MS vs MSN vs MHA in Healthcare Informatics – What’s the Difference?

Students pursuing a master’s degree in health informatics may have a difficult time choosing among Master of Science (MS), Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or a Master of Arts (MA) degrees. All three degrees provide the graduate-level studies required to become eligible for higher-paying health informatics jobs, but they do in different ways. Many employers require at least a master’s degree in this field, so it’s important to learn as much as possible about each program to assist in your decision.

Master of Science in Health Informatics

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If you want to build strong industry connections in health information or develop the ability to communicate effectively with clinicians, administrators, and IT professionals, you might be interested in a Master of Science (MS) in health care informatics degree. Students learn valuable, professional skills in systems analysis and design, database and project management, decision support, network design, and health care applications and procurement.

Other critical competencies may include:

  • Finding ways to help reduce health care costs.
  • Learning how to increase patient access to health care.
  • Creating ways to improve the diagnosis, treatment and outcomes of certain diseases.

The use of electronic data is an important component of this program, which reflects current industry standards and principles. health care system management and the business and financial aspects of health informatics are also key focuses in this type of degree.

The MS degree in health care informatics typically takes about two years to complete, depending on the school you attend and whether you go to school full time or part time. Usually, credits are earned in core content areas, an emphasis or specialty area, and a project or thesis course for completion of the graduate degree.

Master of Science in Nursing in Health Care Informatics

The MSN degree in health informatics is designed for students or professionals who already have a BSN degree and RN certification. Some bridge programs allow students to earn their MSN if they have experience in another field or if they have an RN license with an associate’s degree. This type of degree qualifies you to become an advanced practice nurse (APN). Bridge programs help students earn their RN license or a bachelor’s degree; however, they typically take longer to complete than other MSN programs.

Like MS degree programs, MSN programs typically take about two years to complete, depending upon the program you attend and whether you’re a full time or part time student. If you’re an LPN or RN with an associate’s degree rather than an RN with a bachelor’s degree, you can enter an LPN to MSN or RN to MSN program.These accelerated programs help you earn a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree at the same time.

Other critical competencies may include:

  • Developing and maintaining computerized record management systems.
  • Managing nursing staff and technicians and communicating with department heads.
  • Monitoring diagnostic services to ensure effective delivery of health services.

If you agree to work for at least two years in a high-need area, you might qualify for a national nursing loan forgiveness program. The financial aid department at your school can provide more information about this option.

While earning your MSN, your courses would focus on health informatics which enables nursing students to learn more about gathering, analyzing, organizing, storing, and sharing information. Nursing informatics helps RNs utilize technology in their practice. This includes using the latest developments to help make nursing more modern and efficient, while still providing excellent patient care.

Notice in the chart below from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services the positive impact electronic health records (EHR) has had on the health care industry:

For an RN who understands the day-to-day demands of providing health care, but who might gravitate toward using his or her technical skills, a career as a health informatics specialist might prove a good fit.

Master of Health Care Administration in Health Care Informatics

MHA programs prepare students to effectively respond to the dynamic and ever-changing health care industry. Many classes focus on health care administration, rather than focusing on health care informatics. The main advantage with this degree is that you can transition into other health care administration fields.

Curriculum often focuses on finance, policy, research, technology, quality improvement, economics, marketing and strategic planning. Specialization options may include gerontology, informatics, law and education. A program specialization option, if offered, is designed to provide health care professionals with a diverse interdisciplinary background.

MHA in health care informatics programs also take about two years to complete, depending on your program, and are readily available both online and at traditional campus programs.

Which Option is Right for You?

While the three degrees defined above may seem confusing, they can be summarized briefly:

  • The MS degree is perfect for students who want an informatics-based education that leads to a communications role in the field among health care professionals from both the business end and the healing end. To obtain a master’s of science degree in this field, it might help to have a background in informatics, technology and medical training.
  • The MSN is perfect for RNs who want an advanced nursing degree with a specialization in health care informatics. LPNs also can pursue this degree with a bridge program to the MSN degree and a specialization in informatics. This degree is for nurses who have a technology-based interest in organization.
  • The MHA is ideal for individuals who have a business background and want to move ahead in health care administration. Since informatics is becoming an integral part of the health care business, a specialty in this field can benefit anyone who wants to make a difference in the quality of care patients receive.

While all three degrees focus on health informatics, there are differences. One degree focuses on technology and communications, the other on nursing, and the third degree provides options for leadership roles. Depending upon your occupational interests, education level, and work history, a wide range of options are available. Our list of accredited schools below will you align your career goals with the right degree.

Featured Master's in Healthcare Informatics Programs

Health informatics is the study of how technology, particularly artificial intelligence, computer science, and informational science relates to the medical field. This field of study is typically applied to clinical care, nursing, public health, and biomedical research. The universities and colleges listed below offer online master's degree programs in this subject

Capella University
Capella University's online master's in Health Care Informatics integrates information science, computer science, social science, and health care to give you the skills and knowledge you need to help your organization improve the overall quality of health care and population health, along with reducing costs.
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Walden University
Students studying in Walden's health informatics master's degree program will learn the basic skills required to use advanced technology in the healthcare industry, specifically applying health informatics to improve the diagnosis and treatment of illnesses. Walden also offers two informatics tracks in the MSN program: an RN-MSN track and a BSN-MSN track.
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Grand Canyon University
America's largest online christian university, Grand Canyon University, offers a Master of Science in Health Care Informatics degree that provides students with knowledge of the concepts of systems life cycles, data management, and health informatics. Graduates of this program will be well suited for a career as a medical technologist or other upper-level healthcare professional. For students looking for a nursing-focused informatics degree, GCU offers an MSN in Informatics program.
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Kaplan University
The Master of Science in nursing informatics from Kaplan University enriches student's knowledge of dealing in technology-rich healthcare environments. Graduates of this program will be eligible to become nurse practitioners and will be able to pursue informatics leadership roles in healthcare, business, and education settings.
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