The health care industry generates thousands of exabytes of data each year, and electronic medical records, or EMRs, make up a relatively small fraction of it. Health data includes everything from insurance claims to diagnostic imagery to information produced during clinical trials. Patient care providers, researchers and health care networks can do more with data than ever before, thanks to advances in analytics. But the staggering volume of information—and the fact that data generation is increasing more rapidly in health care than in other fields—makes working in health care IT complicated.
Health informatics encompasses everything related to the applications of information science in medicine and public health. Precise regulations, privacy laws and quality standards govern the technical side of patient care, medical practice management and clinical research. In business, mistakes result in lost revenue. In medical settings and research environments, mistakes can result in lost lives. Health care facilities and providers have always relied on informaticists to ensure that records were up-to-date and accessible. Increasingly, they rely on informaticists to comb those records for valuable insights that can make health care more efficient, more affordable and more effective.
There are ample opportunities for advancement in the field. Be aware, however, that the growing demand for informatics professionals in a broad range of health care settings hasn’t necessarily made career advancement easier. Maybe you’re asking yourself, “Is a master’s in health informatics worth it?” The answer is yes. Employers in medicine and research look for highly qualified information specialists with strong academic backgrounds in informatics—particularly when filling open leadership positions. Hospitals, health care networks, research labs and insurance companies need to ensure that their analytics and data management teams can handle the challenges unique to health care.
A graduate degree in informatics can take you down numerous lucrative career paths. However, you should still calculate the ROI of a Master of Science in Health Informatics (MSHI) before enrolling in any program—and investing significant time, energy and capital. Be confident that your investment will pay off in increased earning potential, more access to opportunity and faster career advancement.
Informatics was once synonymous with electronic medical records keeping. Today, health care informatics includes data analytics and data science, information systems management, information security, health information technology and even computer science. Informaticists (or informaticians) have broad skillsets consisting of both technical competencies and medical expertise.
Their day-to-day responsibilities include:
- Choosing and configuring the systems that collect health care and medical research data
- Keeping patient records and information about clinical trial participants secure
- Combing through insurance files to find ways to reduce health care costs
- Developing new ways to use patient data for diagnostic purposes
Pursuing an advanced degree in health or medical informatics—like the Online Master of Science in Health Informatics (MSHI) program at the University of Pittsburgh School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences (SHRS)—is the best way to develop the most in-demand skills in this field. Pitt’s Online MSHI aligns with the evolving needs of hospitals and medical practices, allied health networks, insurance companies, medical device and drug manufacturers and public health organizations.
Graduates of Pitt’s Online MSHI program can:
- Collect, process and analyze data generated in a diverse range of health care and biomedical research settings using methods borrowed from statistics and analytics, as well as more advanced machine learning procedures and tools.
- Leverage Big Data to support evidence-based clinical and health care business decision-making.
- Use clinical and operations data generated by medical practices and hospitals to identify needs and opportunities related to access, cost, operational efficiency, patient satisfaction, patient engagement, clinical outcomes and quality of care.
- Assess informatics processes and resources by creating custom measurement instruments like cost and usability evaluations.
- Assist in keeping clinical and research operating systems, databases and networks secure so patient and clinical trial participant data stays safe and private.
- Identify technology-based informatics solutions designed to accomplish specific goals, like improving patient care or making data collection more secure in clinical trials.
Soft skills are also crucial in health informatics. Pitt’s Online MSHI teaches students to explain highly technical concepts effectively. Communication skills are essential because many health care administrators, doctors, registered nurses, public health agents, patients and vendors don’t come from an IT background. Students also learn to effectively lead teams and organizations by guiding strategic communication, peer collaboration and project management. Most importantly, Master of Science in Health Informatics candidates receive the tools and knowledge they’ll need to adapt to the changes they will inevitably encounter in the rapidly evolving informatics field.
The simplest way to calculate the ROI of a health informatics master’s degree is to weigh MSHI tuition against your prospective post-graduation earning potential. You may have read, for instance, that having a bachelor’s degree in health or medical informatics is associated with an average salary of about $61,000. In comparison, master’s degree holders earn closer to $73,000 (as reported by PayScale). Unfortunately, those figures can’t tell you very much about how much you’ll make with a master’s in health informatics. Most salary averages rely on self-reported data shared by early-career health informatics professionals, people in tangentially related health care and information management jobs, and informaticists living in regions where the low cost of living drives salaries down.
Looking at average salaries associated with specific job titles in informatics will give you a more accurate picture of how an MSHI will increase your lifetime earning potential. Most health informatics roles fit into one of three silos, and there are high-paying positions in each.
The highest-paying analytics-focused roles in health informatics include:
- Health data scientist ($115,000)
- Health care business analyst ($91,000)
- Clinical informatics specialist ($110,000)
- Bioinformatics analyst ($107,000)
Tech roles in health informatics associated with high salaries include:
- Health informatics consultant ($103,000)
- Health IT project manager ($103,000)
- Product manager ($95,000)
- HIPAA privacy officer ($104,000)
Leadership roles in health informatics are some of the highest-paying in the discipline. They include:
- Director of health informatics ($100,000)
- Director of research informatics ($96,000)
- Clinical informatics director ($116,000)
- Vice president of health informatics ($149,000)
- Chief informatics officer or CIO ($156,000)
- Chief medical information officer or CMIO ($138,000)
- Chief nursing informatics officer CNIO ($110,000)
Remember that these figures are averages. Your actual earnings in any of the above positions may be much higher. One recent Association of Medical Directors (AMDIS) study found that 47% of CMIOs earned between $251,000 and $350,000, and 33% had salaries between $351,000 and $450,000.
Top health informatics graduate programs invest generously in their faculty, student resources and post-graduation support offerings, and the average cost of this degree typically falls somewhere between $30,000 and $50,000. Pitt’s 36-credit hour online MSHI costs $1,122 per credit for a total investment of just over $40,000. Students finance their degrees in several ways, including federal, private and alternative education loans and scholarships. Online learners can consult with the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid for help with degree funding just like students on campus.
Students can complete Pitt’s Online MSHI on a part-time basis—making the program ideal for those juggling full-time jobs in technology and health care—and can choose from four career tracks:
- Data Science
- General Health Informatics
- Health Care Supervision and Management
- Registered Health Information Administrator (RHIA)
They can also pursue one of four optional 12-credit informatics certificates:
- Certificate in Health Data Analytics
- Certificate in Health Information Cybersecurity
- Certificate in Leadership in Health Informatics
- Certificate in Revenue Cycle Management
However, Pitt offers students more than just a world-class education delivered by expert faculty engaged in field-enhancing research. Online MSHI candidates can access the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences’ robust student support services and tap into an active alumni network boasting a wide range of accomplishments.
Degree format will also play a role in your ROI calculations. If you meet a program’s MSHI admissions criteria—find more information about how Pitt’s SHRS evaluates applicants here—consider how the different program formats offered will impact your earning potential. Full-time, on-campus health informatics master’s programs can require a full-time commitment at odds with continuing to earn income. The 100% online informatics master’s program at Pitt offers the same transformative, forward-thinking learning experience—but doesn’t require students to leave the workforce.
That’s important because the total price of any degree includes tuition and opportunity costs like forfeited earnings and additional expenses students wouldn’t have otherwise. To figure out the actual cost of a traditional full-time MSHI, calculate how much income you can earn over the 16 to 24 months you’d be in school, then add the cost of commuting (i.e., fuel, parking, vehicle maintenance, meals) plus relocation and travel costs. When added to tuition, the result is the true cost of choosing an on-campus program or a less flexible online program.
Calculating the cost of an online MSHI program, on the other hand, is a relatively simple matter of looking at tuition plus the value of attending a pioneering program like Pitt’s without uprooting your life.
To calculate the ROI of any degree program, you need to consider the degree’s benefits against the hard costs and opportunity costs associated with earning that degree. Pitt’s online MSHI program costs just over $40,000 and is no more or less expensive than programs delivered on campus. However, online learners pay less than students on campus because they don’t have additional transportation or relocation expenses. Pitt’s highly flexible format means online MSHI students don’t have to sacrifice income or say no to advancement opportunities at work. While still in school, MSHI candidates can maximize their earnings and won’t miss any promotions.
More importantly, an MSHI can open some very lucrative doors and help you stay current in an ever-changing industry. You’ll invest time and money (minus financial aid and scholarships) in your education, but you’ll graduate with a strong network of experienced and accomplished peers, work experience you wouldn’t have gotten in a full-time program, and the qualifications necessary to step into the kinds of high-paying informatics jobs listed above. The ROI of an MSHI is substantial, though the financial return on your investment may ultimately not be what motivates you to pursue this degree.
ROI is a relevant consideration when you’re trying to answer the question “Is a master’s in health informatics worth it?” but it’s not the only one. Many people launch careers in informatics not because they’re motivated by money but because they’re motivated by a desire to build a better future for humanity through increased access to health care and enhanced quality of care. The impact of data on medicine was never more evident than during the COVID-19 pandemic, when governments and other entities looked to emerging statistics for guidance. Informatics has always been an essential part of medicine, however. Data-driven health care management makes medicine better and safer. Informatics can prevent medical errors. Studies also find that when medical and allied health facilities and research labs invest in robust information systems, patient engagement tends to go up, and patient outcomes can improve.
The role of IT in health care and health services will continue to expand as technology evolves. Informatics was once largely concerned with standardization in digital medical records keeping. Advances in Big Data turned information and analytics into tools wielded not only by health care administrators but also by providers and researchers. Now, close to 70% of health care organizations have integrated new AI technologies into their systems, and machine learning is automating process improvement in medicine. Informaticists have to keep learning if they want to keep up because the health informatics field will never stop changing.
We’ve already demonstrated how earning a master’s in health informatics is worth it when it comes to career advancement and earning potential. We haven’t yet fully addressed the less tangible, longer-term value of a Master of Science in Health Informatics. This degree can prepare you for the future by teaching you how to reinvent yourself again and again. In Pitt’s Online MSHI program, you’ll learn about the tools and techniques currently used in clinical data analysis and the IT side of health administration, along with where the industry is headed. Apply now, and future innovations in HI won’t have the power to faze you. In less than two years, you’ll have everything you need to grow and adapt alongside this rapidly evolving industry and ultimately to make medicine better.