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Health Information Management

If you have a strong understanding of technology and want to impact the future of healthcare, health information management (HIM) may be right for you. Current and future health information management professionals must be lifelong learners and excited to be at the forefront of change, especially because the applications of technology in healthcare are rapidly changing and expanding.

What Is Health Information Management?

The American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA)’s definition of health information management is “the practice of acquiring, analyzing, and protecting digital and traditional medical information vital to providing quality patient care. It is a combination of business, science, and information technology.”

Health Information Management vs. Health Informatics

Health information managers and their teams focus on the digitization of patient records, billing information, and all other medically relevant data. Unlike health informatics, which focuses more on the design of health data systems and its practical usage by health providers, health information managers do the hands-on work that makes the medical data available and reliable. While health informatics professionals ensure that medical information is made available to various stakeholders in a healthcare setting, the information team enters and verifies the data beforehand. Informatics and information managers may collaborate or work independently, depending on the organization they work for.

Why Is Health Information Technology Important?

Health information technology (HIT) allows information to be transmitted more efficiently and affordably. Medical data and records can be shared not just between patients and doctors, but throughout the medical community at large—from policymakers to other practitioners— by using emerging application and software systems. This process increases the quality of patient care because there is less time wasted during physician review, thanks not just to easy access to their own patients’ records but also to shared data between entities such as different healthcare provider systems. There are also fewer chances of information being incorrect due to data checks in the system.

What Does a Health Information Manager Do?

Health information managers perform troubleshooting, assist medical staff in understanding health information programs, standardize medical codes—such as shorthand for certain disorders—used within their facilities, and serve as the final line of defense against inaccuracies or issues with security. They also ensure various aspects of their business affected by health information technology are working efficiently and cohesively. These duties mean HIMs communicate with medical staff and perform and oversee administrative responsibilities.

Health information managers often manage a team of specialists who perform the painstaking tasks of ensuring the accuracy and readability of information. Vicki Dunn, Director of Health Information Management at Mary Greeley Medical Center, explains that these tasks can include entering paper records into software systems, double-checking the accuracy and readability of doctor’s notes or transcription of verbal records, and ensuring medical codes are correct, among other tasks. The manager must make sure everyone is knowledgeable about the programs, uses codes correctly, only has access to information at their clearance level, and respects patient privacy. They also assist with troubleshooting as needed.

Examples of specific job titles that fall under the health information management umbrella include:

  • Medical Records Manager
  • Patient Information Coordinator
  • Billing Coder
  • Medical Biller
  • Privacy or Compliance Officer
  • Data Quality Manager
  • Health Information Management Director

Health Information Manager Salary and Job Outlook

Health information careers can fall into a variety of categories, from medical records and health information technicians to high-level executives. Below are the salaries and anticipated job growth of a few of the categories that may include health information manager jobs.

Career 2019 Mean Salary Projected Job Growth
Administrative Services Manager $96,940 7%
Computer and Information Systems Managers $146,360 11%
Medical and Health Services Managers $100,980 18%
Medical Records and Health Information Technicians $40,350 11%

All data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2020). Projected job growth is for 2018 – 2028.

How to Become a Health Information Manager

To become a health information manager, you need to earn the appropriate education. There are relevant programs for students pursuing associate through doctoral degrees. For everything but doctoral programs, you should verify that your program is accredited. The programmatic accreditor for this field is the Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education (CAHIIM).

Associate Degrees in Health Information

An associate degree in health information allows you to work in a variety of related entry-level positions, including health data analyst, medical paralegal, or records technician. Associate degrees take an average of two years of full-time study, and you can immediately enter the workforce or potentially transfer credits to a four-year institution—saving you money in the long run. Specialized courses may include:

  • Health information systems
  • Healthcare statistics
  • Law and ethics in health information technology

Bachelor’s Degrees in Health Information

The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that most people with entry-level positions in this field have a bachelor’s degree. Many bachelor’s graduates start in a job like data analysis or medical coding, but they can move into management positions after gaining work experience. Many earn their bachelor’s degrees in public health, healthcare administration, healthcare management, or health services, but there are also bachelor’s degrees in health information. The degree typically takes four years of full-time study and may be completed online. Health information bachelor’s degree courses may include:

  • Coding (i.e., classifying medical records by diagnoses or procedures)
  • Data analysis
  • Healthcare law and ethics
  • Healthcare security
  • Statistics

Certificates in Health Information Management

Health information management certificates are placed frequently at the post-baccalaureate level, meaning you need to have a bachelor’s degree before pursuing one. These are great for those who earned a degree in a relevant field, but without a health information focus. These can take around one year to complete and are generally offered online.

There are two national certifications typically required for health information managers:

Registered Health Information Administrator (RHIA) Certification
For this certification, you must have completed a bachelor’s, master’s, or certificate program in health information program through a CAHIIM-accredited program before sitting for the exam.

Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT) Certification
For examination eligibility, you must have completed an associate degree in a school accredited by CAHIIM.

ZipRecruiter explains that RHIT certification is appropriate for those who will work in technical positions, while RHIA is for those who want to focus on bigger-picture issues and work in management.

Master’s Degrees in Health Information

Moving beyond entry-level positions and into health information management positions is easier to do with a master’s degree. Typical degrees include a Master of Science in health information or Master of Health Information. The programs often take about two years to complete and involve a master’s thesis or capstone project. You may take classes such as:

  • Advanced healthcare law and ethics
  • Health information research and development
  • Healthcare financial management
  • Leadership
  • Project management

Doctorate in Health Information Management

Few or no doctorate degrees specifically for HIM are offered in the U.S., but this may change. A 2017 survey published by the journal Perspectives in Health Information Management indicated that nearly half of responding members of the American Health Inofrmation Management Association were interested in a doctorate degree in this field—either a practical Doctorate of Health Information Management (DHIM) or a research-focused Ph.D. in Health Information Management.

In the meantime, those who are interested in advancing their careers or study in health information management—or teaching new entrants into the field—with doctoral-level study will need to apply to a doctoratal program in a related field. Examples of such fields include health administration, health informatics, information technology, or even education (for those who want to teach health information management) and general management.

Doctoral programs typically take an average of four to six years to complete, include a dissertation, and coursework will vary based on the focus and institution.

Health Information Management Resources

  • American Health Information Management Association: AHIMA envisions “a world where trusted information transforms health and healthcare by connecting people, systems, and ideas.” It offers training, conferences, and provides RHIA and RHIT certifications. They offer career assistance to student members, including mentorship opportunities.
  • Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS): This international organization has over 80,000 members. They focus on public policy and advocacy, advancing practices in health informatics and information, and helping improve the technology used in healthcare. Members have access to resources that keep them up to date on the field, discounts on events and materials, and networking opportunities.
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