How to Become an RHIA (Registered Health Information Administrator)

In today’s information age, more patients are asking: “How are my electronic health records being used?” At the turn of the 21st century, substantive changes in healthcare policies were ushered in with the implementation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the industry-wide transition from paper-based records to electronic health records (EHRs).

In addition to being stored for patient and provider reference, electronic health data plays a major role in providing cost-effective and data-driven patient care. Respecting the boundaries of the patient-provider relationship, registered health information administrators (RHIAs) use EHRs to make organizational decisions on behalf of healthcare institutions. RHIAs are valuable to healthcare organizations for their skills in interpreting coded healthcare data for the purpose of improving institutional efficiency and providing quality medical care.

Described by the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) as being critical links between patients, providers, and payers, RHIAs are experts at collecting and analyzing health data to make administrative decisions. They are expected to have a wide range of multifaceted knowledge about medical, administrative, ethical, and legal requirements to effectively manage the operational logistics of healthcare facilities. For individuals who thrive on balancing several projects at once and making complex decisions that affect multiple stakeholders within an organization, becoming an RHIA may be an ideal career.

Successful RHIAs must have comprehensive knowledge of medical, administrative, ethical, and legal standards. In addition to managing teams of people and entire operational units, RHIAs prepare budgets and manage the interaction between all levels of healthcare organizations, including clinical, financial, and health information systems. Professional opportunities for RHIAs run the gamut of healthcare delivery organizations. Positions are available in settings such as hospitals, clinics, and long-term care facilities, as well as non-patient care settings such as insurance companies, software vendors, government services, and pharmaceutical companies.

Prospective RHIAs can rest assured knowing that the profession is projected to grow substantially in the coming decade. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, openings for medical and health services managers (including RHIAs) are predicted to increase 20 percent nationally between 2016 and 2026, which is much faster than the national average rate of job growth (7 percent). This means an estimated 72,100 new positions will become available to individuals with the educational qualifications and certifications required for these multifaceted RHIA management opportunities.

Becoming a registered health information administrator is more than just a job title; RHIA is an official title that can be earned by completing an approved academic program and earning a passing score on an exam given by the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA), the predominant national certification organization for health management careers.

Read on to learn more about how to become an RHIA and helpful resources for those interested in pursuing an RHIA career.

Step-by-Step Guide to Becoming an RHIA

While there are a variety of professional avenues to becoming an RHIA, here’s one possible pathway way to pursue the education and experience needed to work in this thriving profession:

Step 1: Graduate from high school or earn a GED (four years). Those aspiring to become RHIAs are strongly encouraged to pursue coursework in civics, science, English, and communication, as they will be the most applicable to their future occupation. Internship or volunteer opportunities at healthcare facilities or non-patient medical facilities are advisable so as to gain inside perspective and professional exposure to this work environment.

Step 2: Earn a CAHIIM-accredited associate’s or bachelor’s degree in health information management or related discipline (two to four years). In order to qualify for professional RHIA credentialing, aspiring RHIAs must graduate from an associate’s or bachelor’s degree program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management (CAHIIM). Admissions requirements for bachelor’s degree programs typically include:

  • Application and fee
  • Official high school transcripts or proof of GED
  • Personal statement
  • Resume
  • TOEFL or IELTS scores (for applicants whose first language is not English)

Curricula in these programs typically include coursework in the following:

  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Computer information systems
  • Concepts and principles of health information management
  • Technologies in practice
  • Medical language
  • Project management
  • Medicolegal issues
  • Health data analytics
  • U.S. healthcare system
  • Professional practice experience
  • Management tools and strategies
  • RHIA exam preparation

All current CAHIIM-accredited programs can be found in the program directory on CAHIIM’s website. To learn more about what to expect from an associate’s or bachelor’s degree program in health information management, check out this guide to accredited online HIM degree programs.

Step 3: Get certified as a Registered Health Information Administrator through the American Health Information Management Association (less than one year).

Students currently enrolled in CAHIIM-accredited RHIA programs are eligible to apply for and take the certification exam. Early application is available on the AHIMA website and students must submit a completed application for early testing. The exam registration fee is $299 and contains 180 questions, which must be completed in four hours. A one-time use non-refundable practice test is also offered through AHIMA to prepare for the real exam.

The exam comprises five domains:

  • Domain 1: Information Governance: Data Content, Structure & Standards
  • Domain 2: Information Protection: Access, Disclosure, Archival, Privacy & Security
  • Domain 3: Informatics, Analytics & Data Use
  • Domain 4: Revenue Management
  • Domain 5: Leadership

For more information about the RHIA exam, check out MyAHIMA.org.

Step 4: Earn a CAHIIM-accredited master’s degree in health information management or related discipline (two to three years, optional).

Those wanting to gain a competitive edge in management positions can choose to pursue master’s degree programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management (CAHIIM) or related disciplines. Admissions requirements for master’s degree programs in health informatics management typically include:

  • Official bachelor’s degree transcripts from a regionally-accredited institution
  • Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores
  • Application and fee
  • Personal essay
  • Prerequisite courses in anatomy and physiology
  • Resume
  • TOEFL or IELTS scores (for applicants whose first language is not English)

Curricula in these programs typically include coursework in:

  • Management of health information services and systems
  • Development of electronic health information systems
  • Epidemiology and public health informatics
  • Research and design statistics in health informatics
  • Databases and knowledge management
  • Privacy and security for health informatics
  • Clinical vocabularies and classification systems
  • Capstone in health informatics
  • Certified Health Data Analyst (CHDA) exam preparation

All current CAHIIM-accredited graduate-level programs can be found in the program directory on CAHIIM’s website.

Step 5: Maintain RHIA or CHDA credential (every two years). All certified RHIA and CHDA credential holders must maintain their AHIMA certifications by completing 30 hours of qualifying continuing education units (CEUs) every two years. Recertification of RHIA and CHDA is required in order to ensure professional relevancy in the dynamic and ever-changing field of health information management.

Helpful Resources for RHIAs

Here is a list of resources for those wanting to pursue a career as a registered health information administrator (RHIA):