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Educational Programs
2007-2009 Student Handbook

Health Informatics Essential Skills for
Health Informaticians
Program Philosophy Program Description

Health Informatics

Health Informatics is the study of how health data are collected, stored, and communicated; how these data are processed into health information suitable for administrative and clinical decision making; and how computers and telecommunications technology can be applied to support these processes. Health informaticians are in great demand and may work in various clinical, research and educational environments.

There is a generally acknowledged need for people trained in health informatics. Hospitals throughout Houston and the state of Texas are in the process of implementing electronic patient records.

While the Texas Medical Center is a current ‘hotbed’ of work in electronic patient records, interest in electronic records is starting to take hold in community and smaller hospitals. Also, most of the hospitals are in their early phase of adoption, and will be seeking increasing numbers of qualified staff as they expand electronic record systems throughout their organizations. There will be a continued expansion of this activity, not only among hospitals, but also of the scope of electronic record systems into broader aspects of the hospital information environment.

Electronic patient records will have an impact beyond the limits that have traditionally bound hospital-based care. The Community Health Information Network (CHIN) of the future will link hospitals to primary care offices of physicians and nurses to home-based health care and to long-term care facilities. This will require a simple seamless information network that will share information with all caregivers across multiple settings in order to address the healthcare needs of individual clients. Such healthcare networks will allow for the creation of new healthcare providers.

These new healthcare providers will be able to organize and summarize data across the cohort of patients enabling caregivers to study the outcomes of care on populations occurring in their own environment. Information from these outcome studies can then be compared with outcome studies occurring on regional and national levels. Texas health professionals will need informatics practitioners who are capable of implementing and organizing existing systems and who can research and develop new aspects and new components of systems to meet the ever-increasing data and information needs.

There will be continued growth as the need for patient-based information and electronic record systems move to areas outside of the major cities. The need for these health informatics practitioners will be especially acute in rural areas. It is well documented that the healthcare needs of people in rural areas are greater than those in the more urban areas. Cooperation with Texas A&M University will give additional access to the rural aspects of health informatics. Texas A&M University is linked to all 254 counties in the state of Texas through extension programs. The skill mix and availability of practitioners tends to be less rich in the rural areas. Health informatics practitioners will meet the needs of populations across the state. Ensuring that information is available to clients and healthcare providers in a timely and orderly fashion parallels the needs for delivering quality patient information in an organized and timely manner. Both issues center on issues of data display, data models, and ultimately the issue of clinical decision-making. 

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Essential Skills for Health Informaticians

To successfully perform the duties of a health informatician, an individual must possess cognitive skills in logical and analytical thinking, must demonstrate motivation and have a technical understanding of the computing environment that is the basis for informatics work. Students must be able to address problems in a clear and innovative manner. Other requirements include the ability to communicate in English both orally and verbally at the college level and to work in interdisciplinary teams.

Students must have demonstrable competence with a programming language, college algebra, computer literacy skills, anatomy, physiology, health language and operational characteristics of healthcare.

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Program Philosophy

The School of Health Information Sciences at Houston strongly believes that healthcare will increasingly be a cooperative interaction among the health disciplines. The result will be a need for health practitioners to better understand the technology, data, information, knowledge, assumptions and decision making of others as they attempt to design, provide and evaluate health care in the 21st century.

To that end, the Health Informatics Program stresses the development of interdisciplinary teams to evaluate and address the complex informatics issues that will face health care in the next century. Students will enter the Health Informatics Program with a strong base in their underlying science or discipline. Working in teams, they will understand the structure and organization of health-related knowledge. They will study how to communicate knowledge across traditional barriers. As they progress, students will acquire the principles and knowledge needed to organize, store, display, communicate and evaluate that knowledge across a variety of systems: electronic, social, and political. The ultimate goal of the program is to use informatics to improve the health of the people of Texas.

The Health Informatics Program will start from a strong scientific base and move to the application of informatics in a variety of areas related to the interests of students and faculty. These areas of interest may include, but are not limited to: computational knowledge, electronic record system, telehealth, patient focused information systems, and computational biomedicine.

Health Informatics is an interdisciplinary, interrelated discipline undergoing rapid change. New technologies, conceptual understandings and computational processes ensure that the future will bring increasing rates of change and development. Students will have the knowledge and skills to address present issues and the adaptability to address future ones.

The Health Informatics Program will strive to meet the needs of students, develop new research to advance the frontiers of the science, and be an active participant in the development and application of Informatics initiatives in the community.

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Program Description

The Program in Health Informatics is designed to be trans-disciplinary in its focus. In the United States, this is the first program in Informatics that does not reside in a discipline-specific professional school. Students come from a variety of disciplines. They work in interdisciplinary teams to better understand the knowledge unique to each discipline and how that knowledge must be translated for use by other disciplines. In developing this program, the School of Health Information Sciences has worked with representatives from Texas A&M University, Baylor College of Medicine, Rice University, the University of Houston, The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, and Texas Woman’s University to improve opportunities for students entering the Health Informatics Program and to create new electives available to the other schools.

The certificate, masters and doctoral degree programs incorporate an interdisciplinary and integrative design that is believed to be unique to the field of health informatics in the United States. Many existing informatics masters and doctoral programs are organized around a specific discipline in which applications of informatics within that discipline are emphasized; e.g., medical informatics, nursing informatics, dental informatics. The Health Informatics Program, on the other hand, is designed to be inherently transdisciplinary and integrative. This means that the fundamental informatics concepts that transcend and apply to all traditional healthcare disciplines will be emphasized. Moreover, these programs will identify and teach the major informatics concepts that integrate and link diverse health disciplines creating focus on patient healthcare.

Individuals holding a baccalaureate or higher degree in a health-related discipline, computer science, engineering, or management information systems can apply for the graduate Health Informatics program. To complete the program full-time students usually spend a year (three semesters) for the certificate program, two years (five semesters) for the masters program and four years (12 semesters) for the doctoral program in health informatics studies. Part-time enrollment is available for certificate and masters students. The course of study is initiated in the fall, spring or summer semesters. The priority deadline for completed applications is the 15th of March for the summer semester, July 1 for the fall semester and November 1 for the spring semester. Applications may be submitted at other times with prior consent of the School.

The certificate program is a certificate of completion of 15 semester credit hours of graduate level credit.

UTHSC-H awards a Master of Science degree or a Doctor of Philosophy degree to students who successfully complete the Program in Health Informatics.

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