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Published in CenterView on February 13, 2012
Christine Bui, left, and Rhea Adams work in the HIIM computer lab.
Christine Bui, left, and Rhea Adams work in the HIIM computer lab.

SHRP's health informatics program transforms into graduate-level training

By Matt Westerfield

The Health Informatics and Information Management program in the School of Health Related Professions is undergoing a transformation to adapt to the future.

The program, which prepares medical information specialists to work in a field that is constantly adapting to new technology, is itself no stranger to evolving with the times. Originating as a certificate program for medical records in 1959, the program transitioned to a bachelor's degree in 1975 and now is advancing to the graduate level.

The change comes at a time when the management of health information is becoming increasingly important to the revenue cycles of health-care organizations as well as their compliance with federal patient privacy laws and implementing electronic health records is fueling the demand for HIIM professionals.

The Master of Health Informatics and Information Management Program was approved by the Mississippi State Institutions of Higher Learning late last year, and is in the midst of transformation this semester.

Dr. Ann Peden, professor and chair of health informatics and information management, said the American Health Information Management Association began advocating the move to the graduate level about six years ago with a report that looked at the future needs of the profession's workforce.

"And we've seen other schools who have begun to offer the training at the master's level," said Peden. "So we feel like there's a very strong possibility that the master's will be required in the future, possibly by 2016."

But The switch also was influenced heavily by the amount of interest generated by the health informatics track included in the Master of Health Sciences program, which began in 2010.

"We had so many people who were interested in that, calling and applying for it, that it seemed like the momentum was shifting to the master's from both the demand side and the professional side," she said.

"The goal of the School of Health Related Professions is to provide allied health-degree programs with appropriate content and at the appropriate level to best meet the health-care needs of Mississippi," said Dr. Ben Mitchell, dean of SHRP. "To that end, evolving with the changing health-care landscape and devising programs that can be extended to place-bound health-care professionals in all corners of Mississippi is extremely important."

Technically, SHRP's newest graduate program will enroll its first students in August.

"But we have students who are presently in the Master of Health Sciences Program who have been transferred to us for advising," Peden said. Faculty members have been working with those students to transition them into the Master of Health Informatics and Information Management program.

The program's last class of traditional baccalaureate students will graduate in the spring, and the health information track in the Master of Health Sciences Program will be phased out. The school will continue to offer the bachelor's degree as part of the online 2+U progression program for students who already have the associate-degree level credential.

"There were a total of 40 students who were accepted into the Master of Health Sciences Program who are in various stages of completion who will be transitioning over," she said.

The new program will feature a health informatics track and a health information management track for those interested in information management with slightly less emphasis on the informatics.

Another change is that, unlike the traditional baccalaureate program, the master's program will be delivered online and geared toward working professionals in a health-care field.

"A lot of times people don't find out about it until they are out in the world working and they've already gotten their bachelor's degree," Peden said. "We've had several students who have come back to get a second bachelor's in order to pursue a career in health information management. But that's hard for them under our traditional program because they had to quit their jobs and go back to school full time.

"Now it's much more feasible for them to come back and complete the program."

The master's program will be six semesters, and the students will tackle the content at a higher level.

"The responsibility will be more on the students to read and understand primary sources," she said. "They'll be exploring the topics in more depth and from more original sources, such as current literature and government documents."