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Health Information… There’s a Degree for That?!

Students studying for health information degree

I didn’t recognize the phone number, but I answered the call anyway. I’m glad that I did.

The caller introduced herself as manager of a team of professionals at a local company providing services to hospital systems across the country. My first thought was that I was about to hear a sales pitch about her company’s services. But this call was different. She actually needed something that I was able and eager to provide.

The manager explained that her company was in need of entry-level personnel with a very particular set of skills. The company had recently been successful at generating demand for their cybersecurity services and would soon need to expand their team. They needed to find entry-level employees with a strong foundation of knowledge and skills to quickly ramp up and work independently providing services to their healthcare clients. The ideal candidates would have a strong knowledge of healthcare delivery systems, healthcare privacy and security practices and laws, medical terminology, and medical record systems. The candidates must also be able to apply healthcare information technology, demonstrate solid business acumen and customer service skills, analyze sensitive data and communicate effectively.

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She told me the story of having a hallway conversation with her colleagues and lamenting the challenge of quickly finding several candidates with this particular set of skills. If I remember her story correctly, she shared that at one point she told her colleagues something like, “I need to find people who can manage the health information rather than the patient. If only there was a college degree for that.” Fortunately, one of the colleagues was aware of health information degree programs in health informatics and information management and suggested she give me a call to explore it.

After the manager explained her need, I was delighted to confirm for her there is indeed a degree for that! In fact, there are several degree programs in health information at the associates, baccalaureate, and graduate levels. The hiring manager was thrilled to learn there are multiple sources for her growing hiring needs.

Raising Awareness of Health Information Degree Programs

Like a surprising number of people involved across the healthcare industry, the manager had been unaware of the health informatics and health information management disciplines in higher education.

When thinking about healthcare professionals, most people think of the various clinical professions and maybe health administration, but not the rapidly growing disciplines focused specifically on health information.

The interaction with the manager was a reminder that I too was unaware of health information degree programs until someone pointed them out to me later in my career. There is a need to raise awareness among hiring managers, career counselors, and students making career choices.

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Health Information Degree Program Options

There are many academic degree programs in health informatics, health information management and health data science across the country and around the globe. The programs offer courses that address several domains of knowledge relevant to the discipline and the level of education. While programs vary in their curriculum, the following domains are commonly addressed:

  • Healthcare delivery systems
  • Medical terminology
  • Health data structure and content
  • Health information access, use, disclosure, privacy and security
  • Health informatics and health information systems
  • Health data analytics, data science, information science
  • Human factors, socio-technical systems, social and behavioral science
  • Healthcare ethics, law and compliance
  • Organizational management, project management, leadership
  • Professionalism and customer service
  • Medical billing and revenue cycle management
  • Interprofessional collaborative practice
  • Computer networking technologies

Many programs teaching these competencies do so in compliance with oversite from external accreditors who monitor the accuracy and appropriateness of the curriculum. The program competencies are guided by national and international professional organizations like HIMSS and others, as well as through constant input from advisory boards with members made up of local industry experts. Health information is a rapidly changing and growing field, so academic programs continually evolve to meet industry needs.

Associates degree programs often focus on entry-level skills related to health information technology. Some programs offer specialization and certification on privacy and security, data management, or other relevant areas. Programs also help prepare students to achieve the Certified Associate in Healthcare Information & Management Systems (CAHIMS) certification. Recent graduates of these programs may fill a variety of entry-level roles while working under experienced supervisors and mentors. The associate degree programs also prepare graduates to progress in their education to baccalaureate programs and beyond.

Baccalaureate level programs address a broader range of skills including abilities to work more independently to manage, analyze and use health information and technology. These programs help students prepare for more advanced roles and certifications such as Certified Professional in Healthcare Information & Management Systems (CPHIMS).

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Graduate level programs cover the broadest range of skills listed above with more advanced study. Programs with titles including health informatics, health information management, health data science and others are widely available both online and on campus. Admissions criteria and curriculum requirements vary across institutions.

My call with the hiring manager ended well with both of us enthusiastic about how well prepared the graduates of health information degree programs will be for the positions her company needs to fill. Several months later, one of my colleagues brought to my attention a job posting from the hiring manager’s company. The post explicitly listed the preferred degree as a baccalaureate degree in health information management.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog or by commenters are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of HIMSS or its affiliates.

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Originally published May 28, 2019