The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimate there will be a shortage of about 50,000 healthcare IT workers during the next several years. And HIMSS' latest Leadership Survey listed staffing resources as the key barrier to IT.
But even with this demand, many IT pros with experience outside the healthcare arena say that they can't get hired in the healthcare field because they aren't RNs or MDs. It seems quite a few institutions would prefer a combination of IT and clinical skills. In many cases, it's the clinical people who are seeking to learn more about the health IT being deployed in their organizations.
To address those learning needs, U.S. educators and other organizations are offering a variety of programs aimed at IT professionals and clinicians. Those educational offerings include boot camps sponsored by regional extension centers in some states, certificate programs from community colleges and private training firms, and classroom or online Masters of Science in health or medical informatics degree programs from colleges and universities.
One key difference between a master's degree and a certificate program is that the latter is usually shorter and tends to be better for IT professionals who need to hit the ground running so they can immediately start working on EHR implementations, whether as a consultant or as part of an in-house deployment team. Meanwhile, master's programs take longer to complete, are broader in scope, and therefore may be more suitable for managers who are involved with overseeing health IT, but won't need to roll up their sleeves on actual deployment.
When it comes to training clinical workers vs. IT workers for health IT deployments, the learning curve depends largely on each individual and his or her background. It also depends upon the content and focus of the programs.
In general, however, some IT stakeholders believe it's easier for clinical workers to pick up what they need to know for EMR and other related endeavors than it is for IT people without a healthcare background to become fluent in the clinical side. That's because use of health IT products generally doesn't require a deep dive into the workings of the technology. On the other hand, IT people making the transition to health IT really need to understand healthcare-related processes thoroughly, according to Dave Delano, project director for the Regional Extension Center of New Hampshire's (RECNH) meaningful use services and health information exchange technical services for critical access hospitals.
Delano teaches an Office of National Coordinator for Health IT-sponsored boot camp for critical access hospitals. The three-day crash course instructs IT professionals and clinicians on meaningful use, EMR adoption, and health information exchanges, providing students with a certificate upon completion.
"Sometimes you'll see people who have clinical expertise but who need to lead a computerized physician order entry project, and their gap is technology background," he said. "There's a fine line you walk with this stuff, but I often say it's better to have a clinical person learn the technology than an IT person learn clinical, unless the technology person has a lot of time to dive into the clinical side."
Still, some students in these programs come with no background in either clinical or technology work. Jennifer Monahan, a program coordinator at the RECNH, graduated two years ago with a bachelor's degree in English from St. Lawrence University and is currently working toward a health IT consultant/analyst certificate from Southern Maine Community College as well as an MBA. When she finishes her MBA, Monahan will look for a project management job related to health IT and hopes to move into other leadership roles.
"I've grown up using computers, so the technology is not a stretch for me," she said. "With meaningful use I understand the bigger picture; that's what comes together," she said of the coursework.
Those who are seeking work in health IT should realize that many employers are looking for candidates who have related certifications and degrees, said Brock Bauer, managing director of Technisource, a provider of IT services and staffing, including health IT consulting. "What we're seeing is that a lot of healthcare companies are afraid of hiring non-certified talent," he said. "It's really more of a fear factor than a risk factor."
If you're looking to further your health IT-related education and boost your resume, here's a sampling of various master's programs in health and medical informatics available from several U.S. universities and colleges.
Degree: Masters of Science in Medical Informatics (MSMI)
Program description: The Medical College of Wisconsin and the Milwaukee School of Engineering offer this joint Master of Science in Medical Informatics (MSMI) degree program. It's a campus-only program, so if Milwaukee is your neighborhood, this program may be for you. It provides a practical education that prepares the graduate to participate in development, implementation, and management teams charged with IT solutions for improved patient care. This medical informatics degree program takes a realistic yet helpful position on IT training: "We will not make doctors or nurses into network engineers or database designers or finance or management experts. Similarly, we will not prepare computer scientists or business experts for patient care." Rather, the school says its program provides "in-depth education in medical informatics, computer science, health policy, and epidemiologic/research methods."
Location: Milwaukee, WI
Term: A total of 54 quarter credit hours are required, of which 42 are required course work, 6 are electives, and 6 are for an internship/research project. Core classes meet once weekly during the evening.
Class size: Typically fewer than 15 students per class. No teaching assistants.
Job placement possibilities: Positions with companies that design and install information systems; health IT positions within hospitals, clinics, and health maintenance and managed care organizations, and third-party insurers; work within businesses with health care programs for employees; and public health agencies. Other career possibilities include work as informatics professionals who can use information technologies to bridge the gap between patient data registries and health research protocols at research institutions.
Cost: $650 per credit, for a total cost of approximately $33,150.
Degree: MBA in Health Informatics
Program description: The MBA in Health Informatics at New England College is an online program that targets professionals with varying levels of experience who are working in health informatics in healthcare institutions. While most of these professionals come from an IT or other technical background, the program also enrolls many with a clinical background in nursing or pharmacy who have become increasingly involved in managing the health informatics area. Students' work background may also include jobs in healthcare administration, clinical practice, information technology, and at vendors of healthcare services. This program makes the cut not only because of its nod to healthcare professionals, but because it focuses on preparing students to address the major challenges healthcare organizations face in regard to selecting, adopting, and implementing programs that can be integrated and "speak" to each other.
Location: New England College is based in Henniker, NH, but the program is offered online.
Term: 18 months, 40 credits online
Job placement possibilities: New England College says, "Individuals with expertise in health informatics can expect to provide resources to both private and not-for-profit companies in research, data analysis, and data management. Specializations in data integration from portable devices are also becoming more prevalent. Jobs in this field may carry the title of Director of Medical Informatics, Director of Clinical Informatics, Director of Health Informatics, and Systems Director for Clinical Support and Informatics. Individuals may also consider consulting services in the healthcare field."
Cost: $495 per credit
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Degree: MS Health Informatics
Program description: The online Health Informatics Graduate Program at Northeastern University was chosen because it's designed both for healthcare professionals who need the technical knowledge to take on new responsibilities and computing, and for IT professionals who need to understand how to apply technology in a healthcare environment. The program also actively courts career changers who have a bachelor's degree but no prior experience in health informatics.
The program is offered online or on the Boston campus. It won our vote because it is truly an interdisciplinary program and draws on both the College of Computer and Information Science and the Bouvé College of Health Sciences.
In addition to the Master of Science in Health Informatics degree, Northeastern University offers graduate certificates in health informatics management and exchange, health informatics privacy and security, and health informatics software engineering.
Location: Boston, Massachusetts campus or online
Term: Master's program requires 33 credits; study can be full- or part-time.
Job placement possibilities: Northeastern says some of its students enter the program already in leadership positions in health informatics. Other students are preparing to enter or move up in the field of health informatics. Entry positions can include clinical analysts, who work with clinicians to analyze workflows and collect user needs; and application analysts, who work with development groups to develop and select technology to fill the user needs.
Cost: $1100 per credit
Degree: Master of Science in Medical Informatics
Program description: The online Master of Science in Medical Informatics program at Northwestern University is comprised of a 13-unit course structure and is designed for clinical health professionals as well as IT professionals in the healthcare field. The program is jointly taught by Northwestern University School of Continuing Studies and the Feinberg School of Medicine. MMI students follow one of two tracks, depending on whether their background is in health care or in computing and information technology. The program helps students leverage their background to understand both sides.
Location: Northwestern University is located in Chicago, but courses are offered online.
Term: A minimum of 11 units of credit are required for the MMI degree, with each course counting as one unit of credit. The curriculum applies to the MMI online and MD/MMI degrees. Students may be required to complete up to 13 courses in order to gain the necessary background in the field. While the MMI program is designed to be completed in two to three years of uninterrupted part-time study, students have up to five years to complete the program.
Job placement possibilities: The university says graduates of its MMI program will possess the technical skills and leadership experience to work as consultants for independent practices and large medical facilities that are implementing and maintaining EMRs, and to hold positions in healthcare administration and management, clinical IT leadership, research, and education and academia.
Cost: Tuition for the 2011-12 academic year is $3,435 per course, plus a technology fee of $110 per course.
Degree: Master of Science in Medical Informatics
Program description: RIT's Master of Science in Medical Informatics is a campus-only offering. However, the benefits of the degree from RIT are that the program is offered jointly by RIT and the University of Rochester's School of Medicine and Dentistry. Students choose to matriculate at one of the universities, where they will earn their degree and receive a diploma bearing the seals of both institutions. The degree program recognizes that medical informatics requires computing expertise; an understanding of formal medical terminology, clinical processes, and guidelines; and the application of information and communication systems that can successfully deliver patient information in a number of healthcare settings.
Location: Rochester, NY
Term: The medical informatics degree is a 14-course program comprised of nine required core courses, a three-course concentration for depth, plus a two-course capstone experience. The program is offered on a full- or part-time basis. The full-time program may be completed in approximately two years. For part-time students, completion may take three to four years.
Class size: Typically 15-25 students.
Job placement possibilities: RIT says graduates of this program could achieve positions as health information technicians, health informatics software developers, Web developers, systems analysts, clinical data analysts, and software product specialists, with potential for professional growth and advancement into future careers as content engineers, informatics consultants, RN informaticists, healthcare analysts, or chief medical information officers.
Cost: Current program requires 52 quarter credits and costs $963/credit hour.
Degree: Master of Science in Health Informatics
Program description: Of all the programs we've chosen, the University of Findlay's Master of Science in Health Informatics seems like the one that leans most strongly toward the tech side, with an emphasis on AHIMA codes. However, the coursework is designed to provide a foundation and entry into many related fields, including health information technology/management, medical library science; various clinical disciplines; public health; and biomedical engineering.
Location: The University of Findlay is based in Findlay, OH, but most of the program is offered online.
Term: 33 semester hours, completion typically takes 2 years. Online courses include a mix of synchronous and asynchronous classes. However, students are required to attend the last session of each class in person.
Job placement possibilities: Prepares graduates for jobs in health informatics specialties, including nursing informatics, physician clinical informatics, clinical research informatics, pharmacy informatics, consumer health informatics, dental informatics, public health/population informatics , mental health informatics, primary care informatics, veterinary informatics, and telemedicine and mobile computing informatics.
Cost: $750 per credit
Degree: Master of Science in Health Informatics
Program description: This online Master of Science Degree in Health Informatics emphasizes technical knowledge for developing new software applications or analyzing data output, but it also combines clinical and health-related content with social sciences. Because of this range, students come from a diverse range of backgrounds and include doctors, nurses, pharmacists, medical and lab technicians as well as IT professionals, systems analysts, and database and networking administrators. The program is one of the nation's oldest and most highly respected health informatics programs. Built on the university's MBA/business school model, the informatics program aims to provide real-world experience and practical skill application.
Term: UIC’s online MS in Health Informatics degree is 45 credit hours and can be completed in as few as 14 courses, depending on the track. A post-Master’s Certificate in Health Informatics requires only 7 courses.
Job placement possibilities: UIC says depending on their work experience, MSHI graduates are prepared for a wide range of mid- to high-level management positions in the health care information setting.
Cost: $762 per credit hour
Degree: Master of Science, Clinical Informatics
Program description: This online Master of Science, Clinical Informatics and Patient-Centered Technologies program made our list because it is a uniquely specific program that is more directed toward healthcare professionals. The Clinical Informatics and Patient-Centered Technologies (CIPCT) Online Master of Science program teaches students how to implement, manage, and evaluate the use of informatics applications in advanced patient care. The program is offered jointly though the University of Washington's School of Medicine and its School of Nursing.
Term: Full- or part-time. Full-time students take 9 to 14 credits per quarter, and the program can be completed in as few as 15 months. Part-time students take 6 to 8 credits per quarter, and the program takes between 2 and 2.5 years. Courses are offered once a year.
Job placement possibilities: CIPCT graduates are prepared for health IT jobs within health care systems or institutions (assuming clinical informatics and administrative positions), as well as software vendors of health IT systems, consulting firms, and state or national health care planning foundations or agencies.
Cost: $558 per credit for both resident and non-resident students.
Degree: Master of Science in Health Informatics
Program description: This online Master of Science in Health Informatics program aims for students to "gain the knowledge and skills to work with professionals who manage information technology at the place where healthcare and technology converge." The program enables students to learn about how advanced digital technologies integrate into the field of healthcare, and how the use of electronic data can improve the effectiveness and efficiency of healthcare delivery. Students also learn about new technologies that can improve the diagnosis, treatment, and outcomes of disease and reduce medical errors.
With increased attention on reducing healthcare costs, expanding access to quality care, and improving the quality of services, the role of health informatics is recognized as a critical component of healthcare reform.
Term: 2-year program, 36 credits
Job placement possibilities: Walden says career options for its degree graduates include (but are not limited to) nursing information officer, chief information officer, medical informatics specialist, clinical informaticist, project manager in health information, healthcare administrator, and medical and health services manager.
Cost: $24,840 for program