Steps to Becoming a Health Information Manager - Education & Certification

Health information management (HIM) careers bring together knowledge of business, information technology, and science. The HIM profession exists to help protect patient records, particularly in a day and age when that information is at risk of external or internal hacks.

Due to regulations established as part of HIPAA and the implementation of electronic health records, HIM has become a high-growth career in the past 20 years. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2019) predicts that medical and health services manager jobs will grow by 18 percent between 2018 and 2028, which is much faster than the national average for all occupations. This translates to 71,600 new medical and health services manager positions, which currently earn a median annual salary of $100,980.

So what do health information managers (HIMs) do? Along with their more senior colleagues (e.g., health information directors), HIMs use various computer and IT applications to ensure data accuracy. HIMs may design, upgrade, or modify the systems used by a particular healthcare facility or organization. Above all, health information managers see to it that electronic health records are protected, accurate, and complete to be in compliance with federal and state regulations.

However, their skills will not keep them tied to one position or type of work setting. According to the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA), the leading certification and professional organization for HIMs, professionals can find unique health information management opportunities in a variety of skills areas: coding, compliance, patient admissions, tumor registries, and risk management. The BLS reports that while most HIMs work in hospitals, others are employed in physician’s offices, nursing and residential care facilities, and government and outpatient care centers.

To ensure educational quality and be eligible for professional certification, aspiring HIMs are advised to attend educational programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education (CAHIIM). Attending a CAHIIM-accredited program ensures students and future employers that an HIM program curriculum meets high peer-reviewed standards for program quality and instruction. CAHIIM programs are available on-campus and online certificate and degree programs.

What’s more, to be eligible for the professional HIM certification exams offered by the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA), students must complete a CAHIIM-accredited program. Having HIM certification can mean higher earning potential, opportunities for career advancement, and greater chances for career mobility.

To find out more about how to become a health information manager, read on to learn about the educational pathways, skills, and responsibilities required for HIM careers.

Step-by-Step Guide to Becoming a Health Information Manager

The pathway to becoming a health information manager includes a variety of options, ranging from college graduates fresh from an HIM degree program to experienced clinical providers who want to pivot into healthcare management. Here’s a step-by-step guide to becoming a health information manager.

Step One: Complete a CAHIIM-Accredited Associate’s Degree or Certificate Program (One to Two Years)

While most health information management careers require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree, it’s worth mentioning that CAHIIM also accredits associate’s degree and certificate programs.

Examples of these two programs can be found at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah which offers an associate of applied science degree in health information technology as well as a four-semester healthcare coding certificate. Both programs are accredited by CAHIIM, are available online, and do not require any previous college or professional experience to be eligible for admission.

The two-year associate’s degree prepares students for the RHIT certification exam offered by AHIMA (see below for more information) and the certificate program prepares graduates for a Certified Coding Specialist (CCS) credential through AHIMA. Having these credentials can distinguish students as having met core competencies in healthcare information, which can give job-seekers a competitive edge.

Step Two: Complete a CAHIIM-Accredited Bachelor’s Degree (Two to Four Years)

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a bachelor’s degree in health information management is a minimal entry-level requirement for medical and health services managers. Full-time students can complete a bachelor’s degree in health information management in four years or longer if attending part-time. Those who have completed an associate degree in a related field generally only require two additional years of full-time study.

Common courses in a four-year HIM program may include:

  • Health services management
  • Accounting and budgeting
  • Human resources administration
  • Health information management

An example bachelor’s program is the health information management bachelor of science (BS) degree offered by Indiana University’s School of Informatics and Computing in Indianapolis, Indiana. Students in this CAHIIM-accredited program learn how to lead healthcare organizations through complex business dilemmas and emphasize the security of electronic health records (EHRs).

Step Three: Earn AHIMA Certification (Less Than One Year)

Although it is not required for all positions, the next step in preparing for an HIM career is to obtain certification. Two types of HIM certifications available through AHIMA include:

  • Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT): Applicants must have an associate degree from a CAHIIM-accredited program. Those certified as RHITs understand coding, electronic health records (EHRs), and computer applications to compile and access data. An example RHIT career could be a career related to cancer registries.
  • Registered Health Information Administrator (RHIA): This certification is available to those who have completed a bachelor’s or master’s degree from a CAHIIM-accredited program. Those with RHIA certification usually have a deep understanding of medical records and patient health information and may choose careers in healthcare administration, clinical, financial, and even information systems.

The process of obtaining these certifications involves submitting an application with AHIMA, and applying for examination through PearsonVUE, which has centers available across the U.S. At the testing site, applicants need to have two valid forms of identification. After the test, applicants can report to staff to find out their test scores. Results also will be sent to AHIMA, and newly certified professionals are listed on their website.

The Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HISMSS) also offers certification. This includes CPHIMS certification, which requires a bachelor’s degree in the field, plus five years of experience, including at least three years in a healthcare setting. Alternatively, candidates with a master’s degree must have at least three years of information and management systems experience, two years of which must be in healthcare.

As with certification through AHIMA, there also is an examination with HISMSS, offered through Applied Management Professionals (AMP), which requires a fee and other steps. HISMSS offers exam fee reimbursement for eligible military veterans.

Step Four: Gain Professional Experience (Timeline Varies)

In order to prepare for management positions, most employers require previous administrative or clinical work experience in a healthcare setting. Professionals who enter HIM careers with previous experience as registered nurses, medical health technicians, or administrative assistants may be able to enter management positions after completing a CAHIIM-accredited program and earning AHIMA certification.

To find opportunities, job seekers are encouraged to join a professional organization such as AHIMA, which offers career fairs and networking opportunities to its members in addition to job postings.

Step Five: Earn a Master’s Degree (Optional, Two to Three Years)

Some employers prefer candidates with master’s degrees, which is an ideal option for those who have a bachelor’s degree in a related field or previous experience in healthcare. Some degrees at the master’s level are offered online and combine various aspects of the field, such as health information management and health informatics. Classes in a master’s level HIM degree program include:

  • Healthcare data analytics
  • Reimbursement methodologies in healthcare
  • Legal issues in health information technology and systems
  • IT management ethics

An example of a CAHIIM-accredited master’s degree program in health informatics and information management (MSHIIM) is offered by Dakota State University in Madison, South Dakota. Students in this program can opt to pursue this degree program on-campus or online and are prepared with theoretical and practical knowledge of healthcare information technology. A final research final project and a comprehensive exam are required to fulfill the requirements for this master’s degree program.

Skills and Traits of the Successful Health Information Manager

As the career title suggests, health information managers are skilled in management in the fields of healthcare services, business operations, and technology. Due to the highly-communicative nature of this profession, successful health information manager should possess the following skills or traits:

  • Communication: Because a health information manager can be a conduit between many different people, different departments, and different types of information, they should be skilled in talking to people and providing information through various methods, including email, face-to-face, presentations, and more.
  • Health knowledge: Health information managers should be familiar with the International Classification of Diseases (ICD), knowledge which is critical in medical coding, as well as understand medical terminology, diagnostic methods, processes for disease and injuries, and more. Having CPR and basic first aid training is also an asset.
  • Technical skills: There are numerous applications that will be important to the job, but HIM employees should be proficient in Microsoft Excel or other spreadsheet programs and have some understanding of medical transcription and coding.
  • Attention to detail: Details comprise the world of a health information manager or director, whether that means knowing how to comply with certain policies or understanding how something needs to be coded within a specific program.

Health Information Management Requirements and Responsibilities

The responsibilities of a health information manager vary by qualification, experience, and workplace.

First, it’s important to understand that HIMs play a bridge role, which means they link communication and processes between different departments and people. Examples of these types of personnel include clinicians, patients, physicians, and consumers, as well as various technology personnel, according to CAHIIM.

AHIMA adds to this description by saying HIM personnel help to connect functions between administration, clinical, and operations among other general umbrella-type responsibilities, and also list electronic health records (EHRs) management as an essential job skill.

To specialize, HIMs could become involved in health information technology (HIT) or health informatics, both of which are described in greater detail below:

  • Health information technology: Managers involved in this aspect of HIM look at the technical, infrastructure, and framework side of managing health information. They may have backgrounds that are more focused on information technology, according to the AHIMA, and provide support for EHRs, as well as EHR programs.
  • Health informatics: Employees in this field look at the quality and quantity of data and the ways that it can be used, whether for extracting key points about care and services or figuring out how to use it to improve healthcare delivery. AHIMA reports there are four major research areas in health informatics: applied informatics; medical/bioinformatics; nursing informatics; and public health informatics.
Rachel Drummond
Rachel Drummond Writer

Rachel Drummond is a freelance writer, educator, and yogini from Oregon. She’s taught English to international university students in the United States and Japan for more than a decade and has a master’s degree in education from the University of Oregon. A dedicated Ashtanga yoga practitioner, Rachel is interested in exploring the nuanced philosophical aspects of contemplative physical practices and how they apply in daily life. She writes about this topic among others on her blog (Instagram: @racheldrummondyoga).