“We’ve created a solution to satisfy an important and growing need,” says Enid Montague, an associate professor in the College of Computing and Digital Media (CDM), about the new MS in Health Informatics. 

Montague joined DePaul in 2015 to head the innovative program that brings together expertise from three colleges—CDM, Kellstadt Graduate School of Business, and the College of Communication—to teach students how to use technology to improve health care access, quality, and outcomes, for more patients in more settings, through better information management, health care analytics, enterprise management, and information security.

Here, she discusses the program’s distinctive value for both the health care industry and DePaul students.

What’s the twist in “health informatics”?  Isn’t a computer science degree enough? 

In the United States, the delivery of health care is very complex, so even people with great computational skills need a fundamental and practical understanding of the industry—of how health care is delivered, of how various parts of the sector work together or fail to do so—before they can apply technology to make improvements.

And the need for improvement is huge. Again in the US, we’re talking about high costs, lots of issues around patient safety, worker burnout, a shortage of nurses and primary care physicians, and an aging population. In the next few years, the industry is going to have to figure out how to do a lot more with a lot less.

At the same time, the industry has been really slow, for all kinds of reasons, in using technology to work smarter. For example, health care providers—hospitals, clinics, physicians—are just beginning to use databases to organize and share patient information, even though that would be efficient and effective. In other industries, like banking, electronic record management has been common practice for a long time.

So, in health care, there’s a lot of “newness” with technology, a lot of room to develop new technology, and many, many ways to use technology to improve processes and outcomes. This is where health informatics comes in. Our students will use technology, already on the scene or coming soon, to address the industry’s tough and unique challenges. I like to say that they’re not just computer scientists; they’re the next generation of problem solvers.

What’s special about DePaul’s approach to health informatics?

One of the things that attracted me to this program is its intellectual diversity. Students can come from many different backgrounds—information technology, pre-med, nursing, finance, business management—and be successful. There’s a space for everybody.

Our program is broad and deep, and I think that’s exactly the kind of training the industry needs and wants. Beyond the core courses, we offer all kinds of specialties.

For example, a student interested in health care analytics can take classes in data analysis and regression, data visualization, intelligent information retrieval, social network analysis, service design and the patient experience. If a students wants expertise in enterprise management, he or she can learn about IT project management, business continuity and disaster recovery, managerial and marketing epidemiology, or information storage and management.  We also offer electives in database processing, technology innovation, and information security management—all within the health care context. Lots of choices, which is great for our students and great for their future employers.

I’m confident that our graduates will succeed in many different sectors within health care.  Right now, there are so many career opportunities—they could work in quality improvement in a hospital, or begin a startup to develop new technologies that would improve patient care management, or trace trends in diseases based on patient data—really, the options are nearly unlimited. And these are good jobs, with good salaries and good work environments.

Maybe most satisfying for our students, and most in line with DePaul’s mission, the work matters; it’s work that can save lives. That’s really special, I think.