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Health Information Technology Education, Schools, and Career Overview

Health information technology covers a wide range of careers within the fields of medical records keeping, medical coding and information technology within a hospital or physician's office setting. Health information technology workers play a critical role linking patients' medical records and histories with insurance companies. They review and examine medical records to ensure they are completely and accurately filled out and use classification software to assign codes to medical procedures provided to patients for billing purposes. Most work "behind-the-scenes" in medical facilities, but they do interact regularly with registered nurses and other medical staff to compile and record patient data.

Opportunities exist for both specialists and generalists, in the public and private sector, and in a large variety of clinical settings. Health information technology educational programs provide students with the skills needed to work as technicians and coders, which eventually may lead to careers working in more technical positions such as health or nursing informatics, cancer registrar or health care information technology.

As use of the electronic health record becomes wider spread and health care organization respond to initiatives and incentives to use them, the responsibility of the HIT professional could expand to include management of software, data handling and security, and informational analysis. The ability to use health information to follow trends, disease prevention and outcomes analysis improves the effectiveness of clinical service delivery, and the management of this information is being delegated to those who have the best understanding of data handling and medical information -- the health information technology professional.

Health Information Technology Specializations

The majority of employees working in health information technology are employed as either health information technicians or medical coders.

  • Medical coders: Using classification systems software, medical coders assign codes to medical diagnoses and procedures, which are used by insurance companies to determine financial reimbursement. Learn how to become a medical coder
  • Health information technicians: Health information technicians use electronic health recording software to manage and organize a wide variety of health information data that's analyzed to improve health care delivery practices and health care information. Technicians strive to ensure complete accuracy and total security with sensitive patient data, and those with higher levels of competency oftentimes work to improve medical recording software and health information networks, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports.

For more in-depth coverage of management specializations, read about health information managers and informatics.

Educational Requirements for Health Information Technology

Health information technology educational programs provide students with the skills needed to work as technicians and coders, which eventually may lead to careers working in more technical positions such as health or nursing informatics, cancer registrar or health care information technology. Programs routinely focus on the following courses:

  • Medical terminology
  • Introduction to health information technology
  • Computer applications and software
  • Human anatomy and physiology
  • Legal and ethical concerns of sharing health information
  • Medical coding
  • Health care statistics and reporting

Coursework introduces the various medical and anatomical terminology students can expect to encounter on a daily basis, as well as classifications of medications and the many abbreviations and acronyms used in medical terminology. Students also can expect to learn about the history and organizational structure of U.S. health care systems and new directions and initiatives in health care, such as electronic health records. Students who graduate from accredited health information and technology degree programs can expect to have a solid understanding of their ethical, legal and regulatory obligations in regards to tracking and recording sensitive patient data, as well as a strong foundation in insurance reimbursement and payment methods.

Health information technology degree programs

Students interested in health information technology careers typically must complete a certificate- or diploma-based program from an accredited vocational or technical school or an associate-level degree program from an accredited community college, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports.

  • Certificate and diploma programs typically last from six months to one year and are either campus-based, online or a hybrid of both.
  • Upon completion of an educational program accredited through the Commission on Certification for Health Informatics and Information Management, students can apply for licensing in the field through the one of several different organizations.
  • Programs offered at the community college level typically culminate in an associate of applied science degree in health information technology.
  • Associate's level programs usually take four full semesters to complete and can be either campus-based, online or a blend of both.

Students who wish to further their education -- often a prerequisite for more technical jobs within the field of health information technology -- can advance their careers by completing a bachelor's degree program in technical or health information management.

Health information technology certification

According to the BLS, most employers prefer to hire workers who have obtained professional certifications in their particular field of allied health. One of the most widely recognized certifications is the Registered Health Information Administrator and Registered Health Information Technician, both of which are administered by the American Health Information Management Association. Other important certifications include Certified Coding Associate, Certified Coding Specialist and Certified Coding Specialist-Physician based. There are a number of specialty coding certifications as well for different segments of the healthcare industry.

For instance, the Registered Health Information Administrator certification provided by the American Health Information Management Association demonstrates to employers that key employees are experts in the field of health information and medical recording, computer information systems, and methods of collecting and analyzing patient data. The certification also ensures that administrators have comprehensive knowledge of ancillary health care functions, such as their employers' ethical and legal obligations to patients, health care delivery standards and patient privacy.

The Registered Health Information Technician certification is for health information technology professionals who most often spend their workdays gathering and analyzing patient data and using computers to compile and sift through that data. It also shows they possess comprehensive knowledge of medical coding diagnoses and data recording practices. Certification can allow talented health information technicians to move ahead in the field and into management positions, especially if they possess a bachelor's degree in a relevant field, the AHIMA reports.

Career advancement for health information workers

Health information technicians who are certified either with a Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT) or Certified Tumor Registrar (CTR) may be those best able to find job opportunities as well as have potential for advancement, reports the BLS. Also those who are knowledgeable about electronic healthcare records (EHRs), including who can access them and how to use them, may find their skills in high demand.

Employment opportunities also exist in a wider array of settings than ever before, and larger research organizations, pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies and government agencies may seek individuals with the necessary qualifications for health information management. The BLS also reports that health information technicians can advance to other fields if they invest in more education and certification. This includes the career of a medical or health services manager, which typically requires a bachelor's or master's degree, according to the BLS.

Health Information Technology Salary and Career Outlook

As with many healthcare jobs, job growth might be growth is expected to come mainly from waves of aging baby boomers seeking more medical services and treatments. The widespread use of electronic health records by more and more healthcare providers might also help create new positions in the field. Here’s a snapshot of data to show job growth outlook in the field:

CareerTotal EmploymentProjected Job Growth Rate
Medical Records and Health Information Technicians204,22013.5%
Source: 2016 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2016-26 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov.

Salaries for health information technology workers can vary based on a number of factors, including their specializations, the place where they work, time on the job and whether they have obtained certification or a degree. You can get an idea of salary possibilities for health information workers in the table below:

CareerAnnual Mean WageBottom 10% Annual WageTop 10% Annual Wage
Medical Records and Health Information Technicians$42,820$25,810$64,610
Source: 2016 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2016-26 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov.

Sources:

  • Careers in Health Information, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, www.hrsa.gov/healthit/workforce/careers.html
  • Health Information Technology, Regents Online Campus Collaborative, www.rodp.org/degree-programs-courses/associates/health-information-technology
  • Medical Records and Health Information Technicians, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/medical-records-and-health-information-technicians.htm
  • Medical Records and Health Information Technicians, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Statistics, www.bls.gov/oes/CURRENT/oes292071.htm
  • Certifications, American Health Information Management Association, www.ahima.org/certification#
  • Planning Your Education, American Health Information Management Association, www.ahima.org/careers/plan?tabid=cert
  • Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Program Basics, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, no date. http://www.cms.gov/Regulations-and-Guidance/Legislation/EHRIncentivePrograms/Basics.html

Health Information Technology Schools