From HIM Manager to Director: How to Advance Your HIM Career

You’ve earned your bachelor’s degree in health information management (HIM), obtained several HIM credentials (e.g., RHIT, RHIA, and CCS), gained some experience working in a healthcare setting, and landed a job as an HIM manager. You may even be earning approximately $51,383 annually—the median salary for those working in this position (Payscale Feb. 2017).

So what comes next? Are you interested in continuing your career growth, ascending the ladder into a more challenging and lucrative position? If so, the good news is that you have a variety of pathways from which to choose. This article identifies three directorial positions to which HIM managers can aspire, offering an overview of the expected job duties and salary prospects, as well as some general tips about HIM career advancement.

Director of Coding

  • Job duties: These professionals oversee coding quality and data integrity; ensure that documentation and coding practices meet national coding and compliance guidelines; provide coder and physician education on proper documentation procedures; and oversee all coding and documentation audits. They must have a working knowledge of the “International Classification of Diseases Manual” (among other manuals) and serve as liaisons between clinical and administrative professionals in healthcare facilities.
  • Who is a good fit: Former HIM directors with an unwavering attention to detail and an ability to enforce compliance among a diverse group of healthcare professionals are the most likely to succeed in this role. They must be excellent communicators with an ability to ensure smooth relations between health information teams and physicians.
  • Earning potential: Payscale (Feb. 2017)—a site which relies on self-reported salary data—found the following salary percentiles among 44 responding directors of coding:
    • 10th percentile: $64,000
    • 25th percentile: $75,000
    • 50th percentile (median): $102,208
    • 75th percentile: $120,000
    • 90th percentile: $130,000

Director of HIM

  • Job duties: These professionals manage all HIM operations; develop revenue cycle policies and procedures; and initiate workflow improvements and standardization. They oversee multiple departments while ensuring compliance with all local and federal regulations; monitoring performance relative to competitors; creating and maintaining patient data records systems; contributing to budget development; and keeping up-to-date on various regulatory codes such as HIPAA and the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO).
  • Who is a good fit: Director of HIM opportunities may be open to HIM managers with three to five years of experience in medical coding or records, particularly those with an advanced knowledge of compliance standards, coding systems, transcription, release of information statutes, privacy and security rules, information governance procedures, and patient education.
  • Earning potential: According to an analysis of 422 HIM director respondents, Payscale (2017) found the following salary percentiles:
    • 10th percentile: $41,000
    • 25th percentile: $51,000
    • 50th percentile (median): $69,975
    • 75th percentile: $87,000
    • 90th percentile: $110,000

Interestingly, Salary.com (2017) found substantially higher salary percentiles for medical records directors, a closely related profession:

  • 10th percentile: $85,505
  • 25th percentile: $99,305
  • 50th percentile (median): $114,462
  • 75th percentile: $131,340
  • 90th percentile: $146,706

Please note that experienced directors of HIM may be promoted into roles such as chief learning officer or chief compliance officer where they may have the potential to earn even more money.

Director of Risk Management

  • Job duties: These healthcare professionals analyze risk management data and trends to identify opportunities for performance improvement; develop and direct all utilization management programs; provide staff education about risk management regulations and standards; coordinate incident reporting; implement policies and procedures for concurrent and retrospective case review; and develop best practice clinical protocols. They must be experts in regulations, standards, and patient rights with the ability to analyze large amounts of information on the use of medical services and resources. They may also be called directors of utilization management, risk analytics, or performance improvement.
  • Who is a good fit: The best candidates for these positions are HIM managers with at least a bachelor’s degree in a clinical or allied health field, as well as credentials such as certified coding specialist (CCS), CCS-P, or certified professional in healthcare quality (CPHQ). Additionally, risk management director openings typically call for at least three years of relevant work experience in risk analysis and HIM, ideally 5-10 years total in a healthcare setting.
  • Earning potential: According to an analysis of 144 risk management director respondents, Payscale (2017) found the following salary percentiles. Please note that these included directors across varied industries and weren’t limited to those employed in healthcare:
    • 10th percentile: $72,000
    • 25th percentile: $91,000
    • 50th percentile (median): $114,503
    • 75th percentile: $140,000
    • 90th percentile: $160,000

Salary.com (2017) found slightly higher salary percentiles for risk management directors:

  • 10th percentile: $94,578
  • 25th percentile: $109,806
  • 50th percentile (median): $126,532
  • 75th percentile: $146,036
  • 90th percentile: $163,794

Tips for Moving up the Career Ladder

Consider these seven tips to advance your career from HIM management into one of the more advanced positions listed above:

1. Gain the necessary experience. Most director-level HIM positions require at least 5-7 years of experience. Throughout the first few years of your career, gain as much experience as possible. This may mean working in a variety of settings and specialty areas of HIM. A crosscutting skillset is a big advantage when vying for director-level positions since a multivariate background informs the coordination of diverse departments.

2. Consider going back to school. Some HIM managers ultimately decide to pursue a master’s degree in HIM, data science, or a variety of other disciplines. Some go on to obtain a PhD in informatics, biostatistics, bioinformatics, or bioengineering. A master’s degree or PhD help you stand out among other professionals, and these degrees indicate a dedication to lifelong learning and leadership abilities. To this end, there is a wealth of convenient online health informatics programs at various levels, many of which can be completed while keeping one’s job.

3. Seek on-the-job training. Even if you don’t have the experience necessary to move into a more advanced position, ask someone who is already in that role whether you can shadow him or her. HIM professionals who have made it to the top of the career ladder often enjoy serving as mentors to others who are trying to simply gain experience. For example, can you attend select meetings with this mentor? Assist with research or reports? Co-present any educational sessions internally, at annual conferences, or during vendor-sponsored webinars?

4. Hone your project management skills. Project management skills are a must-have regardless of what position you ultimately pursue. These are especially valuable at the director-level because HIM professionals in these roles must be able to obtain stakeholder buy-in, develop budgets and project schedules, define roles and responsibilities, track progress, and confirm whether deliverables are met.

5. Volunteer to take on an initiative. Sometimes taking on more responsibility in your current role can help pave a path to your desired position. What challenges does your facility face, and how might you be able to help? For example, do physicians struggle with documentation for certain diagnoses or procedures? If so, can you send email reminders or post quick tips in clinical areas to let physicians and executive staff members know about your areas of expertise?

6. Obtain another HIM credential. Pursuing additional HIM certifications speaks volumes about one’s competence and self-starting motivation. Online programs may be especially attractive to working professionals who want to keep working while advancing their credentials and abilities.

7. Consider relocation. Even if you’re not ready (or qualified) for an upward career move, many HIM managers find that they’re able to make more money working for a larger facility in an urban area.

Above all, being curious and driven while committing to lifelong learning may help you achieve your professional goals. After all, in the dynamic HIM field, the ever-changing codes, regulations, and standards in healthcare call for a continued dedication to maintaining current professional knowledge.

Editor’s note: To learn more about career paths in HIM, view AHIMA’s career map as well as AHIMA’s career and student center.

Lisa A. Eramo
Lisa A. Eramo Writer

Lisa A. Eramo, BA, MA is a full-time freelance healthcare writer specializing in health information management, medical coding, and regulatory topics. She regularly contributes to various healthcare publications and assists clients with healthcare content development, including blogs, articles, white papers, case studies, and more. Visit her website at www.lisaeramo.com.