KU master of science in health informatics program earns prestigious CAHIIM accreditation
The program is one of just 23 such accredited health informatics master’s programs in the United States and Puerto Rico.
Communication problems between health care team members can compromise patient care, especially during transitional times such as a patient’s discharge from the hospital. When the University of Kansas School of Nursing led a quality improvement project in the pediatric unit of The University of Kansas Health System, health informatician LaVerne Manos, DNP, RN-BC, FAMIA, and her colleagues designed changes to the electronic health record system so that different professionals—nurses, physicians, therapists—could quickly see each other’s notes for each patient. The result was fewer children needing to be re-admitted after discharge.
Their work is just one example of how health informatics—a field that integrates health care with technology, especially by devising electronic systems that gather, organize and manage health care data —can improve the delivery of care and ultimately the health of patients. It’s also an example of the work that KU Medical Center trains students to do through the master of science in health informatics (MSHI) program, which was launched in 2010.
This year, that degree program earned accreditation from the prestigious Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education (CAHIIM), making it one of just 23 such accredited health informatics master’s programs in the United States and Puerto Rico. It is also the first and only accredited master’s program in health informatics in Kansas.
“Students can have confidence that they are being educated in one of the most relevant and high quality programs in the country and know that they will be joining the workforce with the tools they need,” said Manos, director of the Center for Health Informatics at the University of Kansas Medical Center and a nationally recognized expert in health informatics.
The MSHI program requires completing 31 credit hours in health informatics, leadership and research, as well as 9 credit hours in one of the following focus areas:
- health policy and management
- public health
- project management
Additionally, a dual degree with the KU School of Pharmacy enables students to earn a Pharm.D. and an MSHI at the same time. Many MSHI courses are offered online, depending on the chosen track, and much of the work can be done on the student’s own schedule.
Health informatics is a rapidly changing field and a growing one, driven largely by ever-growing volumes of health data and information. Students in the MSHI program come from a variety of health care fields, as well as from other disciplines such as information technology. The systems developed by health informaticians are not limited to those for electronic health records but also include systems for wearable health devices and health care test results. Those systems, and the data they contain, are also valuable for health care research.
In addition to creating systems for ease of use, master’s-trained health Informaticians know how to use standardized languages and terminologies that are mandated by Medicare and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology. This standardization ensures continuity in meaning between systems and when data are moved from one system to another. Creating consistent meaning is not only helpful for professionals inputting the data for care, but for those drawing it back out for research.
“We want to learn from people who are doing really great things with rare diseases, and we need to draw that information from across the world,” said Manos. “But if we can't figure out exactly what it means, we may do more harm than good.”
Health informaticians are also trained to incorporate policy into their systems. “If I'm designing for a supervising anesthesiologist, and one of the policies nationally is that they can supervise four people at a time, their screen should be designed to see four operating rooms at a time, not six, or eight or two,” Manos said.
Informatics can help clinicians navigate that the burgeoning amount of health information. “Part of what we teach students is called Clinical Decision Support and building that into the system,” said Teresa Stenner, program manager for the Center for Health Informatics. “Like when the eye doctor measures something about my eyes, what's the normal range? And is there a different normal range for me because I'm middle aged versus somebody who is 21? That kind of information can be put in for health care professionals in a way that makes their job a little more efficient, and maybe increases safety.”
Graduates of the master’s program can work for health care providers, health care device manufacturers, pharmaceutical and insurance companies and in government and academia. They can work as implementers of new electronic systems, in project management, as consultant and as analysts designing reports for health care system leadership.
“There are many options and subspecialties. It's kind of like saying, ‘Once I have my medical degree, what will I be able to do?’” said Manos. “One of the things that informaticians are often called to do is lead informatics, if they have a master's degree. And the reason for that is many people who practice informatics right now—because [the field] doesn't have title protection yet—are people from all over the health care system [without informatics degrees] sitting in an informatics department. So when you find somebody with a master's degree in health informatics, often those people are asked to lead.”
Manos noted that the American Medical Informatics Association now offers an advanced interprofessional board certification. “It is becoming more and more important to show you have the credentials you need to practice,” she said. “Earning this accreditation is very important.”