How to Become a Health Information Technologist

Alternate Career Titles:

Health Information Technicians, HIT, Medical Records Technicians, MRT, Medical Records Specialist

Health Information Technologist Job Description: Health Information Technologists organize and manage health information data.

Health Information Technologist Salary (Annual): $38,040

Health Information Technologist Salary Range: $25,070 to $62,840

How Long To Become an Health Information Technologist: 2 years

Health Information Technologist Requirements: Post-secondary Certificate or Associate’s Degree in Health Information Management

Medical Records Specialist Medical Career

Become a Health Information Technologist

Career Description

A Health Information Technologist is responsible for recording, organizing and managing all health information data and patient records. They must complete these tasks while ensuring that sensitive information maintains quality, accuracy, security and accessibility in both paper and electronic form.

Health Information Technicians (HITs) also review patient records and chart patient histories, symptoms and outcomes for assessment purposes. They use classification software to code for insurance reimbursement and data analysis, as well as oversee databases and registries. Although exact responsibilities vary based on the employing facility or practice, maintaining the highest level of patient confidentiality is always imperative.

“Working as a Medical Records Specialist is very rewarding,” Gina McNellis, MA, RHIA, CTR, CHP, a health information management professional practicing in Florida, shared. “This career combines business and healthcare, without having to be by a patient’s bedside. Yet, we are still able to help to make a difference in their lives.”

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Education & Training

To become a HIT, professionals must obtain either a post-secondary certificate or an Associate’s Degree in health information technology. These programs typically include courses on medical terminology, anatomy, physiology, health data, statistics, communication and classification/coding systems.

“To enter this healthcare career a professional will need a 2 or 4-year degree in health information technology or management,” McNellis affirmed. “I chose to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in health record administration. The biggest challenges during this program were learning information about bodily systems and about the legal issues relating to the release of health information.”

Along with a degree or certificate, some employers may require that a Health Information Technologist possesses one of several certifications. In the case of McNellis, she chose to pursue a certification as a Registered Health Information Administrator (RHIA) after obtaining her degree.

Other possible certifications include becoming a Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT) or a Certified Tumor Registrar (CTR). After certification is achieved, these professionals must renew their credentials regularly and take continuing education courses to stay up-to-date on all industry-related information.

Advancement

To advance in a career as a Health Information Technician, professionals may pursue more managerial positions, such as becoming a Health Services Manager or Medical Records Director. While some of these managerial positions may only require an additional certification, others (like that of an Informatics Nurse) may require additional education such as a Bachelor’s or Master’s Degree in health information management. Requirements tend to vary based on the employing facility or practice and the intended responsibilities.

“To advance in this career, I would suggest pursuing another, advanced degree,” McNellis advised. “Those who have an associate’s degree should consider gaining a bachelor’s degree, and those with a bachelor’s degree can pursue either a master’s degree or a PhD. The more advanced degrees are mainly for becoming a teacher or Health Educator, but are still something to consider!”

Experience & Skills

To be able to perform most effectively as a Health Information Technologist, professionals should possess strong interpersonal skills. This provides Medical Records Technicians with the ability to communicate with Physicians and other healthcare staff members to thoroughly understand patient symptoms and healthcare histories. These pieces of information are crucial to developing any analysis, diagnosis or treatment plan by other healthcare professionals. Interpersonal skills also help ensure that there are no discrepancies or errors throughout the patient’s existing records. Learn about other careers in Informatics and Health IT.

Furthermore, Medical Records Specialists should have a solid understanding of how to operate and manipulate electronic health records (EHR) and paper records. Working toward fully transitioning to EHRs is crucial to the future success of a facility or practice, and therefore HITs must help fuel this change. These professionals should possess other technical skills including how to code and manipulate classification software.

In utilizing records and software, Health Information Technologists must have profound analytical skills since these skills will help them understand the information presented. These skills also help these Medical Records Technicians to determine how to code a patient’s file accordingly.

“As a Medical Records Specialist, I would say that critical thinking, being well-organized, well-spoken and having strong writing skills are immensely important,” McNellis conveyed. “They should also be able to multitask, be willing to ask questions, show initiative and understand how to search for information and answers when a question arises.”

Personality

As Health Information Technologists deal with some of the most sensitive patient records they must absolute possess the utmost integrity. Most patients do not want their personal health information being shared with others and so professionals dealing with records must fully respect patient confidentiality. This is enforced by law through the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which is why those choosing to pursue a career as a HIT must exercise a strong sense of ethics and discretion.

Second to integrity, Medical Records Technicians should constantly remain organized and detail-oriented. Other healthcare professionals rely heavily on patient records to assess a case, or to review patient histories.Thus, if information is not kept up-to-date and accurate, there is greater risk for medical error through miscommunication or misdiagnosis. The need for absolute accuracy in healthcare means the responsibilities of a Health Information Technician should not be taken lightly.

“Being inquisitive and willing to gain knowledge are two important characteristics of someone deciding to become a Health Records Specialist,” McNellis shared. “They need to want to continually learn to keep up with the ever-changing technology and medicine.”

Lifestyle

Looking for a relatively low stress administrative career in healthcare? A position as a Medical Records Technician may be the perfect fit! Health Information Technologists typically work full-time in office settings, and spend the majority of their workday on the computer and intercepting phone calls. However, there is some variation in career options depending on the employing facility or practice.

For example, if an HIT is employed by a home health company, they may be asked or allowed to work from home. Alternatively, if a Health Information Technologist is employed by a hospital, they may be asked to work nights, evenings or weekend hours.

“This career is similar on a daily basis, but also different each day. Therefore, the role is never dull,” McNellis explained. “In my experience, each day consists of reviewing cases for missing documentation to help with coding the record, entering data into the EMR as necessary, assisting with writing policies and procedures and attendance in some meetings related to specific job duties.”

Employment

Now is an exciting time to enter the healthcare field in a career as a Health Information Technologist! This is because the career is projected to grow 13 percent over the course of the next decade. This rate is faster than the average for all occupations, including other careers in healthcare.

Why is this the case? As the baby boomer generation ages it will require an increased amount of healthcare services. Health Information Technologists are in high demand to help maintain patient data, establish EHRs and file reimbursement claims. The need for employees who understand how to operate digital records technology has also contributed to this rise in employment.

“The overall career outlook for health information technology positions are strong, as there are so many different ventures you can pursue within this field,” McNellis emphasized. “To find employment, I would suggest first entering a facility as a volunteer or in an entry-level position. Demonstrate interest and, over time, ask for more responsibilities to show initiative and drive.”

The top employing facilities included state, local and private hospitals, the offices of Physicians and nursing care facilities. States employing the highest number of Health Information Technologists were California, Texas, Florida, Ohio and New York.

Earnings

Entering a career in healthcare can really pay off! The median annual wage for Medical Record Technicians was $38,040. While the lowest 10 percent earned less than $25,070, the highest 10 percent earned more than $62,840.

“Depending on what exactly you are looking to pursue in the health information technology field, this career path can offer strong earning potential,” McNellis noted. “Earning potential may become even better as the Federal Government chooses to reclassify some career classifications.”

When seeking lucrative employment in this field, it is important to know that the top paying facilities hiring HITs are those which offer professional, scientific and technical services or administrative and support services. These include state, locate and private hospitals, nursing care facilities and the offices of Family Physicians. As for regions, the top paying states for this career were New Jersey, Alaska, California, Maryland and Colorado.

Unions, Groups, Social Media, and Associations

The American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) is an organization committed to advancing the health information management profession in an increasingly electronic and global environment. This is accomplished through leadership in advocacy, education, certification, and lifelong learning.

The American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC) is the world’s largest training and credentialing organization for the business of healthcare. Participating members work in medical coding, medical billing, clinical documentation improvement, medical auditing, healthcare compliance, revenue cycle management and practice management.

The Professional Association of Healthcare Coding Specialists (PAHCS) is a communications network and member support system dedicated to enhancing the compliance, documentation, and reimbursement capabilities of healthcare coders.

The National Healthcareer Association (NHA) is a national professional certification agency for healthcare workers in the United States. Granting credentials in more than 8 allied health specialties, it is an organizational member of the National Organization for Competency Assurance (NOCA).

Getting Started

  • Research Health Information Technologist careers and requirements
  • Research educational programs and their specific requirements
  • Determine which schools and certifications are accredited
  • Enroll in an educational program
  • Network with industry professionals and consider finding a mentor

All statistics are provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society.

Medical Records Specialist Gina McNellisMeet the professional: Gina McNellis, MA, RHIA, CTR, CHP

Age: 50
Practice: Himagine Solutions, Inc.
Location: Florida

What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?

“I would suggest gaining as much knowledge in as many places as you can. Then, network with others in the industry in-person or electronically through social media.”

What’s the number one mistake people make when trying to get into this career?

“The number one mistake people make is not taking the career as seriously as they should. Instead they become complacent, and not actively engaging in their career.”

What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?

“Will I be interacting with Physicians both on the nursing unit and health information management department or just in the health information management department?”

Why did you choose to become a Health Information Technologist?

“I wanted to be in healthcare, but not on the front lines as a caregiver. Health information technology gave me the knowledge to help patients, but allowed me to remain in the background where I still can make a difference.”

If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would that be?

“Determination.”

Credentialing organizations: The Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education

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