UC Berkeley Extension to launch health informatics program

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Deborah Chen/File

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UC Berkeley Extension is launching a new health informatics program in July that aims to empower patients and health care providers.

The program comprises four two-unit courses and is taught entirely online. Beginning with “Introduction to Health Informatics” and ending with “Population Health Management,” the course sequence covers topics associated with data analysis as well as record management.

“The rapidly changing healthcare environment offers many new opportunities in health informatics but also requires workers to continue to build skills over time as industry and organizational needs change,” said Melanie Meyer, lead instructor of the program, in a press release. “The UCB Extension Health Informatics certificate program helps working professionals build new skills in these critical areas.”

Health informatics is an emerging field that combines technology, communication and data analysis to harness large amounts of medical record data. As the scope of modern health care expands and records become increasingly digitized, health informatics is a way to give health professionals better access to data.

Despite the data analysis techniques participants will learn, the program is intended for those who have a background in health care, not in programming.

“This program is intended for a range of allied health professionals working in healthcare settings,” said Stan Weisner, director of behavioral health sciences at UC Berkeley Extension, in an email. “It is not intended for programmers or data entry positions … but rather for those working in healthcare who need to know more about developing and using electronic health records, issues of privacy, (and) impacts on population health.”

Weisner, who, along with Meyer, organized curricula for the program, argues that health informatics is becoming increasingly important, with the health sector currently occupying 16 percent of the nation’s economy. The field also helps professionals adapt to some of the challenges associated with widespread medical record digitization, especially privacy concerns.

“One of the big challenges is confidentiality. There are some ethical issues there so that people don’t violate HIPAA,” Weisner said, referring to the 1996 federal law concerning the privacy of medical information.

Unlike other campus programs, UC Berkeley Extension is aimed toward community members rather than currently enrolled UC Berkeley students. Because of its online structure, the health informatics certification allows more flexibility than a traditional certificate program. If taken full time, the program can take as little as three months, or if one is enrolled as a part-time student, up to a year.

Enrollment for the program will open July 1. The UC Berkeley Extension website estimates that the entire program will cost about $7,800, not including course materials or the $100 registration fee.

Weisner, however, believes that the program is a great career investment.

“(Health informatics is a way) both to improve care and to get access to any kind of health-related matter,” Weisner said. “It’s also there to empower patients and allow their doctors to make informed decisions.”

Contact Alexandra Stassinopoulos at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @AE_Stass.