How to begin a career in health information management

A young professionalHealth information management (HIM) is a field that combines elements of information technology, science and business to collect, analyze and secure data associated with patient care. As the amount of data managed in healthcare has grown over the past decades. HIM professionals are playing an increasingly important role in the daily management of the databases that store this important information, such as Electronic Health Records, ensuring that the personal data of each patient remains protected. These professionals can be found in a variety of settings, including hospitals, clinics and private practices, where they help to connect team members from clinical, administrative and other stakeholders en route to the proper management of protected health information.

If you are interested in pursuing a career in health information management, you should start by defining your goals, assessing your experience, finding a mentor and furthering your education.

Define your goals

Health information management is a growing field that encompasses a number of important responsibilities. Consequently, your first step should be to narrow your focus by clearly defining your professional goals.

The American Health Information Management Association reported that the primary disciplines of HIM include:

Compliance/risk management.
Education/communication.
Informatics/data analysis.
IT/infrastructure.
Operations and medical records administration.
Revenue cycle management, coding and billing.

Within each area are a number of levels of positions ranging from entry-level to mid- to advanced-level practice. There are also a number of jobs, such as C-level roles, that typically require both work experience and a graduate-level degree.

While the exact job title can vary dramatically by setting and organization, common positions in the field of health information management include:

Data quality manager.
Director of health information management.
Chief privacy officer.
Electronic health records coordinator/analyst.
Health information management specialist.
Quality and performance improvement abstractor.

Once you have determined which area of practice or specific job you are interested in, you will be able to better plan the next steps in your career, including the level of education required to obtain one of these positions.

While you may find that your specific interests continue to develop as you involve yourself in the field, creating a clear picture of the direction you want to go is a good place to start, even if it evolves as you learn.

Assess your experience

Though health information management professionals come from a variety fields, they often come from either healthcare or information technology backgrounds. IT professionals tend to already have the necessary technological knowledge needed to excel in HIM, while healthcare professionals, such as risk managers, already have valuable experience working with patient information that is beneficial for understanding databases.

If you already have experience in one of these two areas, you may find it helpful to start looking for ways to develop your skills in the other field. There may even be opportunities to do so in your current workplace. For example, healthcare professionals who work in risk management or billing and wish to pursue a role in health information management may be able to speak to a supervisor about playing a more hands-on role with electronic health records in their day-to-day responsibilities.

However, you may have to look outside your current position to gain the experience necessary to transition to HIM. The AHIMA reported that you may want to consider looking for an internship or volunteer position to demonstrate your interest in the field. While such jobs are not always paid, they can be a good way to start gaining valuable experience if you do not have those opportunities in the workplace. Because experience tends to play an important role in promotions in HIM, a willingness to start in one of these entry-level positions can lead to a better role in a short amount of time, according to the AHIMA.

Find a mentor

As with most any field, finding a mentor who can assist you in your professional develop can be invaluable. In trying to reach your professional goals, there is no one more appropriate to receive advice from than someone who has already been down that road and is willing to help you on your own path.

“If I could give young professionals one piece of advice, it would be to ask someone to mentor them,” BodeTree CEO Chris Myers wrote for Forbes. “Mentors aren’t going to go out of their way to drag someone along if they don’t show initiative. Mentorship is something that requires strong commitment from both parties, and takes a lot of effort. The end results, however, are more than worth it.”

When looking for a mentor, you should try to find someone who will provide assistance while also challenging you. It is important for a mentor to make you question your own way of thinking and look for new solutions.

Remember, you do not have to limit yourself to one mentor. If you are looking for guidance and advice in more than one area, you may not be able to obtain that from a single relationship. There is nothing wrong with seeking input from multiple professionals.

In finding a mentor, you are also taking an important step in networking. According to a 2016 paper from at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and MIT, candidates who receive interviews – and have a personal referral from someone in the organization – have a 40 percent better chance of receiving an offer than those who applied via job board. Effective networking, according to the AHIMA, is critical for breaking in to the field of healthcare informatics. The organization reported that often times, open positions will not even be made public. Consequently, developing contacts in the HIM field will help you to find companies that are hiring, even if they do not post the position on a job board.

Further your education

A higher degree can be extremely beneficial in your pursuit of an HIM position. HIM degrees are available at the associate, baccalaureate, master’s and doctorate level. The program that you pursue will depend largely on your professional goals.

For instance, the career website PayScale found that the role of Health Information Management Director typically requires a bachelor’s degree and several years of experience. This position has a median salary of nearly $70,000 a year, with the top quarter of earners making about $90,000 or more.

AHIMA membership data reported that jobs at the managerial or executive level, as well as academic positions, are usually pursued by professionals with a master’s degree.

After completing your degree, at whatever level you choose, you should consider pursuing certification. The AHIMA offers a number of certification programs to HIM professionals, including Registered Health Information Administrator (RHIA) and Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT). Certification will communicate to potential employers that you have the specific skills needed for roles in these niche areas of HIM.

Recommended reading:

The job market post-graduation for HIM careers

Tips to help you land your first HIM job

Keys to success in the field of health information management 

Sources:

http://library.ahima.org/doc?oid=107493#.WQqC-fQrLrc

https://www.monster.com/career-advice/article/health-information-management

http://bok.ahima.org/doc?oid=105632#.WQt33dTyuM9

https://qz.com/299923/why-job-referrals-matter/

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