How to Become a Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT)

In a healthcare setting, who really controls the flow of information? Doctors may believe they’re the top dogs; after at least a decade of studying the science of healing, their names adorn doors and parking places, and they’re the ones with whom patients make appointments. Nurses may say they’re actually the ones who get the job done, putting in more time with patients than physicians and recording medical information.

In today’s digital environment, however, registered health information technicians (RHITs) actually manage the information behind all medical decisions, insurance disbursements, and service referrals, ensuring the continuity of care. RHITs are key in ensuring all patient data remains in the right place where the right people can access it electronically when needed—and the wrong people can’t.

Much more than filing clerks, RHITs have been called “the brains” of modern medicine because they’re charged with gathering and storing all the moving parts—from insurance codes to billing information to medical terminology—and filtering out unneeded info. And particularly for introverts and others who aren’t interested in patient-facing roles in healthcare, this administrative position is invaluable to the team while requiring minimal interactions with clientele.

Successful RHITs must have a firm knowledge of medical procedures and proficiency in data systems. They need to communicate clearly to coordinate the actions of medical teams and insurance providers, but they also may work solo in healthcare environments.

It’s a behind-the-scenes position that’s expected to grow significantly in the next decade, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2022). In fact, the BLS reported that there were 186,400 medical records and health information technicians around the country in 2021. Between 2021 and 2031, this field is predicted to grow by 7 percent, adding 12,300 fresh opportunities. Notably, this is slightly more than the average growth anticipated across all occupations during that decade (5 percent).

Of course, not everyone who moves patient files around digitally is an RHIT; it’s an official credential that must be earned by completing an approved academic program and passing an exam from the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA), the predominant national certification organization in this line of work.

Read on to discover how to become an RHIT, including details about accredited programs and information on how to earn all necessary credentials.

Skills & Traits of RHITs

Generally, registered health information technicians must focus on the big picture and the fine details. They must be able to analyze electronic data, creating a detailed picture of a patient’s medical history and health information. These datasets contain sensitive information such as patient symptoms, diagnostic tests ordered, treatments prescribed, and other services. This information must be recorded accurately to keep insurance companies happy and ensure patients receive appropriate treatments and referrals.

RHITs must be familiar with their particular employer or institution’s record-keeping system, including any unique coding information or medical software. Since there may be variations in scale and patient makeup—whether a person works for a medical center, a group of doctors, a mental health facility, or even in a bureaucratic capacity—an ability to adapt to different circumstances and conditions is also crucial.

These professionals must also be adept at keeping up with the fast-changing healthcare industry, especially regarding legislation such as HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), which mandates that patient records need to be kept confidential. The specifics and best practices are continually evolving.

Not surprisingly, clear written and verbal communication skills are also strong assets, along with accuracy and attention to detail. In an industry with countless procedure codes and abbreviations, getting a number wrong or leaving a detail incomplete could have negative consequences, minor or major.

RHIT Role Requirements

The introduction mentions that RHITs must have completed a qualifying academic program to seek professional credentialing. There are both two-year associate and four-year bachelor’s degrees in the discipline; to qualify for credentialing through AHIMA, however, an aspiring RHIT must have graduated from a health information management (HIM) program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education (CAHIIM), or a foreign association with a reciprocity agreement.

These programs generally provide preparation for the comprehensive RHIT exam. Bachelor’s degrees, by contrast, may offer more of a management focus beyond the basic training requirements, setting a student up for opportunities in leadership, higher salary prospects, or the skills to qualify for AHIMA’s registered health information administrator (RHIA) exam.

Additionally, the Cleveland Clinic stated that some of the most commonly requested skills for RHITs include competency in ICD-09 and ICD-10 coding, CPT coding, and inpatient and outpatient coding. The BLS (2020) adds that RHITs can specialize their skills, joining one of two subfields of the discipline:

  • Cancer registrars review pathology reports for accuracy; assign classification codes for treatment and diagnosis; plan annual follow-ups; gather data for research; and maintain appropriate databases of cancer patients.
  • Medical coders look at patient information for pre-existing conditions; assign proper codes for care, population, and billing; and liaise with clinicians and billing teams.

Steps to Becoming a Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT)

While the pathway to becoming an RHIT varies by region and experience, here is one possible way to join this growing profession:

Step 1: Graduate from High School or Earn a GED (Four Years)

Aspiring RHITs are strongly encouraged to excel in computer science, health, biology, math, and English courses, which will be the most relevant to their future occupation. Volunteering at a hospital or another healthcare facility may also be advisable to get a feel for the future work environment.

Step 2: Earn a CAHIIM-Accredited Associate Degree or Bachelor’s Degree in Health Information Management or a Related Discipline (Two to Four Years)

To qualify for professional credentialing, all aspiring RHITs must graduate from a recognized two- to four-year program in health information management or a related discipline. Typical admissions requirements include:

  • Completed application and fee
  • Official transcripts from one’s high school or proof of a GED
  • Personal statement or essay
  • Resume
  • TOEFL scores (for ESL applicants only)

These programs generally include coursework in:

  • Basic medical terminology
  • Pharmacology for allied health
  • ICD-10 diagnostic coding
  • Health information management (HIM)
  • HIM statistics
  • HIM computer applications
  • Medical insurance and reimbursement
  • Disease and diagnosis coding
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Pathophysiology
  • Legal aspects of healthcare
  • CPT coding
  • RHIT exam preparation

To learn more about what to expect from a health information technology program, please check out the six examples below or the Guide to Accredited HIT Programs.

Step 3: Get Certified Through AHIMA’s Commission on Certification for Health Informatics and Information Management (Less Than One Year)

In general, CCHIIM’s RHIT examination candidates are asked to accurately enter patient info; analyze patient data to improve care or costs; and demonstrate familiarity with common coding systems and procedures.

To qualify for the exam, candidates must complete at least an associate’s degree from a CAHIIM-accredited or foreign program recognized by AHIMA. In June 2023, applying for the exam was $229 for members and $299 for non-members. It’s important to note that candidates have a four-month window after registration to take the exam, available online or at a designated testing center. Also, students currently in a recognized academic program can enroll to take the exam early if they’re in their final term.

The exam takes three-and-a-half hours and includes a range of 130 scored questions across six domains:

  • Domain 1: Data content, structure, and information governance: (19-25 percent of questions)
  • Domain 2: Access, disclosure, privacy, and security (14-18 percent)
  • Domain 3: Data analytics and use (12-18 percent)
  • Domain 4: Revenue cycle management (19-25 percent)
  • Domain 5: Compliance (13-17 percent)
  • Domain 6: Leadership (9-12 percent)

As of December 31, 2022, there were 27,989 certified RHIT professionals through AHIMA, and in the same year, 71 percent of the 1,709 first-time testers passed the RHIT exam with a score of 300 or higher.

Step 4: Maintain RHIT Credential (Every Two Years).

Finally, all certified RHITs must maintain their AHIMA credential by completing 20 qualifying continuing education units (CEUs) every two years, including five hours of coding self-reviews. Recertification of the RHIT and other credentials is required to keep up with changes in the industry.

Accredited Health Information Technician Programs

Southern New Hampshire University
Grand Canyon University
Rasmussen University - Online
Brandeis University
Texas State University

Lastly, there are various CAHIIM-accredited schools around the country to prepare aspiring RHITs for credentialing, including online and on-campus training programs. Here are six standout schools:

Cuyahoga Community College

Located in Cleveland, Ohio, Cuyahoga Community College’s CAHIIM-accredited program offers a two-year associate’s degree of applied science in health information management and technology. Offering full-and part-time enrollment, graduates from this 64-credit program are prepared to work in healthcare fields on health information management teams. With an emphasis on the AHIMA code of ethics and standards of practice, students use their knowledge of anatomy and physiology, medical terminology, and other areas to use, build, and manage a healthcare database system.

Only 30 students are accepted each year to this competitive program which requires a 3.0 high school GPA, grades of B or higher in math, biology, computer applications, and English as well as a criminal background check. Cuyahoga Community College also offers a National Cancer Registrars Association-accredited cancer registration post-degree professional certificate, which is recommended for graduates of health information management degree programs.

  • Location: Cleveland, OH
  • Duration: Full-time (24 months); part-time (48 to 60 months)
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC); Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education (CAHIIM)
  • Tuition: $15,829 per year (in-county residents); $16,538 per year (Ohio residents); $19,829 per year (non-residents)

Lakeland Community College

Lakeland Community College is located in Kirtland, Ohio, and offers a two-year health information management technology program. This CAHIIM-accredited program prepares graduates in essential skills such as medical coding, handling electronic medical records and electronic health records, and healthcare data analysis and revenue models.

Lakeland’s program 65-credit program aims to prepare its graduates to demonstrate entry-level competencies in health information management. It includes courses such as anatomy and physiology; introduction to health information management; healthcare records and documentation; healthcare applied information systems and services; outpatient procedure coding; pathophysiology; and analyzing healthcare data. Coursework includes two clinical practicum and seminar experiences.

Lakeland Community College also offers a 24- to 25-credit medical coding certificate. Medical coding certificate courses are applicable toward the A.A.S. degree.

  • Location: Kirtland, OH
  • Duration: Four semesters
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC); Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education (CAHIIM)
  • Tuition: $127.75 per credit (Lake County residents); $156.05 per credit (out-of-county residents) 

Valencia College

Based in Orlando, Florida, Valencia College’s two-year, fully online associate of science program in health information technology prepares students to enter the workforce with training in coding and reimbursement, including how to keep patient data private and secure. Starting each fall semester over a period of five semesters, students in this CAHIIM-accredited program learn to collect, report on, and analyze data.

Made up of 70 credits, the program includes courses such as medical terminology; introduction to health information management; legal aspects of health information management; principles of disease; general pharmacology for health professionals; health data concepts; basic ICD coding; and health care statistics and research.

Additionally, students can choose to continue to Valencia’s bachelor of applied science in business and organization leadership program to earn an advanced technical certificate in leadership in healthcare. The college also offers a 37-credit technical certificate in medical information coder/biller; the credits of which can be applied towards the health information technology associate in science degree.

  • Location: Orlando, FL
  • Duration: Five semesters
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges; Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education (CAHIIM)
  • Tuition: $103.06 per credit (residents); $390.96 per credit (non-residents)

Northwood Technical College

Located in Rice Lake, Wisconsin, Northwood Technical College’s health information technology program is fully online and takes two years to complete. Accredited by CAHIIM, this associate’s degree program prepares students to compile and process healthcare info through coursework in medical terminology; digital literacy for healthcare; health quality management; healthcare stats and analytics; intermediate coding; healthcare law and ethics; CPT coding; ICD diagnosis coding; and ICD procedure coding, among other subjects.

In addition, the 62-credit program covers basic medical information such as disease and treatment options and organizational techniques and computer systems. The program can be completed full-time or part-time; students must perform clinical rotations in their third or fourth semester. Graduates of this program will be prepared to sit for the RHIT certification exam offered by the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA).

The college also offers a 29-credit technical diploma in medical coding specialist; the credits of which can be applied to the associate’s degree program.

  • Location: Rice Lake, WI
  • Duration: 24 months
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC); Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education (CAHIIM)
  • Tuition: $9,916 total

Front Range Community College

Front Range Community College offers an associate of applied science program in health information technology, providing students with the knowledge and skills needed for acquiring, analyzing, and protecting traditional and digital medical information.

Comprising 64 credits, the program includes courses such as medical record terminology; health information management science; principles of healthcare reimbursement; workflow fundamentals of healthcare; legal aspects for health records; ICD coding; CPT coding basic principles; basic medical sciences; and quality management.

At the end of the program, graduates can pursue opportunities at hospitals, nursing care facilities, physicians’ offices, outpatient care centers, insurance firms, or public health departments. They can take up roles such as health data analysts, insurance claims analysts, records technician specialists, the release of information specialists, coders, patient information coordinators, or supervisors.

The college also offers a 29-credit certificate in medical coding for students who wish to complete their education in a year.

  • Location: Westminster, CO
  • Duration: AAS (24 months); certificate (12 months)
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC); Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education (CAHIIM)
  • Tuition: $280.20 per credit (residents); $673.90 per credit (non-residents)

Rasmussen University

Rasmussen University offers an online associate’s degree in health information technician (HIT) providing students with advanced skills in revenue cycle management, information policy, healthcare technologies, data management, and more. Preparing students for entry-level roles in the field, this associate degree perfectly positions them to transfer credits and complete Rasmussen University’s health information management bachelor’s degree.

Consisting of 90 credits, the program includes courses in introduction to health information management; revenue cycle management; management and leadership in health information; healthcare statistics and data management; healthcare technologies; and data analytics and informatics in healthcare.

On successful completion of the program, graduates can take up roles such as health information technicians; medical coders; electronic health records (EHR) specialists; patient care coordinators; and compliance auditors.

The university also offers a 36 credit medical billing and coding certificate; the credits of which can be applied towards the associate’s degree.

  • Location: Bloomington, MN
  • Duration: 18 months
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC); Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education (CAHIIM)
  • Tuition: $30,030 total

Cleveland Clinic’s non-profit academic medical center offers internships and clinical rotations to students from Cuyahoga and Lakeland Community Colleges (see above) with training in various medical fields, including health information technology. Candidates work with patient health information and organize data in a distance-based or on-campus format.

Following this two-year program, students will be qualified to take the RHIT exam; for those seeking greater challenges and responsibilities; however, the school’s four-year program offers more advanced coursework with a management focus, preparing graduates to take the RHIA certification exam.

State Licensure for Registered Health Information Technicians (RHITs)

As of February 2022, there are no formal state licensure requirements for RHITs. AHIMA certification is the sought-after industry standard most employers seek when hiring registered health information technicians. To stay current and show professional commitment to the field, earning RHIT certification through AHIMA is highly recommended.

As previously mentioned, some RHIT professionals can specialize in cancer registration which involves specialization in analyzing cancer patient data. According to the BLS (2021), some states require cancer registrars to hold Certified Tumor Registration (CTR) certification through the National Cancer Registrars Association (NCRA), which involves completing an additional educational program, practical experience, and taking an exam. CTR credential holders must reapply every two years and earn at least 20 hours of continuing education credits. The exam registration fee is $325 for NCRA members and $425 for non-members.

Overall, health information technology is expected to be an in-demand field in the future, especially as more medical providers pursue digital storage and access options for patient data.

Rachel Drummond, MEd
Rachel Drummond, MEd Writer

Rachel Drummond has contributed insightful articles to since 2019, where she offers valuable advice and guidance for those pursuing careers in the healthcare field, combining her passion for education with her understanding of the critical role that healthcare professionals play in promoting physical and mental well-being.

Rachel is a writer, educator, and coach from Oregon. She has a master’s degree in education (MEd) and has over 15 years of experience teaching English, public speaking, and mindfulness to international audiences in the United States, Japan, and Spain. She writes about the mind-body benefits of contemplative movement practices like yoga on her blog, inviting people to prioritize their unique version of well-being and empowering everyone to live healthier and more balanced lives.