Health information technicians are responsible for ensuring the accuracy, thoroughness and security of patient medical records according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. These records are increasingly becoming electronic-based and can include medical histories, insurance information, diagnoses, treatment plans, test results and other data. They work with nurses, doctors and other medical personnel to ensure that this information remains accurate -- not only for clinical purposes but also for registries and insurance reimbursement. Their work may also involve implementing security measures to make sure patient records are not improperly adjusted and are kept confidential (bls.gov/ooh, 2012).
Health information technician jobs generally involve little direct patient interaction. Rather, as the BLS points out, these professionals spend the majority of their workday in front of computers, working on sophisticated medical coding and health records software. The vast majority work in hospitals and physicians' offices. But although they may not directly attend to patients, their work maintaining patient records enables physicians to provide the best care possible, making health information technicians a vital part of the healthcare system.
How to Become a Health Information Technician
Individuals interested in this career need to pursue formal health information technician training, according to the BLS. A certificate or associate degree are the standard levels of education for this field. For those who wish to become certified, which employers tend to prefer, it is sometimes necessary to have an associate degree. The following steps may help lead to health information technician careers:
- Earn a high school diploma or equivalent qualification, taking courses in health, computer science, math and biology.
- Complete a certificate or associate program in health information technology or a related field, taking courses such as medical terminology, medical coding, healthcare law and healthcare statistics.
- Pursue professional certification such as the Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT).
- Apply for entry-level health information technician jobs.
- Maintain certification through ongoing continuing education in the field.
It's important to note that these steps represent general guidelines, and do not guarantee employment.
Post-Education Requirements: Certifications and/or State Licensing
While not all health information technicians are required by law to earn professional certification, it may improve their chances for employment according to the BLS. Organizations offering such certification include:
- The American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA): AHIMA not only offers the RHIT certification mentioned earlier, but it also offers eight other certification exams in the areas of healthcare technology and medical coding.
- The American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC): AAPC offers a variety of medical coding certifications that health information technicians may be interested in pursuing. These include Certified Professional Coder (CPC), Certified Professional Coder - Outpatient Hospital (CPC-H), Certified Professional Coder - Payer (CPC-P), and more than 20 specialty certifications.
- National Cancer Registrars Association (NCRA): For those interested in specializing in health information technology as it pertains specifically to cancer, the NCRA offers the Certified Tumor Registrar (CTR) certification.
Along with certification comes a commitment to continuing education in order to maintain its relevance.
Health Information Technician Specialties
While all health information technician jobs tend to involve the same basic set of duties, the BLS states that there are two major specialties within the field of healthcare technology. These include:
- Medical Coders: These professionals act as liaisons between medical offices and billing offices, reviewing patient information, screening for pre-existing conditions and retrieving patient information for physicians or nurses. A coding or RHIT certification may be preferred by employers.
- Cancer Registrars: These specialists maintain accurate, complete patient records and pathology reports, and assign classification codes for diagnosis and treatment of cancers and tumors. They also track patient progress and update records, compile and analyze patient data and maintain quality information for national cancer registries. CTR certification may help improve job prospects.
Healthcare Information Technician Job Growth and Average Salary
With the escalating use of electronic health records by hospitals and physicians across the country, as well as the rising demand for healthcare services among the aging baby boomer population, health information technician jobs on a national scale should grow faster than average (21 percent) during the 2010-2020 period (bls.gov/ooh, 2012). The BLS also notes that health information technicians earned a median annual salary in the U.S. of $34,160 in May 2012, with the lowest 10 percent earning less than $22,250 and the highest 10 percent earning more than $56,200. Of course, salary can vary depending on such factors as location, experience and education.
List of Related Careers
Health information technician training may act as a springboard to pursue similar administrative healthcare positions, including:
- Medical Office Assistants: In addition to tracking patient histories and updating medical records, these professionals may have more involvement in direct patient care by checking in patients, scheduling appointments and helping patients fill out paperwork.
- Healthcare Administrators: With further studies at the bachelor's or master's level, students may be able to advance their career and oversee an organization's health information systems as a health information manager.
Links to Sources and Associations
The following websites offer more information about health information technician careers, certification and training: