Healthcare is a booming industry. After all, even people in the best of health need a check-up periodically. Although most people envision bustling halls full of doctors and nurses, a host of other professionals work behind the scenes to make sure day-to-day operations go smoothly.
Health information management (HIM) has become essential to all avenues of healthcare. Health information records include every bit of data that relates to patient care and managing it successfully paves the way for top quality treatment. Examples of health information include X-rays, lab results, medical histories and even the notes your doctor or nurse takes during appointments.
HIM professionals operate on multiple levels. Protecting and maintaining the quality of individual health records are a significant part of HIM responsibilities, but health information managers may also use aggregate data to analyze high-level health trends and changes within a population.
The Evolution of HIM
A hundred years ago, health information management just meant filing records and keeping them safely locked away in the office. With no digital aspect, keeping track of physical files didn’t require much more than basic literacy and a robust filing system.
Today, no aspect of healthcare has escaped digitization. For every paper copy of a health record, there is at least one digital counterpart that must be secured, stored and recalled at the right moment. Navigating databases as they expand in real time requires specific training and technical skill. Enter the revamped field of health information management.
HIM’s importance has only appreciated as the move toward digitized medicine accelerates. In the past five to 10 years, the number of specific roles in the HIM careers field has skyrocketed. To succeed in the increasingly technical field of health informatics, professionals need specific training and certifications. Here are some of the career branches HIM professionals with a bachelor’s degree may choose:
- Data Quality Manager
- Departmental Director
- System Manager
- Chief Privacy Officer
HIM education requirements don’t always include a four-year degree. These roles require an associate’s degree to get started:
- Records Technician
- Health Data Analyst
- Coding Specialist
- Patient Information Coordinator
- Insurance Claims Analyst
Primary Disciplines of HIM
In such an immense field, professionals can choose from a number of primary disciplines that govern their daily work. Check out this snapshot of the seven main health information management career paths
- Informatics and Data Analysis: If you love in-depth analysis, informatics and data is the HIM field for you. Health informatics governs how patient information is stored, transmitted and used within an organization. This discipline analyzes the logistics of health information and draws actionable conclusions from large sets of data.
- Compliance and Risk Management: Emerging technologies inherently carry some risk to patients and staff. Healthcare risk managers use data to reduce the chance of anyone in the organization incurring an injury. They work proactively to prevent harm, but also react quickly and decisively to keep damage to a minimum after an incident. Risk managers do this in part by ensuring staff members follow relevant healthcare regulations to a tee. Compliance is crucial to safety in healthcare.
- IT and Infrastructure: The IT side of health information management is responsible for maintenance and diagnostics of the systems or software used to store and transmit data. The best candidates for this discipline have a background in information technology. Health IT career paths are ideal for someone who wants to transition their IT skills to a new industry.
- Education and Communication: HIM professionals aren’t all ultra-technical wizards. Communication is critical when working with so many moving pieces, and large organizations need one or more managers to keep information flowing smoothly between departments and individuals. Organizations also need someone to educate other staff members on processes and compliance for recordkeeping.
- Operations and Records Management: Keeping up-to-date records is an essential role of HIM professionals. Health organizations can’t operate safely or effectively without accurate, accessible patient records. Records managers ensure the integrity and protection of paper copies as well as digital files.
- Revenue Cycle Management: Healthcare is big business, and maintaining the financial health of an organization is key to keeping things going. Revenue cycle management (RCM) is the process providers use to track incoming and outgoing costs related to patient care. An RCM manager oversees the patient’s progress through the system, from creating an account to the final bill payment.
- Coding and Billing: Medical billing and coding professionals bridge the gap between providers and patients. They submit accurate codes for insurance reimbursements and create the final bill for services. Coding and billing represent the front line of health information management.
What’s It Like to Work in HIM?
For the most part, all health information management career options lead to work in an office-like setting with other professionals in the field. You’ll generally enjoy a standard nine-to-five workday, with overtime becoming more common as you grow in HIM roles and responsibilities.
General skills needed for health information management are broad. Computer literacy and technical ability are fundamental as HIM continues to become more technological. You may be working closely with others or independently, and strong communication skills will serve you well in either case.
Training for health information management careers requires certifications you can obtain by completing exams. A bulk of certifications come from the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA). The Registered Health Information Administrator (RHIA) is the most fundamental of the HIM certifications. It provides a launching pad for many HIM careers.
One of the perks of an HIM career is the ability to take a branching path to whatever position you’re ultimately after. Many HIM professionals start out as medical coders and then use that foundational knowledge to pursue management positions. Career growth and stability make HIM a premier field for those who want a good job as well as those looking to climb the ladder.
Where HIM Professionals Work
You may be wondering how versatile HIM career paths actually are. At its core, health information management is necessary to ensure accurate information is coded, transmitted and stored correctly.
General job duties include the classification of reimbursement data and protection of patients’ privacy in relation to their health data. You may also analyze data, whether to support providers or to assist in research that informs public policy. Some career paths involve improving the collection methods or quality of data to improve its application in any healthcare setting.
The typical workplaces for HIM professionals are hospitals, long-term care centers, behavioral health facilities and managed care organizations. But you’re not limited to healthcare providers alone. These organizations also have a growing need for HIM professionals:
- Law and consulting firms
- Rehab centers
- Government agencies
- Insurance companies
- HIM Agencies
5 Fast-Growing HIM Careers
Demand for professionals in every discipline is steadily climbing, and the health information management career outlook remains bright. Read on to find out more about the duties, education and the national average salary for the fastest-growing HIM careers:
1. Medical Coder
A medical coder takes completed patient notes and translates them into medical code. The coder evaluates diagnoses and any treatments or medication given to a patient and uses the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) or another code book to assign the appropriate codes. Each code translates into insurance billing information, which is how patients get reimbursement for treatment. Medical coders may earn extra certifications for a specialty, such as anesthesia and pain management, cardiology, rheumatology or others.
To be successful, medical coders need to build up an extensive working memory of diagnoses as they relate to codes. Quick and accurate data entry is also a must.
Degree & Certifications
Most medical coders enter the field with an associate’s degree. Certifications for medical coders include the Certified Professional Coder (CPC), which greatly increases earning power. Professionals interested in acquiring one of the many specialty credentials should visit the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC) website to view the full list of possible specialties.
The average salary is typically around $40,618.
2. Credentialing Specialist
Credentialing specialists work internally within medical facilities. Rather than handling any patient data, they are tasked with ensuring staff information is up to date. Because the medical field hosts so many types of professionals, the credentialing specialist ensures all those licenses and credentials remain valid. The specialist may also maintain a variety of records relating to licenses and credentials.
Credentialing specialists must be comfortable coordinating hundreds or thousands of staff credentials. This HIM career option requires the ability to communicate effectively and enforce deadlines.
Degree & Certifications
There is no hard-and-fast rule degree requirement to become a credentialing specialist. Some smaller organizations may only require a high school diploma, but most mid-size and large organizations do want to see a bachelor’s degree. All specialists must earn the Certified Provider Credentialing Specialist (CPCS) certification to start.
The average salary runs about $43,135.
3. Coding Compliance Auditor
Someone needs to make sure coding professionals comply with all medical billing and coding laws. Failure to remain in compliance with the long list of regulations surrounding health information management can expose an organization to undue risk, loss of revenue and perhaps even legal consequences. Auditors may work on teams or independently, and they review documents and conduct process inspections. If any noncompliance emerges, the auditor outlines the necessary steps for resolution and follows up afterward.
Compliance auditing is one of the more demanding healthcare informatics careers, requiring an analytical mind and unshakable ethics. Attention to detail is paramount.
Degree & Certifications
Most employers require a bachelor’s degree, and a master’s degree is preferred. Candidates must have extensive medical coding experience and may benefit from obtaining Certified Professional Compliance Officer (CPCO) status.
The average salary for this type of position runs about $55,464.
4. Revenue Cycle Manager
Revenue cycle managers oversee patient billing and provide high-level resolution of any revenue cycle issues across departments. The revenue cycle manager keeps all things billing running smoothly. This position may also involve automating billing communications and implementing other innovative solutions to improve billing processes. If any discrepancies arise within the revenue cycle, this manager is the one to solve them.
Revenue cycle managers have to think quickly and creatively when problems arise. Because this position frequently requires problem-solving for other departments and individuals, it helps to be a people person.
Degree & Certifications
Employers want a bachelor’s degree for this position — preferably in finance or a related field. Successful candidates need extensive experience with and knowledge of billing, coding and Medicare among other insurance providers. The American Association of Healthcare Administrative Management (AAHAM) offers multiple certifications for revenue cycle managers, from the Certified Revenue Cycle Specialist up to the Certified Revenue Cycle Executive.
Average salaries for this position are about $65,059.
5. Director of HIM
If you’re ambitious and want one of the top HIM careers, you might want to set your sights on a Director of HIM position. The director oversees medical coding and records and may be responsible for more than one department. Depending on the organization, the HIM director may be indirectly in charge of hundreds of employees. Productivity, workflow and comparative performance are all in the director’s wheelhouse. The director also leads compliance efforts to make sure no rules or regulations fall by the wayside.
As top-level managers, HIM directors must be comfortable with a vast volume of communication. They also have to stay on top of changing healthcare laws, so a passion for continued learning will speed up career advancement.
Degree & Certifications
A bachelor’s degree is the minimum level of education required to become an HIM director. Although there is no specific set of HIM career qualifications for this job, you do need Registered Health Information Administrator (RHIA) certification along with a minimum of three to five years of experience in medical coding and records.
Specializations within the HIM field are developing rapidly as the need for data management rises. In addition to the specific duties within each role, HIM professionals fulfill other critical functions such as:
- Setting the standard for emerging technologies in digital health records
- Educating patients on accessing, protecting and interpreting their healthcare information
- Using data to support the best outcomes for patients and providers
Health Information Management Career Outlook
If this is all sounding pretty good so far, you’ll be pleased to know that the field of HIM is still growing faster than average. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment for medical and health services managers will increase by 20% between 2016 and 2026. This increase far outstrips the 8% growth of management jobs in general, and the 7% of all occupations combined.
Because baby boomers are such a large population, they will continue to drive demand for healthcare overall. Of course, the need for healthcare means the need for organization and management of all that new information pouring into the system. Digital health records are here to stay, and so is health information management.
The Future of HIM
As new technologies emerge in healthcare, the roles of health information management professionals will change. The shift from paper records to electronic health records (EHRs) is almost complete, so anyone entering the HIM field will be part of an exciting new revolution in the cutting edge of healthcare.
Today’s HIM training and education programs are focused on the future and preparing professionals for the growing decentralization in their roles. Because digitization requires fewer physical resources than the hard copy system, individuals are expected often expected to oversee information in multiple departments. HIM is one of the most dynamic careers available, and even more new roles may emerge shortly.
If you want to dive into a career with immense potential and room to succeed, visit Healthcare Resolution Services. Learn more about HIM careers and check out our open positions to see how far your career can go.