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Health Information Management Program Launched

OHSU expands informatics training; aims to help meet looming shortage of trained professionals for an industry that rapidly is retooling for the demands of the digital age

Oregon Health & Science University is expanding its biomedical informatics program with a new track to train professionals for careers in health information management, one of the nation’s 20 fastest growing career fields and one where the supply of new graduates is falling behind the demand.

The Department of Medical Informatics & Clinical Epidemiology (DMICE) in the OHSU School of Medicine has begun accepting applications for enrollment this fall in the health information management (HIM) track of its graduate certificate program in biomedical informatics.

As the U.S. healthcare system moves toward wider adoption of advanced information technology systems to control health care costs, reduce medical errors and improve patient care, it will need at least 40,000 additional health information technology professionals – or almost 40 percent more than U.S. hospitals now are estimated to employ, a recent analysis by William Hersh, M.D., professor and chairman of DMICE, found. Many of these individuals, Hersh notes, could come from the HIM profession, a field historically classified as an “allied health” profession but increasingly moving in the direction of information technology.

The new HIM track – one of only three offered on the West Coast – is designed to train professionals who can help sustain and manage a health care industry that is becoming ever more reliant on electronic health records and digital data systems. The track will blend health information management principles and biomedical informatics and, once accredited, will allow graduates to sit for the national certification examination to acquire the Registered Health Information Administrator (RHIA) credential.

“There is a rapidly growing need in the health care field for individuals who have knowledge and skills in health information management (HIM) and information technology (IT) and a sophisticated understanding of the multitude of ways the two intersect,” said Joanne Valerius, M.P.H., R.H.I.A, assistant professor of medical informatics and clinical epidemiology at OHSU and director of the HIM track.

“The health care industry is changing dramatically as it moves away from paper to electronic medical records and data systems because this transition is completely altering the way health information is created, used, managed and dispersed,” said Valerius. “The next generation of HIM professionals will need more formal academic preparation at the graduate level to be adequately prepared for the challenges they face in deploying digitized health information and patient records to improve health care.”

HIM courses in the new track will be offered online in a distance-learning format while core biomedical informatics courses will be offered both on the OHSU campus and in the distance format. The track is geared toward working health care professionals – health information technicians, IT professionals, administrators and others – who want to complement their previous training.

The curriculum, which will consist of 13 courses with a total of 33 credit hours, is designed to provide students with a theoretical and practical understanding of the role of information in health care; a sound basis for implementing, developing, maintaining and managing information resources and systems in health care; and skills in the management of health information, technology and decision making.

Admission requirements are a bachelor’s degree in any field of study from an accredited undergraduate institution with a cumulative 3.0 grade point average. Graduation from an accredited health information technician program or completion of a prescribed array of courses, including medical terminology, anatomy and physiology, pathophysiology and pharmacotherapy, will qualify an applicant for advanced placement.

The Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education (CAHIIM) is reviewing OHSU’s application for accreditation of the track. Once it is granted, students pursuing the HIM track will be eligible to seek certification as RHIAs.

 “Health information management is one of the 20 fastest growing career fields in the nation, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics,” said Hersh, who collaborated with Valerius in developing the new HIM track. “It’s also a career field that pays well. A compensation survey last year by HIMSS – the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society – showed that the median salary for health care informatics professionals had reached $90,000 and for senior management positions it was well over $100,000.”

With the addition of the HIM track, DMICE will be offering graduate certificate courses in two tracks: medical informatics and health information management.  Similarly, the department offers master’s degree and Ph.D. programs in two tracks: bioinformatics and medical informatics. Those completing the health information management track of the graduate certificate program can move on to master’s degree and Ph.D. studies.

The study of biomedical informatics – the umbrella term for all of the programs – prepares people for a range of careers from the development and management of health services and medical records systems to the analysis of megasets of genomic research and clinical trials data to speed development and delivery of more effective treatments and drugs. Medical informatics emphasizes clinical and patient outcome applications and bioinformatics focuses on computational biology applications in biomedical research, particularly molecular biology.

To obtain more information about the HIM track and for application materials, go to and click on the HIM certificate link.

About Biomedical Informatics at OHSU

OHSU’s Department of Medical Informatics and Clinical Epidemiology (DMICE) has been a pioneer in the biomedical informatics field and has one of the nation’s most respected informatics academic programs. The biomedical informatics graduate program recently accepted its 500th student and more than 200 students were enrolled last year alone both on the OHSU main campus and in the department’s popular distance-learning program. OHSU’s first formal informatics degree program, the master of science in medical informatics, was launched in 1996. An online graduate certificate program followed in 2000 and a non-thesis master’s in biomedical informatics in 2001. The first Ph.D. degree was granted in 2007. OHSU will have awarded through this year’s commencement ceremonies, a total of 189 informatics degrees and graduate certificates, including 58 master of science degrees in biomedical informatics, 50 master of biomedical informatics degrees, as well as 3 Ph.D. degrees and 78 graduate certificates.

About OHSU
Oregon Health & Science University is the state’s only health and research university, and its only academic health center. OHSU is Portland’s largest employer and the fourth largest in Oregon (excluding government), with more than 12,400 employees. The university’s size contributes to its ability to provide many services and community support activities not found anywhere else in the state. It serves patients from every corner of the state, and is a conduit for learning for more than 3,400 students and trainees. OHSU also is the source of more than 200 community outreach programs that bring health and education services to each county in the state. As a leader in research, OHSU earned $307 million in research funding in fiscal year 2007. OHSU serves as a catalyst for the region’s bioscience industry and is an incubator of discovery, averaging one new breakthrough or innovation every 2.7 days, with more than 4,100 research projects currently under way. OHSU disclosed 132 inventions in 2007 alone, and OHSU research has resulted in 33 startup companies since 2000, most of which are based in Oregon.

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