As the national debate on health care reform rages, the University of Central Florida this week launched a new program that will prepare students for jobs considered essential to streamlining and improving health care.

UCF’s new health care informatics 20-month master’s degree program will educate students on the use of electronic medical records (EMRs) and the electronic exchange of information between organizations.

EMRs are considered a hallmark of the Obama administration’s efforts to modernize health care, said Aaron Liberman, chair of the Department of Health Management and Informatics and a founder of the new program, which is the first of its kind in Florida.

EMR systems allow health care providers to review, update and share a patient’s medical record using a secure computer network. They provide a more timely and efficient way to order medications and laboratory tests, improving health care delivery, reducing the need for paper records and potentially lowering costs.

“They’ll be able to use the information to recommend standards of practice for disease and injury management in both hospital and medical practice settings,” Liberman explained.

The students also will gain proficiency in the management and analysis of large databases of health information. Identifying trends within this data is key to improving the overall quality, safety and efficiency of health care delivery.

Twenty-seven very diverse students are enrolled in the online program, which hoped to attract between 15 and 20 students.

“We had tremendous interest in the program and received 42 applications,” said Interim Program Director Kendall Ward.

Abdul Hai enrolled in the program because he saw the robust growth of the health care industry at a time when the economy is crashing. He spent more than 14 years working in information technology. But he never has worked in health care. By merging both, he plans to transition into the health informatics industry.

“There are not enough properly trained and educated Americans to fill the employment demands,” Hai said.

Jeremy Martin, who earned his undergraduate degree in biomedical sciences in 2008 has always had an interest in computer technology. He called this career the “perfect intersection” of his interests and hopes to work as a health informatics specialist at a hospital when he graduates.

Tuition for the program is $29,000 and some employers are encouraging their staffs to enroll and are providing tuition assistance. Recognizing the importance of informatics and the role it will play in the future of health care, Altamonte Springs-based NCG Medical Systems Inc. has established a $10,000 scholarship available to those who get into the program. The first NCG Medical Scholarship in Health Care Informatics will be awarded this semester.

“Helping talented students pursue their dreams of implementing the next generation of health care technology is one of our most important pursuits,” said Antonio Arias, vice president of business development for NCG Medical.

The health care informatics program will admit one class per year and has already begun recruiting its class for August 2010. Click here for information or email [email protected]

UCF Online is now offering an online healthcare informatics degree.