Earning an Online Health Informatics Bachelor’s Degree
If you enjoy working with data and have a passion for improving healthcare, then consider earning a degree in health informatics. This page provides an overview of health informatics undergraduate programs, including the application process, curricula, and potential career paths.
Online programs provide a flexible and affordable path to a bachelor's and career in health informatics. In addition to avoiding costs like room and board, many distance learning programs allow students to schedule coursework around the demands of childcare or a full-time job.
Overview of Health Informatics Degrees
Health informatics involves the collection and analysis of health-related data to improve patient care. Health informatics professionals may use data to diagnose and treat an individual, cure diseases, or address community-wide health issues.
Earning an online health informatics degree affords you foundational knowledge in healthcare, information technology, and data analytics. Most online programs allow students to complete coursework from home and on their own schedule, which appeals to working professionals and primary caregivers. Graduates may take on roles such as clinical informatics specialist, biomedical informatics engineer, or healthcare data analyst.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) uses operations research analyst to describe those who use data analysis to help organizations solve problems and make better decisions, including health informatics professionals. According to the BLS, the median salary for these analysts approached $81,400 in 2017, which is more than twice the median salary for all occupations. On top of strong earnings potential, the BLS projects a 27% growth in employment for these analysts through 2026.
To apply to a health informatics online degree, you typically must hold a high school diploma or complete a high school equivalency program. Schools also request transcripts to confirm you received a degree and to ensure that you can succeed at the postsecondary level. Admission standards vary, but many schools require at least a 2.0 GPA for undergraduate applicants. To get a copy of your transcript, contact your high school counselor or equivalency provider.
In addition to transcripts, schools may ask to see a professional resume and letters of recommendation from former teachers, employers, and community leaders. You may also need to write a personal essay detailing your qualifications and goals. Some colleges and universities require students to submit SAT or ACT scores, though it is increasingly rare for schools to set minimum scores for these exams.
Requirements vary by program, so always check with your school's admission office to determine what you need to submit.
What Will I Learn?
The best health informatics online degrees combine instruction in the health sciences, information technology, and management and administration. Students also typically take general education coursework covering subjects like mathematics, communication, and the social sciences.
Most bachelor's programs in health informatics comprise 120 credits, with roughly 40 credits devoted to general education requirements, 50 credits covering foundational concepts within the health informatics major, and 30 credits for elective courses. You can use elective classes to explore a facet of health informatics or an unrelated interest.
Full-time students can earn a health informatics degree online in about four years. Part-time students may require six to eight years to graduate, while those with an associate degree can complete a program in two years.
Below are six courses that are common to health informatics undergraduate programs.
This course explores the design and use of databases in various healthcare settings. Students learn how to implement business rules and model data, informing their future work developing medical information management systems. A core part of the class involves studying and learning to abide by privacy laws, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996.Healthcare IT Infrastructure and Network Management
In this class, students examine primary infrastructure components of healthcare information systems, including hardware and software. Students also learn to design, manage, and audit networks, with an emphasis on those used to facilitate communications and store data.Healthcare Delivery Systems
Students in this course review the broad context of their work as health information specialists, studying the organization and function of health systems in the United States and internationally. Students also study the cultural, political, economic, and social forces that shape healthcare delivery, along with current issues in healthcare, such as end-of-life decisions and government funding.Healthcare Research and Evaluation Methodologies
This course offers an introduction to the tools used to collect, analyze, interpret, and present data. Largely focused on quantitative data, the class cover topics like assessment, research design, and statistical analysis for program planning. This course prepares students to pursue an advanced degree.Population Health and Cultural Competence
In this class, students study various population-based approaches to disease and care management and healthcare policy development. It emphasizes the importance of pursuing culturally relevant efforts to improve wellness and offers health informatics students an understanding of how medical practitioners apply data to real-world settings.Communication and Technologies
This survey course provides an overview of the technologies used in health informatics, including health information exchanges, the nationwide health information infrastructure, database management systems, and data sharing programs.
What Can I Do with an Online Bachelor’s Degree in Health Informatics?
The top health informatics online degrees prepare students for many career paths in health information management and healthcare administration. These programs provide knowledge in medical terminology and contexts in addition to communication, analytical, and problem-solving skills.
The degree prepares you for professional roles leading teams, shaping healthcare policy, or offering counsel to help organizations improve services and increase efficiency.
An online health informatics program develops skills in three primary areas: understanding the delivery of medical care, analyzing data, and communicating findings.
Students in these programs study basic medical terminology; the principles of care; and the management of diseases, injuries, and chronic conditions. These studies allow graduates to forge connections between data points and patient outcomes.
Most coursework develops skills related to data analysis. Depending on your professional goals, you might focus on how to store and offer access to medical data or use health data to make inferences about health issues and generate solutions. Students usually learn to design and manage data storage systems and work with data in a manner that adheres to applicable laws and regulations.
Your impact on health outcomes depends on how well you communicate your findings to colleagues, other medical professionals, and the public. The best programs teach you to write clearly and concisely, visually present data in appealing and understandable ways, and understand the limitations of using health data to inform practice and policy.
Potential Careers and Salaries
Earning an online degree in health informatics prepares you for a variety of roles. You may work directly with data, helping hospitals, healthcare organizations, and government agencies improve the quality of their care. You may also qualify for managerial or leadership positions at these organizations, setting strategies and guiding decision-making. Rather than working for a single firm, some health informatics professionals take on consulting roles.
Regardless of the path you choose, a career in health informatics requires exceptional analytical, critical-thinking, and problem-solving skills. To ensure that the results of your analysis shape policy and practice, you must also know how to write and communicate well.
Medical and health services managers, also known as healthcare administrators, oversee the operations of hospitals, clinical departments, physicians' offices, and other healthcare organizations. They may create budgets, hire staff, and use data to create goals and monitor progress. These managers need at least a bachelor's in a related area, though some employers prefer candidates with a master's degree.
Medical Records and health information technicians organize and manage health information and data. They may track patient outcomes, assign codes for insurance reimbursement, or review patient records for accuracy. Most jobs require some form of postsecondary education.
The job description of a clinical informatics specialist depends on the organization for which they work. For example, a specialist working at a hospital may maintain patient records and help medical professionals interpret data to make decisions. A specialist working for a government agency may analyze community health data to shape efforts to prevent disease.
Clinical informatics managers coordinate the efforts of other health informatics professionals. Usually employed by larger organizations, these individuals combine an understanding of health data analysis with skills in personnel and project management. To qualify for these roles, you may need an advanced degree.
Will I Need a Graduate Degree for a Career in Health Informatics?
A bachelor's degree qualifies you for most entry-level and mid-level roles in health informatics. However, you may want to continue your education if you aspire to become a manager or take on a specialized job. Although usually not required, employers looking to fill senior-level positions may prefer candidates with a master's in a discipline like health administration, public health administration, or business administration.
Rather than an advanced degree, you can earn a professional certificate in health informatics. These programs feature coursework in areas like health information systems, medical terminology, and healthcare organization management, giving you valuable skills that require less time and money than a degree program. Many colleges and universities also allow you to transfer credit from certificate programs to degrees.
Accreditation for Health Informatics Bachelor’s Programs
When choosing a health informatics bachelor's degree online, make sure to select an accredited program. Accreditation expands employment, education, and financial aid opportunities.
The Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education (CAHIIM) is the primary programmatic accreditor for health informatics programs.
Rather than seek accreditation at the program level, some colleges and universities pursue institutional accreditation. Generally, nonprofit schools apply for regional accreditation, while for-profit and vocational schools apply for national accreditation. Both forms of accreditation indicate that an institution meets certain academic standards and prepares students for jobs after graduation.
The Council for Higher Education Accreditation maintains a directory of regionally and nationally accredited institutions.
Health Informatics Professional Organizations
Students and graduates from a health informatics bachelor's degree online benefit from joining professional organizations. Organizations offer valuable networking events, employment opportunities, and the latest health informatics research. Many of these groups also offer continuing education programs. Increasingly, organizations offer these programs online, making it easier to balance studying with other obligations.
AHIMA represents more than 100,000 professionals in health information. It administers 10 formal certification programs, and the association's student center offers advice on pursuing a certificate versus a degree. Members can participate in a mentorship program and review exclusive job opportunities.
Founded in 1988, AMIA strives to transform healthcare through education and the practice of informatics. The group offers training programs, awards for exemplary service, and an initiative to draw more women to the field. It also publishes scholarly journals and hosts a career center.
HIMSS works to optimize healthcare efforts using information and technology. Members can access professional development opportunities, including global conferences; a resource library; and online certification programs. The organization also provides undergraduate and graduate scholarships to aspiring health informatics professionals.