Academic Education

Health and Human Services Informatics Master’s Degree Program: Advancing Professionals’ Competencies for the Digital Era Case Study

University of Eastern Finland (UEF) is one of the largest universities in Finland with approximately 14,000 students and 3,000 staff members. The university’s profile underscores the multidisciplinary nature of the four faculties of the UEF, i.e., the Philosophical Faculty, the Faculty of Science and Forestry, the Faculty of Health Sciences and the Faculty of Social Sciences and Business Studies. The Department of Health and Social Management, located within the Faculty of Social Sciences and Business Studies, offers degree programs and research in four major areas: health management sciences (since 1979), health economics (since 1997), health and human services informatics (since 2000) and social management science (since 2006). The department's staff comprises approximately 40 experts in the field. As of today, some 150 students have graduated from the master’s degree program in health and human services informatics and now hold positions at the national, regional and local levels in development, leadership, or governance positions.

The first step toward the expansion of informatics education was the launch of a new program Information Management in Social and Healthcare which started in 2000. The program was partly financed by the European Union (EU)’s European Social Fund. This program was stabilized in 2006, and since then has been a permanent master’s degree program funded by the Ministry of Education. The program is now called Health and Human Services Informatics, which reflects its present focus. From the beginning, it was obvious to join perspectives of two important service sectors—health and social care—in the education program based on the development activities in the Finnish society.

Since 2000, the program has engaged mostly nurses but also other health and social care workers, as well as information technology (IT) professionals. The curriculum structure for the first two years of the program (120 credits in European Credit Transfer System (ECTS)); one credit corresponds to 27 hours of work) was compiled, drawing upon the International Medical Informatics Association recommendations on three knowledge and skills areas: health informatics core knowledge and skills, health organization and informatics/computer science. Based on the international accreditation process, the Health and Human Services Informatics (HHSI) program received the “IMIA accredited” status in 2012.

The Finnish higher education system includes three major activities: education and research, a societal service mission and social responsibility. By investing in these areas of expertise, in the renewal of research activities and in the establishment of new activities, the role of the university is strengthened within the national and international innovation system. The university’s education and research meets the needs of society and respects academic freedom. The HHSI program was established when the change from paper-based records to electronic information systems in health and social care began in 2006. The aim of the university’s third activity was to be active in cooperation with various organizations, stakeholders and the society itself. The staff has been heavily involved in national developments in terms of defining structures and standards for EHRs. Cooperation has been very rewarding from a feedback and benchmarking point of view. The graduate student network includes both students currently enrolled and students who have already graduated from the program to share real-world experiences from their work life. It also provides the opportunity to update teaching content and create new research initiatives within eHealth and electronic services. Interaction with service providers and enterprises has also been very beneficial for students’ practical training, presenting new training opportunities as well as prospects to secure permanent positions with them post-graduation.