Complete Guide to Healthcare Information Systems Degrees
Online healthcare information systems degree programs can prepare students for fast-growing careers in medical and health information technology (IT) and health services management. Healthcare information systems programs can be pursued at the associate, bachelor’s, master’s, or certificate level. In these degree programs, students learn about healthcare informatics, information systems, healthcare business practices, and healthcare ethics. Graduates understand the specialized record keeping and billing practices required in the healthcare sector, as well as the professional demeanor required in a sensitive medical setting. These degree programs are suited for current healthcare practitioners who want a better understanding of information systems, as well as individuals just entering the field.
Those seeking online associate degrees in healthcare information systems should look for programs accredited by the Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Informatics and Information Management (CAHIIM). Attending a CAHIIM-accredited program is required to apply for the Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT) credential, which many organizations require for employment. Bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in healthcare information systems may be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME). Read More
Comprehensive List of Colleges & Universities for an Online Healthcare Information Systems Degree
Overview of Available Online Healthcare Information Systems Degrees
Undergraduate certificates and associate degrees in healthcare information systems are usually designed for entry into the healthcare information technician career. These programs introduce students to medical sciences, medical terminology, healthcare IT, and systems administration. Students learn both the technical and interpersonal skills required in the healthcare IT industry; they also study general education areas like English, public speaking, and college math. Some associate degree programs in healthcare information systems require hands-on practicums or internships in a medical setting.
The online bachelor’s program in healthcare information systems is usually required for entering management and supervisory roles in hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and other healthcare settings. Students learn about legal issues in medical settings, medical terminology, health records management, medical coding, financial management, and human resources management. Some bachelor’s degrees allow students to specialize in information management in a particular type of healthcare setting, such as a hospital, nursing home, or outpatient facility. Most programs require an internship in an administrative position in a healthcare setting.
The online master’s degree or graduate certificate in healthcare information systems can be a way to advance in healthcare IT or enter the field from a different career. Coursework covers the history of the United States healthcare system, medical informatics, leadership, healthcare operations, biostatistics, and medical information systems acquisitions. These graduate programs may require up to a year of supervised work in a healthcare facility in the student’s local area. Current physicians, nurses, physical therapists, or other care providers may use these programs to update their information systems knowledge.
Associate degrees in healthcare information systems require a high school diploma and competent scores on the SAT or similar college-entry assessment test. Assuming you're going to school full time, an associate degree will take about two years to complete. Each student will need to complete about 60 units in order to graduate. Oftentimes, associate programs in healthcare information systems can act as an introduction to higher-level degrees, such as a bachelor's or master's degree. There are also related certification programs if you're planning on specializing in the field.
Online healthcare information systems associate degrees will prepare you well for the field with general and specific courses involving both medical subjects as well as computer technology. Common courses include medical terminology, introduction to health services, introduction to information systems, coding, classification of diseases, legal issues in health, health insurance and reimbursement, basic computer skills, English, writing, general physical and biological science, and healthcare organizations.
Those who hold an associate degree in healthcare information systems generally go into careers as medical records and health information technicians in hospitals and other care facilities. This degree level is adequate for most of these jobs, but higher education or professional certifications may be required by some hospitals or individual employers.
The healthcare field is always evolving, and with every change, there is typically a demand for more professionals who can help manage the impact. Workers in healthcare information systems are examples of individuals who contribute to the medical industry by creating and maintaining technological resources in order to keep operations running smoothly. A four-year bachelor's degree program is one of the primary education requirements, during which students are expected to complete at least 120 credit hours. Acceptable candidates must have a high school diploma or equivalent.
Bachelor's degree programs in healthcare information systems provide students with foundational principles and procedures in the field. Specific subjects that are stressed often include patient data analysis and business management. Individuals explore various course topics such as physiology, medical terminology, healthcare reimbursement methods, computer science, anatomy, classification and coding systems, healthcare statistics, and health data requirements.
Undergraduate programs in this discipline particularly enable students to develop their skills in decision making, communication, time management, and organization. The majority of classes require them to attend and participate in web-based presentations, so it's important to own a computer system that works sufficiently.
Bachelor's degree holders are typically qualified to be systems managers in nursing care facilities, physicians' offices, hospitals, psychiatric centers, and outpatient clinics. Many of them also become certified to maximize their chances of getting promoted in their careers. Those who want to pursue teaching or consulting jobs are encouraged to pursue master's degrees.
Healthcare information systems master's programs provide students with advanced skills for managing sensitive healthcare data. These programs require two years of coursework and around 20 courses. To enroll, applicants need an accredited bachelor's degree; some programs require previous healthcare experience as well.
Courses in healthcare information systems help students learn to create new information management and analysis systems for pharmacies and hospitals. Common core courses include statistics, data management, and software engineering. Additional courses explore the role of technology in the healthcare system—particularly network security. Master's students might also be required to take classes in healthcare ethics, healthcare information law, terminology, and healthcare communications.
Many healthcare information systems master's programs have a thesis option or requirement. The thesis is a cumulative project that gives students the chance to take what they have learned in their degree program, spend additional time studying a topic that is of particular interest to them, and write an extensive research paper on the topic. Employers may favor graduates who have chosen relevant thesis topics and completed a quality paper because it shows that they have mastery of a given subject.
The healthcare field is one of the fastest-growing sectors in the United States and in the world. It is also constantly adopting new technologies that require the skills of people trained specifically in healthcare information systems. With a master's degree, graduates can work in healthcare information systems development, implementation, and training organizations around the world. Some graduates with particularly strong programming skills even decide to create their own systems for particular hospitals, pharmacies, or other healthcare organizations.
Health information systems technicians need at least a certificate in this subject to find entry-level work in the field. These online certificate programs are usually found at community colleges and at technical institutions. Most programs can be completed in less than two years of full-time study. Students usually need to have a high school diploma or its equivalency to enter these programs and may have to provide proof of these credentials. Students can begin preparing for these programs while in high school by taking a variety of classes related to computers, math, health education, and science.
The coursework for certificates in this field teaches students how to preserve medical records and billing information for patients. Students will learn to utilize a variety of software for these purposes. Students will also become familiar with medical terminology and different parts of the human body. The coursework for these programs is entirely focused on health information systems and has no general education requirements. Students will learn aspects of coding related to insurance companies and billing purposes. Specific classes may include healthcare statistics, physiology, computer systems, anatomy, health classification systems, and health data requirements.
Accreditation is a formal recognition that a school or degree program lives up to the academic standards of the US Department of Education (USDE). Attending an accredited institution isn't technically a guarantee of a positive academic experience, but it does prove that a school is capable of providing a quality education. Attending an accredited institution means that not only will you be receiving a good education from qualified instructors, but it also means that you will be entitled to certain student rights such as counseling, financial aid, tutoring, and other services that should be made available to students at any school.
Although accreditation isn't required, it may be useful for identifying a quality program or finding employment after graduation. Accreditation is also very important if you plan to apply for professional certification or to apply your earned credits to a degree from a four-year college. Most schools will only accept transfer credits from a fully accredited institution. You do not want your hard work to go to waste, so make sure that the school you are attending is fully accredited.
Institutional accreditation is granted to colleges and universities that meet established standards, and programmatic accreditation is granted to individual degree programs that meet the academic standards for a particular discipline. The main accrediting agencies for healthcare information systems programs are the Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Informatics and Information Management (CAHIIM) and the Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME). The Council for Higher Education Accreditation and the USDE each offer a database of legitimate accrediting agencies and accredited institutions and programs.
While not required for every position, graduates can greatly increase their chances for employability as well as their earnings by pursuing professional certification. One of the most viable means of doing so is to earn a certification from an agency such as the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA). Depending on the state in which you live, some healthcare information systems careers require post-degree certification or licensure. It’s wise for prospective healthcare information systems students to investigate requirements for their state before enrolling in a particular online degree program.
AHIMA offers two important credentials for healthcare information managers: the Registered Health Information Administrator (RHIA) and the Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT). Candidates for either certification must complete a CAHIIM-accredited degree program and pass an exam. These credentials last for a finite amount of time; candidates must earn continuing education units to renew them. In addition to working in medical care facilities, certified healthcare information system managers may also be able to utilize their skills and experience to apply for positions with government agencies, insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, and law firms.
After completing an online certificate or degree program in healthcare information systems, graduates will be qualified for a variety of career possibilities. They will have the skills and knowledge needed to accurately maintain sensitive healthcare information such as medical terminology, proper coding and billing procedures, and computer applications. Here are some examples of the job titles that healthcare information systems graduates may pursue:
- Cancer Registrars: These healthcare professionals maintain databases of information with regard to cancer treatment, relapse rates, and survival rates. They may work on national databases or in facility-specific databases.
- Health Information Managers: These healthcare managers are the professionals who administer the information systems used in healthcare facilities. They choose which information systems to use, direct health information technicians, and ensure that electronic records systems are accurate, secure, and up to date.
- Medical Billing & Coding Specialists: These healthcare technicians ensure that hospitals, physician offices, and other healthcare centers are correctly reimbursed for their services by private and public insurance providers. They translate a doctor’s diagnosis into a numerical code, which is then used to charge the insurance provider.
- Medical Records & Health Information Technicians: These specialists are responsible for updating medical records on a daily basis. They ensure that all parts of a patient’s records are kept together and that they are maintained securely and accurately.
Health Informatics vs. Health Information Management
Degrees in health informatics prepare students for careers that combine healthcare, information technology and leadership. Most programs are aimed at those who are looking at breaking into the industry, but can also be for healthcare professionals looking to start working with information systems or IT professionals interested in transferring to healthcare. Students will learn about more than just data management and information technology, with key courses focusing on health sciences, network security, and leadership. Individual classes include things like Healthcare Ethics, Healthcare Project Management, Medical Terminology, and Integrated Electronic Medical Records. Graduates will go on to become clinical supervisors, medical directors, informatics nurses, or clinical analysts who develop the information systems that will be used in the workplace. They also evaluate how effective and efficient the processes and systems are, working closely with both staff and patients.
Healthcare information management also deals directly with healthcare and information technology, but on a more basic level. Master’s degree programs are designed for those looking to start their career in the medical information field as well as those looking to switch departments—either in healthcare or IT—or continue their education. Students who complete a healthcare information degree will learn about everything from data management to risk management and performance enhancement in courses like Health Information Systems; Privacy, Security, Legal Aspects of Health Information; and Health Care Reimbursement. With a master’s degree in healthcare information management, students will find jobs as health information technicians, program directors, medical transcriptionists, and medical coders. This degree tends to deal more directly with the data itself than informatics does; while informatics examines how successful the information systems are, healthcare information management deals with accessing and organizing the data. Employees must input, manage, and protect the confidentiality of patients’ information.
- CAHME Accredited Programs. Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education. Accessed December 8, 2014. http://www.cahme.org/Background.html.
- Accredited Program Directory. Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Informatics and Information Management. Accessed December 8, 2014. http://www.cahiim.org/accredpgms.asp.
- Computer and Information Systems Managers. Occupational Outlook Handbook. Bureau of Labor Statistics of the US Department of Labor. Published January 8, 2014. http://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/computer-and-information-systems-managers.htm.
- Types of Certifications. AHIMA. Accessed December 8, 2014. http://www.ahima.org/certification/exams?tabid=him.
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