MCPHS Offers Online Master of Science in Health Informatics Program
The School of Healthcare Business at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences responds to demand for a Master of Science in Health Informatics with a new, 30-credit online graduate degree program.
The Master of Science in Health Informatics will prepare leaders to address challenges in healthcare through the application of informatics, data analytics, and technology. The requirements to enter the program include an earned bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited institution with a cumulative GPA of at least a 3.0, two recommendations (one academic and one professional), a personal statement, a resume, and transcripts from all previous institutions of higher learning.
The program is geared toward entry to mid-level employees in healthcare organizations who are interested in utilizing informatics, data analytics and health technology to improve healthcare outcomes and patient care.
The role of health informatics — the interdisciplinary field that combines health data and information technology — has steadily gained importance in healthcare delivery. Professionals in this field rely on big data, computer science, and medical informatics to collect, organize, and interpret healthcare big data.
Dr. Michael Spooner, Dean and Assistant Professor in the School of Healthcare Business explained that because informatics leverages data to improve quality of care for patients, it is at the heart of professional collaboration and team-based care. Health informatics offers critical insights about patient care which benefits the entire healthcare industry, including clinicians, healthcare providers, and healthcare organizations.
“We fulfill an important role of getting the data to the clinicians at the right time. I’m speaking clinically here, but it also spreads out to billing, coding, education even. This program and this degree represent a lot of opportunity in that you can make a difference and you can use, analyze, and interpret data,” he says. “There are a lot of opportunities for someone to do something that is meaningful and also interesting.”
He explained that the more widespread adoption of electronic health records and other data collection methods, the more critical support is needed for interprofessional collaboration and communication.
“If you think about Pre-COVID, we were all talking about telemedicine and COVID made us do telemedicine,” Dr. Spooner says. “We moved to it quickly and we realized that it was generating a lot of information and data that could be used in an analytical and decision-making capacity. So we have individuals that can come into this growing area who can use informatics and information systems to gather, interpret, and deliver data that clinicians and other folks in care teams can use in that process of delivering care.”
Informatics is increasingly used to facilitate communication amongst patients, providers, and care teams and as a resource to drive decision-making with relevant and understandable data. Dr. Spooner says that even though the data is available, there are a lack of skilled professionals who are able to digest and analyze the data into actionable insights.
“There’s a huge lag in the data,” he says. “If you look at some of the data we get about healthcare utilization, it’s really about three years behind, so it takes years for someone to get that data and put it into a place where it is useful. The same is true for the clinical data; there is so much data that is collected that we don’t do anything with so we are hoping to maximize that.”
The curriculum of the Master of Science in Health Informatics has five core courses. Students have the opportunity to choose between two specializations: Clinical Informatics and Collaborative Practice or Health Data Analytics and Applied Technology.
The first specialization, Clinical Informatics and Collaborative Practice, focuses on the importance of using informatics in decision making in team-based and collaborative care. Classes that are offered include: HIN 771 Clinical Collaboration and Team-Based Decision-Making, HIN 773 Interfaces: Human Factors and Information Systems, and HIN 775 Clinical Solutions: Identifying, Evaluating, and Planning for Adoption.
“It’s about making sure that you have the right information at the right time to make important decisions. This is for the physicians, the care team members, and for the patients too,” he says. “Don’t forget that patients have a reliance on data now to make the best decisions in patient-centered care.”
The second specialization, Health Data Analytics and Applied Technology focuses on translating and interpreting human interactions with and within healthcare systems by retrieving and analyzing health data, reported clinical outcomes, and patient experience data. Classes include: HIN 762 Systems Thinking and Problem-Solving in Complex Environments, HIN 764 Artificial Intelligence: Evaluation and Applications for the Future, and HIN 768 Translating Social and Behavioral Issues.
“This is about how we can use data, informatics and analysis to bring about technological change in the system delivering care. That includes systems thinking, so looking at how a change in one area has a downstream effect and using informatics to solve problems in very complex and highly regulated environments,” he says.
Dr. Spooner explained that the culmination of the program includes a choice between a full-semester field study which gives students a firsthand look at how healthcare systems operate, or a capstone project. In the field study “students will work with an organization to apply what they learned...“we want this program to focus on doing it not just learning about it.”
Students in the program will be using R, Python, SPSS, Stata, Tableau, EHRGo, Excel, and other Microsoft tools to stay current with the software tools used in the job marketplace.
Dr. Spooner explained that there are many advantages to offering the program 100% online.
“Being fully online is really neat because it opens the doors to more students, but it also opens the doors to students who share a common interest, so you get the chance to really aggregate interest in clinical and collaborative practice, or healthcare data analytics and technology,” he says.
He hopes that the diverse pool of applicants will bring together great networking and learning opportunities.
“So we can bring students together from across the country or the world and that creates a great opportunity because you are meeting people who are practicing in different places and you get to learn from that.”
As a new program, he hopes to take advantage of using contemporary issues.
“We are designing the program now so we can really focus instead of what was but really on what is and what we can do in the future and that is what makes the program so unique,” he says.
The job outlook for professionals in health informatics is trending upward. The Bureau of Labor Statistics confirms that job growth will increase by 32% for medical and health services managers by 2029.
Advanced degree holders enjoy an advantage when it comes to securing high-paying leadership positions. The Master of Science in Health Informatics will prepare students to work across various healthcare settings and qualify them for senior positions such as chief medical information officers, director of clinical informatics, clinical informatics analysts, electronic health record (EHR) implementation specialists, health informatics business analysts and other related fields.
“When you think about the job growth and opportunities here and when you throw COVID into the mix, it’s really a great time because we can fulfill a need,” he explains.