Many IT professionals in the health segment work with the electronic health care record system.

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If you’re seeking a six-figure salary in health care without pursuing a doctorate-level education, the health information technology role can get you there through a combination of technical, data and cybersecurity skills.

Information technology professionals in the health segment have a number of responsibilities, but most revolve around working with the electronic health care record system — whether implementing, maintaining or securing it, explains Lara Khansa, an associate professor of Business Information Technology at Virginia Tech. Khansa teaches courses that make up a health IT module within the broader online Master of Information Technology program.

Flexible learning with practical studies

Almost all the students in Khansa’s health IT courses are working professionals, many serving in the military now or in the past and many employed by the federal government. The program’s approach offers the flexibility these adults need to succeed.

Online classes are a good option for working professionals; students can tune in when it works for their schedule. Just as importantly, they can choose their own path and combine several modules, Khansa says. While there’s a core group of foundation courses they’re required to take, by mixing and matching “module classes” they can focus on the aspects of IT that are important to their career goals. That could be a concentration or a mix of cybersecurity, AI and machine learning, cloud computing, digital business, software development, big data or one of a dozen other categories.

Prior to joining academia, Khansa worked as a software engineer at GE Medical Systems designing medical applications and developing GEMS’ connectivity software. She maintains industry contacts as a member of numerous professional institutes and associations. This kind of connection between academia and industry is another key to finding success, as it allows instructors like Khansa to constantly tweak the courses to keep them current on evolving technology trends.

In the classes she teaches, Khansa emulates the activities students will face in the field of health IT by having them undertake projects akin to what they’ll experience in the work world. As one example, while private offices and clinics around the world use the EPIC e-health record system, Khansa’s students do a lot of homework on a demo version of the Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture, a comparable system that’s long been used in the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Combatting PTSD with wearables

Getting hands-on, real-world experience is another key to success. As a requirement in one of Lara Khansa’s health IT courses in Virginia Tech’s MIT program, students do deep research in a topic of their choosing and turn it into a research paper that’s worth submitting for publication. Two students, one a veteran and the other currently serving in the U.S. Army in Germany, focused their efforts on wearable technology, specifically to treat post-traumatic stress disorder without the use of pharmaceuticals.

Published in 2017 in an Elsevier journal, the paper proposes applying a combination of temperature control, aromatherapy and auditory therapy capabilities, all encapsulated in a wearable device, to monitor for signs of nightmares and then either suppress the dream or slowly wake the wearer.

The project concluded that the device would bring together “common, commercially available hardware” with “easily integrated communication protocols,” enabling patients and their health care providers “to evaluate reports of aggregated data in order to identify more efficient means of delivering care and aiding in daily alertness.”

The proposal has numerous applications, says Khansa, and not only for soldiers and other trauma victims suffering from PTSD. “Think about rural patients, living in places where they can’t get to their doctors and so they end up getting more ill,” she explains. “There could be a system installed at home that they can attach their wearable to and then the doctor can communicate with them through a telehealth system. Anywhere you want to make sure the patient is controlled at all times, this is when you can use wearables, coupled with other health IT technologies, such as telehealth.”

Virginia Tech’s 100% online Master of Information Technology program is jointly offered by the Pamplin College of Business and the College of Engineering. It has been ranked one of the top three Best Online Graduate Computer Information Technology Program by U.S. News & World Report six consecutive years.