How Do I Become a Health Information Manager?

Health information management (HIM) is a relatively new occupation and combines knowledge of business, information technology and science. It exists to help protect patient records, particularly in a day and age when that information is at risk of external or internal hacks, but also due to regulations established as part of HIPPA and the rise of electronic health records.

The fact is that this information needs to be protected, but it also needs to be acquired and be accurate and complete. Health information managers and their more senior colleagues, health information directors, take on this role, too: they are knowledgeable about the various computer and IT applications that ensure data accuracy and completion, and they may even design, upgrade or modify the systems used by a particular health care facility or organization. However, their skills will not keep them tied to one position or type of work setting. They may find unique health information management opportunities in a variety of areas: coding, compliance, patient admissions, tumor registries, and risk management to name a few, reports the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA).

Skills and Traits of the Successful Health Information Manager

As the career name might suggest, it can be helpful for a health information manager to be interested in healthcare services, business operations, and technology. A list of skills that could be helpful to the successful health information manager or director include:

  • Communication: Because a health information manager can be a conduit between many different people, different departments and of different types of information, they should be skillful talking to people and providing information through various methods, including email, face-to-face, presentations, and more.
  • Health knowledge: Portland Community College suggests that employees should be knowledgeable in ICD 9 and 10 (the International Classification of Diseases, which is important to coding), as well as understand medical terminology, diagnostic methods, processes for disease and injuries, and more. Having CRP and First Aid training also may be an asset.
  • Technical know-how: There are numerous applications that will be important to the job, but HIM employees may want to be proficient in MS Excel or other spreadsheet applications and could benefit by understanding medical transcription.
  • Attention to detail: Details comprise the world of the 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 Role Requirements and Responsibilities

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The responsibilities of a health information manager or director can vary by qualification, experience, and workplace. First, it’s important to understand that they play a bridge type of role. That means they help link communication and processes between different departments and people. These might include clinicians, patients, physicians, and consumers as well as various technology personnel, according to the Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management (CAHIIM).

The American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) adds to this description by saying HIM personnel help to connect functions between administration, clinical and operations. Think of them as having an umbrella role. AHIMA also states: “Health information professionals care for patients by caring for their medical data.”

As part of the job, they 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 in information technology, according to the AHIMA, and provide support for EHRs and 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, including: applied informatics; medical/bio informatics; nursing informatics (usually a field attractive to nurses, since nursing informatics specialists must typically first become registered nurses); and public health informatics.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Health Information Manager?

The path into HIM is pretty straightforward, although there can be variations dependent upon whether you are coming right into the field or changing or re-focusing your career. Below is a look at a timeline – and various details – based on the assumption you are starting with undergraduate education.

STEP ONE: FOUR YEARS

Complete a Bachelor’s Degree: This process typically takes four years, but could be longer if you enroll part-time or take any time off from school. Students usually enroll in a Bachelor of Science in Health Information Management degree. Some associate degrees also are available, usually taking about two years, and may be helpful in later fast-tracking a four-year degree. However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that a bachelor’s degree is usually the entry level degree required for those seeking careers in medical and health services management. In a four-year program students could take classes such as:

  • Automation of Health Information
  • Human Resources in Healthcare
  • Quality Assurance and Statistics
  • Project Management in Health Information Management

Students may want to ensure that the program they choose is accredited by CAHIIM. A searchable database of CAHIIM programs can be found here. Depending on the program, too, they may need to complete research projects, a capstone project or even a practicum. Some of these courses or full degree programs may also be available online.

STEP TWO: LESS THAN A YEAR

Obtain certification: The next step in developing an HIM career is to obtain certification, although this is not required. There are numerous reasons for doing this, according to AHIMA, such as: improved earning potential, opportunities for career advancement, greater chances for mobility, and others. AHIMA also reports that its certifications represent a “high level of achievement” and “proficiency and a broad base of knowledge.” Two types of HIM certifications available through AHIMA include:

  • Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT): Applicants must have an associate degree and graduate from an accredited program. Those certified as RHITs understand coding, how to make EHRs complete, and are able to use computer applications to compile and access data. Some RHITs may choose to enter 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 in the field and an accredited program. Those with RHIA certification usually have a deep understanding of medical records and patient health information, and may interact with those in administration, clinical, financial and even information systems.

The process to 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 score. Results also will be sent to AHIMA, and newly certified professionals will be listed on the website at secure.ahima.org/certification/newly_credentialed.aspx.

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 in a healthcare setting or a master’s degree, plus at least three years of information and management systems experience, including two in healthcare. Like certification through AHIMA, there also is an examination with HISMSS, offered through Applied Management Professionals (AMP), which requires a fee and other steps. (The fee may be reversed for those who are eligible veterans).

STEP THREE: AS SOON AS CAN BE

The Job Search: No one know how long it make take you to find a job, but the BLS reports that medical and health services manager jobs should grow by 17 percent, faster than average, from 2014 to 2024. AHIMA has several tips that can be applicable to your job search. That includes networking with those you know – AHIMS reports that 70 to 80 percent of jobs are obtained this way. Joining a professional organization also can be important. Not only do you meet more people this way, but you learn more about the industry and have opportunities to attend the meetings of local chapters. And don’t just look on regular job boards, either. Industry-specific job boards may have jobs more designed to meet your skills and may help you to identify and find job postings that may not be listed on regular job search sites.

Different Paths: Other Ways to Become a Health Information Manager

A master’s degree can be another way to enter the field, particularly if you have a bachelor’s degree in a related field or have experience in healthcare. However, not all master’s degrees in HIM require a background in the field. You may find many more degrees at the master’s level offered online, and even some that combine various aspects of the field, such as health information management and health informatics. Classes in a master’s level HIM degree program could include:

  • Healthcare Data Analytics
  • Reimbursement Methodologies in Healthcare
  • Legal Issues in Health Information Technology and Systems
  • IT Management Ethics

 As well, a final project or graduate seminar may be part of a master’s level degree. Of final note, master’s level certificates, some online, as well doctoral degrees, also are available to those who want graduate level education, but don’t want to commit to a full degree, or for those who want to continue on in their education to the highest-level degree. Doctoral degrees in the field may be tied in to research.

HealthInformatics@GW - The George Washington University
Online Master's - Health Informatics
University of Illinois at Chicago
Online MS in Health Informatics
Post-Master's Certificate - Health Informatics
University of South Florida Online
MS - Health Informatics
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