What is a Health Informatics Associate Degree?
An online health informatics associate degree is often the first step to a long and interesting career focused on acquiring, storing, retrieving, and using healthcare data to create better services and resources for patients and practitioners. Healthcare informatics professionals work on the forefront of these innovations, as they create data and statistics that help administrators develop systems for improvement and reform.
Health informatics courses instill prepare learners to develop and operate complex informatics systems and train others in how to best use them. While many roles require applicants to possess a bachelor's degree to take on mid-level roles, an associate degree in health informatics qualifies candidates for entry-level careers. This allows professionals to determine whether this is the right path before pursuing advanced education. Given the heavy focus on digital technologies, these degrees translate exceptionally well to distance learning.
Students with personal or professional responsibilities that preclude them from visiting campus multiple times per week often prefer online programs, as do those interested in lessening their overall costs. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that roles for medical records and health information technicians will grow faster than the average for all occupations, with approximately 27,800 new roles expected to be added between 2016 and 2026.
Why Earn an Online Health Informatics Degree?
Completing an online health informatics associate degree offers numerous professional and personal benefits, some of which we review in this section.
- Access to Jobs
Many roles require — at minimum — an associate degree. This can be excellent preparation for those who aspire to entry-level and/or support roles.
- Higher Salaries
Data shows that individuals with a college degree earn substantially more than those with a high school diploma or GED.
- Opportunities for Networking
Even while still in school, you can establish relationships with professors and industry professionals who work in the field, and learn more about potential job opportunities.
- Ability to Make a Difference
Health informatics can greatly improve patient outcomes when leveraged effectively. Individuals working in this field can participate in the process of bettering care.
- Upward Mobility
Given the expansion of informatics in the healthcare industry, professionals can expect significant growth and additional responsibility over time.
Career and Salary Potential with an Associate Degree in Health Informatics
Graduates of online health informatics associate degrees can select from several different careers and fields. Some may feel drawn to work in a long-term care facility, while others may prefer the atmosphere of a physician's office. Others may enjoy the hustle and bustle of a large hospital.
While you'll need a bachelor's degree to advance your career, these programs can help you get started. Most jobs are 40 hours per week that have a traditional 9-5 schedule, though exceptions do exist. Remember that no degree guarantees a specific salary or career, but this section reviews some typical roles for degree-holders.
|Health Information Technician||
Median Annual Salary: $40,350
Projected Growth Rate (2016-2026): 13%
|These professionals work under health informatics managers to input and organize healthcare data. They check for accuracy, fix errors, and ensure all files remain secure. They may also track outcomes, retrieve requested data, and report on changes.|
Median Annual Salary: $33,610
Projected Growth Rate (2016-2026): 29%
|Medical assistants complete a number of clerical tasks, such as recording patient data and vital signs before inputting it into a database, scheduling appointments through virtual calendars, and updating patient records after an appointment.|
Median Annual Salary: $34,770
Projected Growth Rate (2016-2026): 3%
|These professionals work with physicians and other medical professionals to transcribe notes taken on a voice recorder. Transcriptionists translate medical jargon into easily understandable notes which are then added to patient records. They also correct any errors and send for approval.|
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Earning an Associate in Health Informatics Online
The following section outlines some common application requirements for prospective degree-seekers, as well as a few of the required courses you can expect to complete. Note that each program's admission and curriculum requirements vary, so be sure to check with your prospective institution to gain a better understanding of their program.
Applicants to an online health informatics associate degree must usually complete several steps, so it's best to begin gathering required documentation early. Prospective learners must first complete an online or paper application that includes demographic information such as name, address, age, and state residency status. Unless they receive a waiver, degree-seekers must also pay a nonrefundable application fee, usually between $25-$100.
Many colleges also require applicants to submit transcripts from any institutions previously attended. Most schools charge a nominal fee to produce these documents, and send them directly to the admissions department. Letters of recommendation are also common, as these give the admissions panel an idea of your accomplishments and levels of preparedness. Most schools look for 2-3 letters from former teachers, supervisors, mentors, or others who know you well.
You should also plan to write an essay or personal statement. Some institutions provide a list of questions to answer, while others simply ask you to explain your goals and motivations in completing the degree. These statements should also touch on why you want to attend that particular school.
The Ethics of Health Information Management
This course familiarizes learners with the laws and regulations that surround management of patient data and health records. Students explore some of the legal and ethical issues in the field, as well as how security measures can reduce risk.
Intro to Anatomy
Though health informatics professionals operate chiefly on the administrative side of healthcare, possessing a basic understanding of how the human body is structured can help with designing databases or creating systems for managing patient data. Students learn anatomical terminology and functions of different parts and systems of the body.
The healthcare industry uses a lot of medical jargon and words with Latin roots, making it important for informatics professionals to understand this complex vocabulary. As a result, this course introduces students to the proper spelling, pronunciation, and meaning of words commonly used in this arena.
This course familiarizes learners with the health insurance industry and their roles in handling payments and reimbursements. Students consider topics around reporting guidelines, payment systems, Medicaid and Medicare, and how to best categorize this data within digital patient data platforms.
Quality and Performance Improvement
This course helps degree-seekers understand the role of performance improvement in health informatics. They consider questions around teamwork, leadership, monitoring, and ongoing training, and how each of these can help or hinder improvement based on how they are deployed.
Average Online Degree Length
Completing an online health informatics associate degree requires determination and perseverance. In general, health informatics online associate degrees take two years of full-time study, though other options are available. For instance, those who want to study on a part-time basis typically need three years to meet the requirements, while those who completed AP credits in high school — and students who find an accelerated program — can often finish in 12-18 months.
Completing these courses online may appeal to both part- and full-time learners due to the ease of learning. Rather than driving to campus multiple times per week, students complete assignments and projects from the comfort of their homes. This frees up more time for any personal or professional responsibilities they may have outside academia. Speak with an admissions coordinator to learn more about timeline options.
Skills, Traits, and Knowledge Gained
Throughout the course of studies offered in an online health informatics associate degree, learners gain numerous skills that serve them well in professional roles. Many of these skills are quite versatile, so students should look for ways of honing each to specifically work in health informatics roles. For instance, rather than simply taking a generic computer programming internship, try to find a health information internship at a local hospital or clinic that helps develop specific, industry-relevant competencies. Some of the skills you can expect to gain include:
Accreditation for Health Informatics Associate Programs
Ensuring your online health informatics associate degree is accredited an important consideration for prospective students. Learners who forego this step and attend an unaccredited institution may struggle later to transfer credits, seek licensure, or compete for jobs. Programmatic accreditation may also be available for these degrees through organizations such as the Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education.
Additionally, you should ensure an institution holds either regional or national accreditation. with institutional accreditation. The former is considered more prestigious and rigorous, and is usually granted to non-profit four-year institutions. If you cannot find this information on the school's website or promotional materials, ask the admissions counselor. You can also search the U.S. Department of Education's Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs.
Professional Organizations and Resources
Whether you're still in school, about to graduate, or an industry veteran, professional health informatics organizations can greatly enhance your industry experience and help you build valuable professional contacts. In exchange for an annual membership fee, these groups offer access to important services such as annual conferences, in-house publications, certification programs, scholarships and awards, student committees, and other services that can make a difference in your career.
The AMIA provides members an annual symposium, interactive knowledge center, working groups, an in-house journal, podcasts, discount publications, e-news, certification, awards, the Women in AMIA initiative, training programs, webinars, a health informatics policy forum and summit, and a clinical informatics conference.
AHIMA provides a variety of helpful services and resources to members, including certification, courses, webinars, regional and national meetings, publications, journals, a virtual lab, health informatics management best practices and topics, conferences, career support tools, mentorship programs, and access to student advisory or new graduate leadership committees.
This professional society offers members access to local chapters, national conferences and events, webinars, certification resources, an online library, the Journal of Informatics Nursing, white papers, and an active job board.
Next Steps: Continuing Your Education
After completing an online health informatics associate degree, some students may want to progress their education to the next level. There are plenty of options at the baccalaureate and advanced degree levels; we discuss a few possible paths in the following sections.
Transferring to a Four-Year Degree Program
Graduates of health informatics online associate degrees sometimes decide to use this credential as a jumping off point to gain a four-year degree. If considering this path, you need to consider a few questions while still in school. When selecting your health informatics and general education topics, speak with an admission counselor at your current school and the four-year program you're considering to ensure credits will transfer smoothly. Otherwise, you may end up taking the same class twice.
Additional Degree Paths to Consider
There are several academic paths available within health informatics, but students must first consider their goals and desired outcomes to pick the right option. Many learners pursue one of the degrees listed below, but conduct your own research to find a program that best matches your needs.
- Bachelor's in Health Informatics: These programs build on skills and knowledge gained at the associate level and prepare learners to take up entry-level roles after graduating.
- Bachelor's in Health Information Management: HIM programs are similar to health informatics degrees, but emphasize management and leadership skills. This is a great option for those who want to work in executive positions later in their careers.
- Master's in Health Informatics: Designed for individuals looking to take on senior-level health informatics roles, these programs require students to specialize their knowledge in the field and build advanced skills that prepares them for leadership roles.