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Working in hospitals usually brings up visions of physicians, nurses, medical assistants, and patients, of course. But one of the most important jobs in these facilities does not involve patients at all.
If that sounds odd at first, remember that for every hospital, doctor’s office, and medical facility, there must be at least one person responsible for maintaining medical records. This is where health information technicians come in: They handle virtually every facet of medical records.
That means they are responsible for strict accuracy and fail-safe maintenance of medical records. That’s a tall order, and requires a specific skill set and personality.
You might be more familiar with another, longtime name for this occupation: medical records manager. While that title (or that of medical records technician) is still used in some places, due to the nature of this work—especially the technology involved—the name has changed to “health information technician.”
The change makes sense. In the not-too-distant past, medical records were physical files, full of paperwork documenting a patient’s medical history. Today, not surprisingly, while there are still some paper files involved, most medical records are now filed electronically—hence the acronym “EHR,” which stands for “electronic health records.” And electronic health data storage is only to increase in the future.
So, the title “health information technician” is a better description of what this career involves. But, while it is by far the most common title, there are a lot of others you may run into when reading about this career.
They include: coder, health information clerk, health information specialist, medical records analyst, medical records clerk, medical records coordinator, medical records director, medical records technician.
A registered health information technician (RHIT) is a health information technician who has obtained certification from the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA). This certification is highly recommended in the field. We’ll go into detail about that father down.
Generally speaking, health information technicians work directly with medical records, making sure they are in order, accurate, accessible, and secure. This involves learning classification systems to code patient information, and categorizing it for insurance reimbursement payments, and for other related databases or registries. All of this keeps a person’s medical records up to date.
So, as you can see, this is an extremely important role that calls for a strong sense of responsibility, an eye for detail, and the ability to interact effectively with hospital staff—it’s up to you to maintain a tight medical records ship!
However, this role does not involve working directly with patients. It is one of very few medical careers that operates corollary to, but not with, patients. So, if working with patients is important for you, you might consider some related jobs, described later in this guide.
This is a highly detail-oriented role. As a health information technician, you will perform some major duties:
Some health information technicians can specialize as medical coders (aka coding specialists) and as cancer registrars.
Medical coders review patient information for preexisting conditions, so the patient record is coded correctly; assign diagnoses and procedure codes for the patient’s care, population health statistics, and billing; and act as a liaison between medical staff and insurance or billing offices.
Cancer registrars review not just patient records but also pathology reports for accuracy; assign classification codes related to diagnosis and treatment of both cancers and benign tumors; track treatment, survival, and recovery of patients; prepare cancer patient information for researchers; and maintain databases of cancer patients.
A major part of this career involves proficiency with electronic software, so if you aren’t comfortable with this, look elsewhere for your dream job. You’ll need to learn a variety of computer programs dealing with accounting, classification, user interface and query, document management, and medical terminology.
Between 35 and 40 percent of health information technicians work in hospitals—state, local, private, and non-profit. About 20 percent work in physicians’ offices. Between 5 and 9 percent work at nursing care facilities in administrative and support services roles. RHITs also may be employed in any organization that uses patient data or health information such as pharmaceutical companies, law and insurance firms, and health product vendors.
Hours are full time, and you may work various shifts, since medical facilities operate 24-7. No matter where and when you work, you’ll be spending your time in an office looking at a computer screen. With experience, the RHIT credential holds solid potential for advancement to management positions, especially when combined with a bachelor's degree.
According to the AHIMA website, RHIT applicants must meet one of the following eligibility requirements:
Most health information technology schools offer associate degrees, although some also offer bachelor’s degree programs. Health information technology programs can be found at community colleges, junior colleges, and some universities. The programs vary by institution, but applicants should look for an associate-degree curriculum that is based on the competencies outlined by AHIMA so that they can be prepared to seek RHIT certification upon graduation.
There is no on-the-job training for this career. A few healthcare employers will accept someone with a high school diploma or equivalent who also has some kind of experience in a healthcare setting. But given the technology involved in this career, it’s safest to pursue postsecondary education.
Subjects you can expect to study while earning that associate degree include medical terminology, anatomy and physiology, communication, health data requirements and standards, coding systems, classification systems, healthcare reimbursement methods, healthcare statistics, and a variety of computer systems.
Are you the one in your house who always keeps things in order? The person who dates the family photographs or keeps the bills—from forever ago until today—filed away in a drawer or on a spreadsheet? The person who needs more order than the rest of us, and who loves following rules and procedures? The one who always remembers where you parked at the mall?
That person could be a candidate for a career as a health information technician. Some personality traits best suited to this career include:
Yes, you will more than likely get a job in this field. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), This occupation is projected to grow 13 percent between 2016 and 2026. That is faster than the average for all occupations. As is true for so many occupations today, an aging population will require a steady supply of health information technicians.
The BLS also reports that the median annual wage for this career was between $39,180 and $43,590 in 2017, so half of those in this job make more, and half make less. The lowest reported salary was $25,810; the highest was $64,610. Not surprisingly, health information technicians make the highest salaries in hospitals, as opposed to skilled nursing facilities and physicians’ offices.
Top Paying Industries
|Computer Systems Design and Related Services||$58,940|
|Other Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services||$55,650|
|Pharmaceutical and Medicine Manufacturing||$55,440|
|Scientific Research and Development Services||$54,190|
Highest Paying States
|District of Columbia||$50,070|
Information clerk: They perform routine clerical duties such as maintaining records, collecting data, and helping customers obtain information.
Medical and health service manager: This role is also called healthcare executive or healthcare administrator. It involves a variety of jobs that require planning, directing, and coordinating medical and health services. This could be a healthcare facility of some kind, a clinical department, or a group of physicians. In all cases, they make sure the institution they serve conforms to changes in healthcare laws, regulations, and technology.
Medical assistant: This involves completing administrative and clinical tasks in various healthcare settings such as hospitals, nursing homes, and physicians’ offices.
Pharmacy technicians: They help pharmacists dispense prescription medication to customers or health professionals. Read our interview with pharmacy tech Jenna Bald for a real-life look at the career.