Best Online Master’s Degrees in Health Informatics: Guide to Online Programs for 2022

Best Online Master’s Degrees in Health Informatics: Guide to Online Programs for 2022
Imed Bouchrika, Phd by Imed Bouchrika, Phd
Chief Data Scientist & Head of Content

The best online Master’s Degrees in Health Informatics equip learners with basic technical and analytical skills. It qualifies a candidate for a mid-level or executive position as a data analyst, clinical data manager, electronic health records manager, or health informatics management director, where they can directly affect procedures and results.

The COVID-19 virus is such an unpredictable and seemingly patternless enigma that it will necessitate the application of all the data and crisis management skills that health informatics professionals are trained for from a technical, clinical, financial, and operational perspective. They might become some of the most renowned scientists in this field if they succeed and make an impact on the field.

This article discusses the best online master’s degree in health informatics, the value and acceptability of such a degree, the global trends, and other information they would need to decide whether this advanced and specialized study is for them.

Online Master’s Degree in Health Informatics Programs Table of Contents

  1. Can you get a degree completely online?
  2. Will employers take my online degree seriously?
  3. Are online degrees recognized all over the world?
  4. Online vs. Traditional Master’s Degree in Health Informatics Programs
  5. How much does an online master’s degree in health informatics program cost?
  6. What are the requirements of an online master’s degree in health informatics program?
  7. Courses to Expect in an Online Master’s Degree in Health Informatics Program
  8. Things to Look for in an Online Master’s Degree in Health Informatics Program

Can you get a degree completely online?

Yes, you can get a degree completely online, particularly an online master’s degree in health informatics in this case. Online degree courses, previously the disruptors in mainline education, are now the norm. Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen goes further and predicts that half of the United States’ colleges would be forced to close down within 10 to 15 years if they don’t adapt to this new norm.

As early as 2011, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has been offering online degrees. It later partnered with Harvard University to form edX, the largest massive open online course (MOOC) platform that now offers more than 3,000 courses. Harvard Extension School, which offers its online degree programs, accepts some 2,000 students every year.

There are fully online courses even for the most technical fields. McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, pioneered a fully online first-year course for its Engineering Department. Even in the field of aerospace engineering, one can find 32 online schools, 30 online schools for aviation, and 119 unique programs for web development in 63 online schools.

But the inquiring student should be aware that not all online courses and degrees are fully online. Some might in fact be hybrid—combining online lectures with some face-to-face/on-campus time. One should check what mode of online degree a university or college offers.

how online education impacts colleges in the U.S.

Will employers take my online degree seriously?

It is no longer a question of will employers take online degrees seriously. Because they already are. The question now would be how fast this adoption would overtake traditional credentials—such as diplomas—as the standard document for proving one’s employability.

A survey of hiring executives shows that prior to the pandemic, more than half of respondents already considered online credentials or degrees to be just as credible as traditional credentials. More than that, at least 71% of HR leaders had already personally hired someone on the basis of their online credentials.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic started disrupting economies and educational systems, the adoption of educational technologies and online credentials have spiked. “I think what is definitely happening now is that people who were not willing to get into the online game are being required to do so, so everybody has to think about it,” says Fiona Hollands, Columbia University’s associate director and senior researcher at the Center for Benefit-Cost Studies of Education at Teachers College.

Even Moody’s, the credit ratings and investor service firm, confirms that “the coronavirus pandemic will accelerate a transformation in higher education’s business model, with many universities building out online capabilities. . . .”  And when a business model becomes lucrative, this could only mean that its products are acceptable to the market. In the case of the online education ‘industry,’ the product would be its graduates who acquired their learning over the internet, the proof of learning would be online credentials, and the consumers of this product would be employers.

Nevertheless, it is wise to note that employers take several factors into consideration when assessing the value of online credentials/degrees (to be discussed under “Things to Look for in an Online Master’s Degree in Health Informatics Program”).

Value of Online Credentials vs. Traditional Credentials

Survey among HR leaders and Hiring Managers

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Source: " Educational Credentials Come Of Age: A Survey on the Use and Value of Educational Credentials in Hiring," Gallagher (2018)

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Are online degrees recognized all over the world?

Using technology to boost elearning and providing education at a lower cost to more people are not just a local trend. But since its internet platform is global, the impact can be no other than global.

A 2021 elearning market study reports that the elearning market size passed the $250 billion mark in 2020, the year COVID-19 changed the global educational landscape. But more astounding is the projection that in six years, the global industry—in North America and Europe, in Asia Pacific and Latin America, in Middle East and Africa—will be worth $1 trillion. To give one an idea of how much value that represents, US giants Alphabet/Google, Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft were only able to make it to the trillion-dollar club in the last three years, after decades of operation.

In this pandemic season, people are rushing to receive online education. Coursera, the pioneering online learning platform, reports getting 24 million new enrollees from all over the world—a 320% increase compared to the previous year.

Right now, there are online degree programs all over Europe, the Middle East, Central and South America, Asia, and even in less developed nations.

This global prevalence of online education is a growing body of evidence to the credibility of online degrees as a mode of learning and the acceptability of an online degree credential as proof of a graduate’s employability.

global elearning market value

Online vs. Traditional Master’s Degree in Health Informatics Program

The field of health informatics is the discipline that bridges the areas of health, information science, information technology, social science, and behavioral science. It is essential in shaping government policies, hospital guidelines, improving patient care, and cutting costs. Its role in managing the  COVID-19 pandemic is crucial and there are many unsung heroes who process and analyze the massive incoming data so these can be turned into actionable information and knowledge about the virus.

The name of the degree program might vary among different institutions, may be customized for certain tracks, and branded differently (i.e. master’s in biomedical and health informatics, Master of Science in Health Informatics, Master of Science in Nursing and Healthcare Informatics, etc.). It can branch out into four different areas of specialization: health technology informatics, health administration informatics, public health informatics, and health data analytics.

Although the curriculum and knowledge imparted to students will be the same, there are differences between a traditional master’s degree in health informatics programs and an online master’s degree in health informatics programs, particularly in the following areas:

Schedule

Professionals fully occupied with their jobs need to set aside time on weekends or may have to file sabbatical leaves in order to fulfill their aspiration of acquiring a Master’s in Health Informatics the traditional way. During the COVID-19 pandemic, schools all over the world have been subjected to intermittent and unpredictable lockdowns. For some institutions, this meant stopping operations. For others, this required hasty transitions to online platforms. Academic calendars had to be adjusted. For some schools unable to cope (e.g.,  800 colleges in India), this meant closing their doors forever.

Not so with an online master’s degree in health informatics. Students get to choose the day and time to study that fit into their daily schedules, responsibilities, and rhythms.  Being built on an online and virtual platform endows online operations with much flexibility and adaptability. Nothing changes with one’s study program despite the instability of the real world. No timetables need to be adjusted and one gets to graduate at the date one plans to. There is no typical time to finish an online master’s degree in health informatics. Depending on the type of program, one can choose from part-time, full-time, or accelerated options. Students can attain their degrees in one to four years. Full-time students can finish the program in one year.

In a very recent study on online learning, students expressed their highest satisfaction with the flexibility that online learning allows (W. Elshami et al. 2021).

Learning Environment

Traditional online master’s degree programs in health informatics will give one that academic setting of being on campus and sitting in a classroom, being with other class attendees, joining class discussions, taking exams, participating in group work—face to face. The classroom would be a quiet, focused place that would keep one from distractions.

An online master’s degree health informatics program will let one define and design his or her own classroom—a café, a bedroom, or an outdoor space. Professionals who are used to multi-tasking, feel confined by a classroom, and have other things going on in their minds and around them—might consider the virtual classroom a more productive place where they can get several things done at the same time. They don’t need to go anywhere physically to chat with their professor or classmates and can even communicate with several people at the same time.

Source: The Learning House and Aslanian Research, 2019

Pacing

Everyone has his own work pace. Where a traditional classroom would motivate a student to catch up with the pace of the rest of the class, an online degree program in health informatics will respect one’s learning pace. One is free to take classes once a week or several days in a row, depending on his or her other life responsibilities. One can stay on a topic until he or she achieves mastery instead of being forced to advance to exams without having fully grasped the subject matter.

Cost

The cost of an on-campus master’s degree in health informatics keeps on increasing, as with all other traditional degree programs. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, tuition fees have increased by 410% between 1985 and 2018. (NCES, 2021). This is higher than the U.S. inflation rate.

On the other hand, because online degree courses in health informatics use ever-advancing technologies, their prices keep going down. The more widespread an educational technology (Edtech) becomes, and in a matter of few months from when it is introduced, its price goes down. Edtech is like the engine behind elearning. Today, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, EdTech and elearning are ballooning towards becoming a trillion-dollar industry. And in terms of adoption by the public, the early six months of the COVID-19 pandemic have driven schools all over the world to adopt these new learning modes to a degree that would normally take three to five years to happen.

Teaching Methods and Learning Experience

Traditional teachers who have never had any online teaching experience found it hardest to transition to pandemic elearning. This is because traditional teaching uses only classroom lectures as its primary mode of instruction, with textbooks as supporting material. This unidirectional mode has been pointed out by many researchers as, a long-standing pedagogic issue—spoon-feeding (S. Rahim and P. Rosi, 2016; H. Al-Saadi, 2011; J. Blane, 2015.)

Contrast this with the online classroom—powered by educational technologies that give professors experiential and participative instructional strategies that empower students to make decisions about their learning journey, giving them the role of contributor and collaborator in the exposition of knowledge. This transforms students from being passive sponges into architects of their personal learning and introduces the norm of the ‘flipped classroom.’

This need for students to communicate, to be heard, and to participate is reflected in the findings of a recent study on the impact of online learning and student/faculty satisfaction in this pandemic season. “The highest areas of satisfaction for students were communication and flexibility, whereas 92.9% of faculty were satisfied with students’ enthusiasm for online learning,” (W. Elshami, et al. 2021)

Is an online degree cheaper?

Different universities and colleges will have different pricing models. But yes, in general, online degrees and courses cost lower than their traditional counterparts.

All the trends show that education has nowhere else to go but online. And as the ordinary consumer would know, things sold on the internet are always cheaper than those sold by brick and mortar stores. This is because of the efficiencies of technology and the internet. It has a way of competing with and challenging inefficient real-world mechanisms.

Education is one of the least efficient, least digitized, and most people-intensive economic sectors, says Sean Gallagher, executive director of Northeastern University’s Center for the Future of Higher Education & Talent Strategy. That’s why the innovations brought about by online learning are now challenging the existence of traditional schools.

And judging from developments within the camp of traditional educators, it’s not hard to see who’s winning. Georgia Tech, ranked by Tech. Co as North America’s top public university for ‘the best-equipped graduates to make an impact in the world of technology,’ surprised many when it pioneered a fully online Master of Science in Computer Science (OMSCS) degree program for only $7,000. It has an on-campus population of 21,500. But in fall 2020, months into the pandemic, OMSCS enrollment reached more than 10,000. Ivy League schools like Harvard, UPenn, and leading technology schools like M.I.T. are now also offering online degrees that cost 15% to 30% less than on-campus programs. Princeton University, Williams College, Spelman College, American University, and 30 other universities have also substantially cut the tuition for their fully online degrees, opening the door to the best schools even to average-income students.

Is an online degree as good as a regular degree?

Duly accredited online degree programs in health informatics comply with all the requirements of accrediting bodies to assure the quality and integrity of an online degree. A graduate of online degree courses in health informatics, therefore, will have the same knowledge and skillsets as a student who will take the course on-campus. Both should be ready to take their place in the health industry, equally employable, and equally qualified for advancement opportunities.

Although there is the perception of a few traditional companies that an online program is the easier route to getting a degree, an eight-year study (2009 to 2016) concluded that there was no statistically significant difference in student performance between those who took an environmental science course.

Amid a pandemic, and as schools all over the world reconfigure into global, online learning communities, experts are confident that these biased distinctions will disappear. “I think what the pandemic will do is really going to blur the lines between online and brick-and-mortar degrees. People will be much less focused on ‘was it online’ or ‘was it brick-and-mortar,’ and more focused on the brand,” Columbia University’s associate director says. Georgia Tech’s former dean of computing, Israeli-born mathematician and computer scientist Zvi Galil, describes what’s happening as a ‘fundamental, revolutionary shift’ in higher education, where the value of education used to be determined by high tuition fees, which created a reputation of exclusivity. This paradigm is now being taken apart.

handicapped students and online classes

How much does an online master’s degree in health informatics program cost?

As with all college programs, tuition for an online master’s degree in health informatics program will vary, depending on whether an institution is public, for-profit, non-profit, or private. The cost will also adjust based on the number of credits of an institution’s online degree program in health informatics. The number of credits would range from 33 to 39 credits. For other universities, it would be from 45 to 52 quarter credits. The per-credit cost would range from $233 to $1,342. Typically, in-state enrolees will enjoy highly discounted prices. For the full program, a student will be spending from $7,689 to $56,280.

The Learning House and Aslanian Market Research survey reports that the most important reason students select a particular school for their online program is the cost of tuition and fees.

Is an online master’s degree in health informatics worth it?

Yes. The decision on worth will be one based on the cost—or what a learner invests in order to avail of an online master’s degree in health informatics program vs. the benefits he/she stands to reap from having invested in such a program.

In particular, we can gauge the value of this discipline in navigating the current COVID-19 pandemic.

A rapidly spreading global pandemic creates the need to capture and analyze fast-moving data to determine governments’ next course of action. Hundreds of millions of unexplained, ‘unsolved’ cases need to be studied and billions of lives are on the line. “As the coronavirus has the characteristics of strong transmission and weak lethality, and since the large-scale increase of infected people may overwhelm health care systems, efforts are needed to treat critical patients, track and manage the health status of residents, and isolate suspected patients. The application of emerging health technologies and digital practices…have become powerful ‘weapons’ to fight the pandemic and provide strong support in pandemic prevention and control” (J. Ye, 2020). The crucial role of Health Informatics becomes very apparent.

An aspiring online master’s degree in health informatics student should know what he or she wants to get from such a program, why, what one is willing to give up in exchange for it, and what one is not. From a cost perspective, one can find a fully online master’s degree in health informatics to suit one’s financial capability. To many, the flexibility of a program that allows them to keep a job while studying will be priceless. To others, proximity to one’s residence would still be important. While some would value the time they will still have for family. Others still, put a high price on graduating from a noteworthy institution. Many look forward to the career advancement opportunities that a master’s degree could open. When one gains and accomplishes more than one spends and expends, one ends up ahead, and is better off from where he or she was at the start. Many have found an online master’s in health informatics as a cost-effective way to increase one’s personal value, to get ahead in one’s career, and to be of greater service to others.

Source: Learning House and Aslanian Market Research, 2018

A master’s degree in health informatics readies your health and information systems career opportunities. It also lets you further your studies in the likes of a Doctorate in Healthcare Administration.

What are the requirements of an online master’s degree in health informatics?

Typically, an online master’s in health informatics program will require transcripts from college like a bachelor’s degree in healthcare administration or information technology. Additional prerequisite classes might be required prior to admission. Many schools may require a minimum of 3.0 GPA. GRE and GMAT requirements vary between institutions. Some schools may ask for letters of recommendation and a resume. For foreign students, TOEFL results may be required.

General Requirements

Prior healthcare or information technology experience will be an advantage. The student should have medium to advanced computer and software knowledge, particularly in database systems and statistics.

What are the technological requirements of students for online learning?

A master’s in health informatics graduate student will need a more advanced computer than others because one will be running database, statistical, and programming software. The following computer specifications could serve as a guide (a college might have its own requirements):

Hardware: Intel or AMD x86 processor, 1.6 GHz or faster
Memory: 1 GB minimum, 4+ GB RAM highly recommended
Minimum free hard drive space: 2GB or larger

Courses to Expect in Online Master’s Degree in Health Informatics Programs

Among the online degree courses in health informatics a student can expect:

Database systems, programming applications, data analytics, visual analytics, statistical computing, public policy; legal, ethical, and social issues, population health, clinical business issues, foundations of project management, HIT Standards and Interoperability, introduction to clinical thinking, medical ethics, data privacy, disease management, and consumer health informatics and applications.

Towards the end of the program, a capstone class, thesis, report, additional coursework, or internship might be required.

Things to Look for in an Online Masters in Health Informatics Program

Although the curriculum is designed to produce a uniform set of competencies, the prospective student should consider some practical and critical aspects of the institutions one may be considering:

Recognized Accreditation

The Council for Higher Education has a Database of Institutions and Programs Accredited by Recognized U.S. Accrediting Organizations. But there are also bogus accreditation organizations not duly recognized by the Department of Education. Exercise due diligence and check on the accrediting body that a school’s website is citing. Accreditation may be regional (i.e. Higher Learning Commission and the Middle States Commission on Higher Education) or national (i.e. Distance Education Accrediting Commission). Education experts say that regional accreditation involves a more rigorous vetting process and is, therefore, more valuable than national accreditation.

Good Reputation

The academe is a close community. Find out more about a school’s history, its pioneers, board of trustees, faculty, and alumni. Check the reputation of these. One can also inquire with the Better Business Bureau for complaints and issues, the Council for Higher Education, or the Department of Education.

Teaching Methods

Is the online master’s degree in health informatics fully online or hybrid? How much of the program is asynchronous and how much is synchronous? What are the educational technologies used—are they engaging and varied, or have they just pre-recorded videos?

On-campus Requirements

Some programs that are ‘fully online’ might still require students to come to the campus for certain events or activities, i.e., for orientation or exams.

Proximity to Resources

Some coursework might require students to access certain facilities or resources located in other states. It might be good for one to know the coursework in advance and have an idea of how near or how far these resources are from where one lives.

Internet and Support Services

An institution’s IT infrastructure is the knowledge delivery system of an online program. Find out how reliable, advanced, or inundated it is. Are there frequent downtimes? Is there an IT contingency plan? Is there automatic data backup? Is 24/7 technical support available? According to a study by Elshami, et. al., frustration with poor technical facilities was one major source of dissatisfaction among students of an online degree program.

Other Costs

Online programs allow students to save on transportation expenses, room and lodging, meals, and other personal costs. But there may be other fees that the school imposes on top of one’s tuition. For instance, some impose technology or online access fees (per credit). Some colleges charge distance learners higher tuition fees. Fees for the use of campus facilities and services that you will never use may be built into the tuition. Inquire with the Admission or Registrar’s Office.

Transferability of Credits

Know if credits that one earns in an online program are transferrable, should one decide to switch to another college, program, or school for that matter.

Affordable Online Master’s Degree in Health Informatics Programs Saves Lives

The popularity of data-generating tools, such as mobile apps, makes data easily available, but expert skills attained through proficient training in health informatics are requisite to the proper and intelligent analysis of data so these can save lives. Through enrollment in the best online master’s degree in health informatics program, one can fulfill one’s personal mission of serving in the health profession to save lives, while also achieving one’s career and financial goals.

 

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