Building a New Degree Program in Health Information Technology

By August 6, 2012 Teach IT

In December 2009, responding to the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act passed earlier that year, faculty members at the University of South Carolina in the Integrated Information Technology  (IIT) Program in the College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management and the Department of Health Services Policy and Management (HSPM) in the Arnold School of Public Health, began discussing the development of a master’s degree in health information technology. The HITECH Act provides incentives to the medical community to achieve the goal established by President Bush that all Americans will have electronic health records by 2014. To this end, approximately $36 billion is being made available over six years for the development and implementation of healthcare information technology. This stimulus had already begun creating a need for a new cadre of health IT professionals.

During the spring of 2010, faculty members in the two programs prepared a draft outline of the new program, one which would combine information technology coursework with courses in health care administration to prepare leaders in this rapidly developing field. Through the spring and summer, the faculty worked to refine the proposal and to build support for the program from the deans and department heads of the various schools and colleges at the University. By the fall, a full formal proposal was ready to go before the appropriate university committees.

During the summer of 2010, a search committee consisting of faculty from both programs as well as a student, who was also a manager at Palmetto Health, began the process of searching for a director for the program. That fall, ads were placed online and in various academic periodicals, and applications began to be received.  By January 2011, the finalists for the position were selected and interviews began.   The process culminated in April 2011, as Dr. Elizabeth Regan, the Elmer and Donna Smith Endowed Chair in Information Systems at Morehead State University, Chair of the Board of Directors of the Northeast Kentucky Regional Health Information Organization and member of the Tri-State Health IT Regional Extension Center,  accepted the position. She arrived at the university in July.

At the same time that the candidates for the director’s position were being interviewed, the faculty members were busy writing the syllabi for the new courses that would be included the in the program. Meetings were held with executives from organizations such as BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina, the South Carolina Hospital Association and Palmetto Health to get their input about the program and its content. Likewise, a presentation about the proposed program at the Innoventure Conference that spring gathered additional input from the business and health care community. During the fall of 2011, under Dr. Regan’s leadership, the proposed courses and the degree program received approval from the Graduate Council of the university and the Board of Trustees.

While the course approval process was underway, searches were started in HSPM and in IIT for new faculty members with health information technology expertise.  Candidates were interviewed during March, April and May of 2012, and three faculty members were hired to arrive this fall, one in the HSPM and two in IIT.

The final hurdles for the program proposal were approvals from the external regulatory agencies. In April 2012, the Southern Association of College and Schools gave its blessing to the program, followed by the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education in May. The program is scheduled for fall 2012 start-up and students have started to enroll. The program is being offered in executive format with courses scheduled evenings, Saturdays and online. Applications for the first class will be accepted through August 15, and enrollment in the first health IT classes is open to graduate students in other health science programs as well as unclassified graduate students.

Details about the Master of Health Information Technology (MHIT) degree program will be coming up in another blog post next month. For more information, please visit the program web site at  Comments and suggestions about this new program are welcome.

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