From electronic health records to online patient portals, technology is integrated into almost all aspects of medicine today. It's up to health information technology professionals to secure sensitive data and ensure systems work correctly by doing the following:
- Organizing and maintaining patient records.
- Reviewing records for accurateness and completeness.
- Tracking patient care and outcomes.
- Recording and reporting data related to patient care and office procedures.
- Establishing policies and procedures to secure confidential information.
What Are Health Information Technology Specializations?
Health information technology is a broad field so many people specialize. The following are a few of the occupations pursued by graduates of health information technology schools.
- Medical coders, also called coding specialists,are responsible for assigning codes to patient care records. This information is then used to bill insurers and government health plans.
- Cancer registrars specialize in assigning codes and compiling data for cancer treatment.
- Health information technology specialists create the tools, such as electronic health records and patient databases, which allow health care professionals to do their job effectively.
How to Become a Health Information Technician
In general, you might expect to take the following steps to become a health information technician:
- Earn a high school diploma or equivalent.
- Complete a health information technology certificate or associate degree program.
- Consider pursuing a bachelor's degree if interested in leveling up to become a health information technology specialist, which might offer more instruction on IT and computer applications.
Health information technology careers can have different education requirements. For instance, specialists may need a strong background in computer science, networking or IT infrastructure. However, to find work as a health information technician, coder or registrar, you'll need to understand the following:
- Medical terminology
- Healthcare reimbursement methods
- Medical coding systems
Health Information Technology Degree Programs
Health information technology schools offer programs that range from certificates to advanced degrees. The level of education you need depends largely on the type of career you want to pursue.
- Certificate: A health information technology certificate program provides the knowledge needed to start a career as a medical coder or health information technician. Students may learn about coding classification systems, medical terminology and electronic patient records. Many certificate programs can be completed in one year or less.
- Associate Degree: Typically earned in two years, a health information technology associate degree is a step up from a certificate. Programs at this level may allow students to specialize in medical coding, health informatics or another concentration. Although not required for most health information technology careers, some employers prefer to hire those with an associate degree.
- Bachelor's Degree: A four-year degree is usually only needed by those who want to work as a health information technology specialist. These programs can offer greater instruction on information technology and computer applications.
Health Information Technology Schools
You'll find health information technology programs at colleges and universities across the country. There are also online health information technology schools that can be a good choice for working adults who need to schedule studies around work and family obligations. These programs may use virtual labs to provide real-world experience. Whether offered online or on-campus, many programs have a curriculum designed to prepare students for health information technology certification exams.
Health Information Technology Certification
Don't confuse a health information technology certificate program with professional certification. While a certificate is awarded after the completion of an educational program, health information technology certification is a voluntary process by which professionals in the field demonstrate their expertise by earning credentials from industry groups. Options for health information technology workers include the following:
- Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT) from The American Health Information Management Association
- Certified Professional in Health Informatics (CPHI) from The American Health Information Management Association
- Certified Tumor Registrar (CTR) from the National Cancer Registrars Association
- Certified Associate in Healthcare Information and Management Systems (CAHIMS) from the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society
- Certified Professional in Healthcare Information and Management Systems (CPHIMS) from the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society
There are also a number of certifications available specifically for medical coders and billers. While eligibility criteria vary, all certifications require applicants pass an examination. Some may also have education and work requirements.
Career Advancement in Health Information Technology
To advance health information technology careers, workers may build upon previous education and experience to move from entry-level positions to management roles.
For instance, someone might complete a health information technology certificate program to quickly enter the workforce as a medical biller or coder. Then, he or she can earn a health information technology associate degree to become a health information technician. The final step is to complete a bachelor's degree program and become eligible for jobs as a medical or health services manager. Many health information technology programs are designed so credits from a lower level of education can be applied toward a higher degree.
Program Costs and Financial Aid
Skills and Qualities for Health Information Technicians
Every job makes use of certain skills and abilities, and here are a few of those important to the work of health information technicians.
- Active listening: Health information technicians may work closely with physicians, nurses or other professionals. They must be able to listen carefully to instructions and ask clarifying questions as needed.
- Speaking: Just as health information professionals must be able to listen, they must speak clearly and concisely when sharing information with other members of a health care team.
- Near vision: Much of a health information technician's work is done on a computer so good vision is critical.
- Category flexibility: This ability is particularly important for medical billers and coders. Having category flexibility means they are able to properly categorize and group patient data using coding systems.
- Deductive reasoning: Like category flexibility, this ability helps health information professionals make wise decisions about how to store and catalogue information.
Career Outlook and Salary Information for Health Information Technicians
The chart below shows the average nationwide health information technology salary, but be aware many factors can influence a person's income. Those with more education and experience will typically earn more than entry-level workers.
Likewise, job opportunities can vary depending on your expertise and where you live. Positions may be more readily available in geographic regions that have large medical systems, and some employers may be seeking applicants with a certain health information technology certification.
Projected Job Growth
|Medical Dosimetrists, Medical Records Specialists, and Health Technologists and Technicians, All Other
Professional Resources for Health Information Technicians
The following organizations are among the industry groups serving health information technology professionals.
- The American Health Information Management Association - With more than 103,000 members nationwide, AHIMA provides education resources, professional certification and advocacy for the health information management industry.
- Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society - A global organization, HIMSS has been advocating for the profession since 1961. It offers several scholarships for those attending health information technology programs.
- Certification Commission for Health Information Technology - This private-sector organization certifies the electronic health record technology used by health information professionals.