The field of health information technology is quickly growing as the realm of healthcare changes and expands. This article provides details about the education and certification needed to become a health information technologist, and what you can expect with a career in this field.
Health information technologists, more often referred to as technicians, organize and maintain healthcare data in hospitals and other health care environments. Educational options include diplomas, certificates and associate's degree programs. These require coursework in statistics, medical terminology and the software used for managing medical information.
|Education Requirements||Post-secondary award or degree|
|Other Requirements||Registered Health Information Technician certification|
|Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)||15% (for medical records and health information technicians)*|
|Average Salary (2015)||$40,430 (for medical records and health information technicians)*|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
What Is a Health Information Technologist?
A health information technologist compiles and manages patient information on behalf of a health care practice or facility. While some technologists are generalists, others specialize in certain aspects of health information. Examples include coding for insurance and billing purposes or providing information to a cancer registry.
What Education Do I Need?
While an associate's degree is often sufficient for entering into the health information field, technologists may need additional education to achieve advanced certifications or to move into management positions. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employers often require health information managers to hold a bachelor's or master's degree in health information management. The Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education offers accreditation for health information technologist programs.
Certificate and Diploma Programs
Some schools offer a certificate or diploma program as an alternative to an associate's degree in health information technology or medical coding. These require fewer courses because they do not require the completion of general education units, but may not be sufficient for obtaining a job or certification with some employers.
Associate's Degree Programs
Health information technologists can earn an associate's degree from a vocational or community college. Students can major in health information technology or a specialized field such as medical billing and coding. Courses taught in degree programs for health information technologists include:
- Database security
- Anatomy and physiology
- Medical terminology
- Health record systems
- Medical coding
- Legal issues in heath care settings
Many employers seek employees that hold certification through a recognized professional organization. Only those with at least an associate's degree from a program that's accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education can pursue Registered Health Information Technician certification from the American Health Information Management Association. The American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC) recommends, but does not require, that those applying for coding certifications hold at least an associate's degree. Applicants for AAPC certification can substitute formal education for work experience requirements.
Career and Salary Information
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics stated that, as of May 2015, medical records and health information technicians earned an average annual salary of $40,430. The same source projected that job opportunities for medical records and health information technicians would grow 15% between 2014 and 2024.
A health information technologist handles patient information, sometimes in a variety of capacities. This is an important job that requires organizational skills, knowledge of technology, systems and legal issues, as health care providers communicate with data bases and insurance companies. To begin a career in this rapidly-growing field, an associate's degree plus certification are typical requirements.