Director of Health Information Management for UIC Weighs in on the Importance of Advanced HIM Knowledge

An Interview with the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Director of Health Information Management, Karen Patena

A look into UIC’s Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Health Information Management program and the advantages it provides its students and graduates

Q: What does a candidate for the Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Health Information Management look like?

Karen Patena: A candidate for the Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Health Information Management (HIM) is someone that has a bachelor’s degree.  It doesn’t matter how long ago it was. Frequently, we get people that are looking to change careers. Generally, we like them to come from the fields of healthcare, business, or technology, but that’s not necessarily a requirement. That’s generally what we see, and usually these individuals are interested in finding out what this career is about, or something that will be interesting to them and different from what they’ve been doing in the past.

Q: How long does it take someone to complete their certificate?

Karen Patena: The typical student takes two years. That is how the program is designed, so that they can take two courses a semester, one every eight weeks.  The program has 13 courses, so they generally get through the program in two years. However, you could do it quicker than that if you prefer, or you can take as long as three years.  Three years is the maximum. The main reason is due to the evolving field and what they learned at the beginning, may have changed in that time frame.

This is an evolving field and it’s going to constantly change. We’re designing the program to prepare you for an exam, a national credentialing exam, so it’s a good idea to get through the program as quickly as you can because you learn the material as a cohort.

Q: What are some of the career choices or advancements individuals entering the program are looking for?

Karen Patena: The person that wants to enter our program is usually looking to get into the healthcare field in some way. They like working with technology, or they expect to work with billing, coding and reimbursement.

Generally, they are going to be graduating and doing work as systems analysts, privacy officers, directors of HIM departments. Data analytics is a big field coming up now. That’s what’s so great about this degree, you can do a lot of things with it.

Q: How does the curriculum prepare students for the future and help them achieve their career goals?

Karen Patena: We have a variety of courses that they’re going to be taking. They come into the program with some required course background in anatomy, physiology, statistics, and computer systems. With that out of the way, they can get into the specialty courses in our program. They’re going to learn about the healthcare system in this country, management, various kinds of management like HR management, financial management, and quality management.

They’re going to learn about data in terms of statistics, data collection and data storage. They learn about technology in terms of databases, systems analysis and design.  With this curriculum, they’ll have a great background and a variety of skill-sets that they’re going to learn that prepares them to move up in the industry and assume various leadership roles.

Q: What is the RHIA and why is it important?

Karen Patena: The RHIA, or the ‘Registered Health Information Administrator’ credential, signifies that a person has competency in all of these skill sets I previously mentioned; including coding, management, technology, privacy and security, and data integrity. This is a national credentialing exam. It’s not a license; it is a credential or certification. It is a very important goal, and one that almost all of our graduates sit for when they complete the program. We are seeing a 90 percent RHIA pass rate with our UIC Health Information Management graduates.

Bio:  Karen Patena is a clinical associate professor and the director of the Health Information Management programs at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She has worked in hospital medical record management, as well as systems planning and implementation, for nearly 20 years.  

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