needed, according to the report. Given that some of these occupations, like that of the clinical software applications specialist, didn’t even exist 20 years ago, it is easy to see how some roles and positions can be hard to define and that people need to have a variety of skills and capabilities.

Also, individuals interested in health informatics are not limited to working in a hospital or hospital system. They also may be employed with consultant companies, vendors, providers, suppliers, government agencies and even organizations creating the new electronic healthcare systems and technologies being sought by healthcare systems.

Admissions Requirements

Application for online health informatics degrees vary by school, but general requirements include completion of an application, attainment of a four-year degree (sometimes in healthcare or IT, but not always), and submission of official transcripts. Some schools also may require:

  • A minimum GPA of a 3.0, but there are some, like Northeastern University, that allow for flexibility in this area
  • One to three letters of recommendation
  • GRE scores, although some schools, like Drexel University, waive these when there is a cumulative GPA of 3.2 or higher at the undergraduate level; other schools may not require a GRE at all

Other requirements can include a personal essay or resume. Often, these materials can be submitted online, by uploading PDFs or other attachments, along with the initial application. Other materials, like transcripts, may need to be submitted by regular mail since schools usually want original copies.

Colleges and universities offering both campus-based and online education seem to follow a more traditional start calendar, often just in the fall or spring semester or sometimes additionally in the summer. However, other schools fully enmeshed in online learning, like Drexel University Online, have programs with several start dates throughout the year. Because these change year to year, however, it is best to look at the school website to confirm when the next opportunity for application and enrollment will be. Still others, like Southern New Hampshire University, offer continual enrollment opportunities throughout the year for acceptance into any of its five ongoing graduate terms.

Typical Course Curriculum and Specialization

A master’s degree in health informatics is interdisciplinary in nature, combining both the fundamentals of the healthcare and computer IT world. Students can build out foundational skills by taking classes, such as:

  • Biostatistics
  • Foundations of Information Systems
  • Healthcare Informatics
  • Healthcare Assurance
  • HIT Standards
  • The American Healthcare System

A student’s program also may vary based on their bachelor’s level education and subject matter. For example, after completing the basic required courses in the online health information degree at Drexel University Online, students take elective courses in different tracks, depending on whether they already have a background in the healthcare field.

Schools also offer a variety of ways to cement learning with real-life experiences. Although clinical experiences may not be required, many schools offer them through three-credit courses. This is the case at Drexel University Online, as well as Walden University and others. In fact, Walden makes its practicum experience optional (as a 3-credit add-on course), but it does require students to complete a three-credit scholarly project, which entails in-depth research and a presentation in an area of health informatics. On the other hand, schools like Southern New Hampshire University, do not require practicum hours, but may have students complete a capstone project to bring all of their learning and knowledge together through the form of a final project.

As a final note, many of the online masters in health informatics program require completion of 33 to 36 graduate credit hours, allowing students to complete a degree in two to three years of full-time study.

Highly Regarded Online MSHI Programs

Southern New Hampshire University
Grand Canyon University
Rasmussen University - Online
Brandeis University
Texas State University

There are many schools offering online education at the master’s level in health informatics, particularly since the field is in such high demand. Five of these schools are highlighted below, but there certainly are more degree programs available online to suit an individual’s needs:

  • DePaul University: This school is unique in requiring its online students to gain practicum experiences. This is done through a two-quarter practicum sequence, offering the professional opportunity to work on a real-world project. Also, unlike many other schools, DePaul gives students the opportunity to specialize in the field in areas such as: enterprise management, health analytics, innovations in healthcare and health information management.
  • University of South Florida: The University of South Florida is a pioneer in online health informatics education. It was the first top tier medical school to offer such a program completely online and includes faculty who are experts and working professionals in the field of informatics. USF is a HIMSS Approved Education Partner and Academic Organizational Affiliate.
  • Northwestern University: This is one of the few online schools that offers specialization areas at the master’s level, including in clinical informatics, health technology informatics or health administration informatics. Students who pursue the clinical informatics specialization also should be prepared to sit for board certification.
  • Dakota State University: Students enrolled in the online masters in health informatics at this school have the opportunity to work with faculty and staff that has more than 50 years of combined experience in the field. As well, those who are local can take advantage of the school’s Center of Advancement for Healthcare IT (CAHIT), which provides internships and project opportunities to those enrolled in the MSHI program.
  • Northeastern University: This school provides students with the opportunity to become involved in research at the master’s degree level, which can readily lead them into the PhD in Personal Health Informatics that is also offered through the school. There are actually two degrees offered: the Master of Science in Health Informatics and the Advanced Standing Master of Science in Health Informatics, the latter which allows students with a background in the field to advance more quickly through the degree.

Program Accreditation

Students may want to look for programs that are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education (CAHIIM), an independent organization established to set standards for health informatics and health information management programs.

This programmatic accreditation is necessary to be able to seek HIM certification through the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA). This certification can be important to:

  • Improving earning potential
  • Increasing opportunities for career advancement
  • Having a network of like-minded peers

Individuals who want to find CAHIMM-accredited schools can use the search tool in the organization’s website. Otherwise, students will want to want to make sure that their school has regional accreditation through an accrediting body approved by the U.S. Department of Education.

Influential Informatics Professors Who Teach Online

There are many different professors making an impact in the field of health informatics. Their backgrounds can vary dramatically, from those of the MBA to those of the MD. Below is a short list of three professors involved in online education in health informatics, although there are many more quality instructors across the U.S. who are involved in education.

David Liebovitz at Northwestern University

As the medical director for clinical information systems at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Dr. Liebovitz, M.D., also is the faculty director for the master’s of science degree in health informatics program at the university. As well, he is involved in research that looks at the improvement of medical records related to usability, health care quality and patient safety. He also is a member of several different organizations, including the Association of Medical Directors of Information Systems and Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society.

Omar El-Gayar at Dakota State University

This professor not only has his PhD from the University of Hawaii (with a 4.0 GPA, no less!), but has received numerous awards and recognitions as well as been published many different times. He also has received substantial grant funding for his various interests ranging in amounts from several thousand to $20,000. He also has numerous professional affiliations, including with the Association of of Information Systems (AIS).

Dan Feinberg at Northeastern University

The director of the health informatics program at the graduate level at Northeastern, Dan Feinberg has grown the program to now include and engage students from across the globe. Before coming to Northeastern, Feinberg worked as an entrepreneur (using his background with an MBA!), launching a telemedicine system to monitor diabetic eye disease and an electronic medical record (EMR) for those working in mental health services.

Maggie O'Neill
Maggie O'Neill Writer

Maggie O'Neill is a journalist from Northern Nevada, specializing in interviews and educational feature stories.