Growing your career in Health Information Management

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Karen Patena, HIM Program Director shares an overview of the Health Information Management program at the University of Illinois at Chicago.


Hello. Welcome to our webinar on growing your career in HIM. Today, I’m joined by Karen Patena from the University of Illinois at Chicago to talk about how UIC can help your students continue their education in health information management. She will be sharing information about UIC’s online bachelor of science in health information management. You have an opportunity to send us questions throughout the presentation and we will do our best to answer all of the questions. If your question is not answered in the presentation, an enrollment advisor from UIC will follow up with you to make sure that those questions get answered. So let’s get started.

Hello, everyone. This is Karen Patena. I am the program director for health information management programs here at UIC. I also hold a position as the associate head of the department of biomedical and health information sciences. I’ve been with the health information management programs at UIC for over 25 years. The campus program has been around a lot longer than the online programs, but I helped develop both a post-baccalaureate certificate of degree online in 2009, and we developed the online health information management bachelor’s program in 2012. With that, sit back, and we will begin to tell you about our program.

I’d like to start out by telling you first about the University of Illinois at Chicago. It is part of the University of Illinois system, which includes the University of Illinois at Champaign Urbana, as well as the University of Illinois at Springfield. This is the largest university in the Chicago area. It currently has over 25,000 students at a bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels. There are several medical disciplines here at the university, and it is also home to the country’s largest medical school. The bachelor of science in HIM program, as I mentioned, was established first as a campus program back in 1965. It is one of the oldest of science in health information management programs in the country. It is fully accredited by the commission on accreditation for health informatics and information management, otherwise known as KHIM. You probably all know that because you all have accredited two year programs in your school, so you are well familiar with the value of K HIM accreditation.

Our bachelor’s program is ranked fifth in the country as far as online bachelor’s programs. Now, I do have to qualify that that designation is for UIC, not just the bachelor of science in HIM program. It also includes our business and nursing programs. We are located within the College of Applied Health Sciences and as I mentioned, we have both an ion campus and online program, but the rest of this webinar will focus on the online program.

With that as a background, now let’s continue with some of the specifics about the health information management program. First of all, admission requirements. The minimum GPA for transfer students, as well as those transferring from within UIC, is 2.5 on a 4.0 scale. You do need to send in several things with your application, the first being official transcripts from each institution that you attended, and those institutions must be regionally accredited. The other things include a resume. Please highlight your education and experience, especially that related to HIM. There are three recommendation forms, and I do want to clarify that these are forms that are completed, not free form letters. There are specific objective evaluations that we are looking for. These are usually submitted by the student sending a link to a URL to the recommender, and then the recommender will upload their recommendation. Download the recommendation form first, I’m sorry, complete it, and then re-upload it.

Next, there will be an interview with an enrollment advisor to help determine things like what are your interests in the field, why do you want to get a bachelor’s degree, and so forth. It’s all done by phone. Then you also are required to submit a nonrefundable $60 fee, which is commonly collected to process the application. Once all of these things are received, the committee here at UIC will review it and you’ll receive an answer pretty quick. Usually students that are HIT have no problem meeting the requirements, so that’s a pretty quick application process.

Now that we know the requirements for applying to UIC in general, let’s talk about the specific requirements to apply to the HIM program. The first thing is that you have to have completed your associate degree in health information technology from a regionally accredited community college, and it must be a regionally accredited college in order for the credits to be accepted here at UIC.

Secondly, you need to take and pass the RHIT exam. The reason for that is because there are differences in the content and how it’s divided up in courses from program to program. So for example, if you have an introduction to HIM course at one school, it might be different than the content they have in an introduction to HIM class in another. They may include some legal aspects information, for example, whereas the first college did not. In order to determine equivalency, you need to sit for the RHIT exam, and then we know that the entire body of knowledge that you’ve taken is a matching to what is required by the certification commission.

Once you take the exam and you send us proof that you’ve passed the exam, then we can give you proficiency credit for 24 hours of coursework that you took in your HIT program that is equivalent to most of the courses that you’ll take in the first year here. In addition, if you have either the RHIT credential or any coding credential, we can have you take a proficiency exam and award credit for the coding courses that you’ve had. The reason that we require a proficiency exam is because as you know, coding changes quite frequently, so we have to make sure that you have the most up to date knowledge in your coding courses that you’ve had.

Now, one of the differences between an associate degree and a bachelor’s degree program is a requirement that a student have some additional coursework in a general education foundation, particularly in the liberal arts and sciences. Most students, once they graduate with a two year degree from an HIT program, it’s usually an associate of applied science or AAS degree. Some of you may have associate of science or AS degrees, but the majority are applied science degrees. What this means is that you are very qualified in the technical skills required for your degree, but you probably don’t have very many other general ed courses. Maybe a few, but not certainly what is necessary for a bachelor’s degree. That’s why we require this list of prerequisite courses to be done before they come in to the professional HIM coursework here.

If you look at this, I’m sure you’ll see that, oh yeah, some of our students have this. Typically, they might have as part of your program, one English class. They might require a biology class. They might require a psychology class, but maybe or maybe not a class, at least at the level of college algebra. Maybe you have a general math class. So this is what is required, and oftentimes this is the extra coursework that students might take before they begin the professional coursework at UIC.

Now that being said, they can complete this either while they are at an at York School if it’s convenient for them. It also may be less expensive for them to complete them at a community college rather than completing them at UIC. On the other hand, these students might just want to get going at UIC, so they could start at UIC and and take these gen ed courses before they begin to professional coursework. Either way is fine.

Now I’ll talk about this a little bit more later, but there are ways that we will work with you to make sure that your students know what courses are equivalent, should they take them at your institution, should that be their choice. We’ll talk about that a little bit later.

Now that you’ve been admitted into the program, you’ve completed all of your general education requirements and submitted all the documentation showing you completed your RHIT exam, you’re ready to start the professional curriculum at UIC. Let’s talk about what that entails.

The program here is 100% online, plus and outside practicum that you’ll be taking in your senior year. There are no visits required to campus, so you can complete this all from a distance. The curriculum is the same in the online program as we have in the campus program. And as I said, the campus program has been around since 1965, so it’s well established. You will have most of the same faculty in the online courses. Occasionally, there is a different faculty member than the campus classes for one of the courses, but that is unusual. We have you take 63 credit hours of professional coursework once you start the program.

Now, I will say that assuming that you completed the RHIT exam, you will receive 24 hours of proficiency credit for that, and if you pass the coding classes, that’s another seven, so in that case you’re only going to be completing 32 hours here on campus, so about half. You can complete the program either in two years on a full-time basis or three years at a part-time basis. We don’t permit you to go longer than three years, because as you know, the content changes frequently, so we have to make sure when we send you out to take the RHIA exam that you are doing it with the most up to date content. That is our goal to prepare you to sit for the RHA exam following a completion of the program. As you know per certification commission regulations, you can take the exam within the last term of the program.

We do provide an exam review course that’s online that will help you review for the class, and we do have an excellent pass rate on the exam from our graduates, particularly those that have the RHIT going in. In case you’re concerned what is the content of some of the classes, is it the same as what I had in the two year program? It might start out sounding the same, but it is taught to cover much more advanced concepts. Instead of learning the technical aspects, you will be dealing with the management of the content, creation of the content, analysis, and that sort of thing. You will have higher level classes in revenue management, reimbursement, quality management, the health information systems of technology and databases, privacy and security of records, and information governance.

I referred to this a little bit before, but we do encourage you to work with us to develop a document that would be useful to your students to see what courses would be equivalent for our additional pre-rec courses and that they want to take at your institution. We have currently developed transfer planning guides with nine other HIT programs. Some of you may be one of those that we have worked with. If you have not and you have students that you think would be interested in transferring our to our program, we encourage you to work with one of our faculty members Lois Hitchcock, and she will help develop that transfer planning guide with courses at your institution so that they can see exactly what they need to take, both as part of the HIT requirements and additional courses that they need to transfer to UIC. So that way it’s nice and simple. The students aren’t worried about, well, will this course transfer and that, and we really encourage you to take advantage of that.

Another thing is that I want to mention that we call this a transfer planning guide. It is not an MOU or a formal agreement of any type. We want to keep it simple. We don’t want to have it signed off on by both sides in terms of their legal services, signing contracts, and so on. These are just created as transfer planning documents so that you know what will be accepted and can take them. I can assure you that there is no problem with accepting these courses, and it makes it a bit easier in terms of expediting the creation of these documents.

Next, I’d like to share with you a bit about what it’s like to take an online course here at UIC. I know talking to this group, some of you may have online programs, fully online programs for your HIT program. Some may have no online courses, and some may have a hybrid of some online courses and some face to face or other combinations. Let me tell you what the students will be doing here at UIC, because I know that’s always an item of curiosity. The classes are set up, first of all, in two eight week terms per semesters. While the university is on a semester format, we do two eight week terms within the semester, an A term and a B term. We feel that that is a better way to teach adult education. You can take less classes at a time and get them done in a quicker manner.

So for example, instead of taking four classes over 16 weeks, you’ll take two classes over eight weeks and then they’re done. Then you start your next two classes over eight weeks and then they’re done. It allows you to balance your work or personal life with your education requirements a bit easier. It’s a better way to get organized, because that’s of course, if you’re not familiar with online education, the key is to be organized and to know what is due on what days, so we have to stress that with students. The learning platform that we use is Blackboard. Each class usually consists of that’s specific due dates. When we say it’s online education, it doesn’t mean that you can do the work whenever you want. You have some flexibility within the week that it is due, but there are definite structures to the class. Again, that’s necessary to keep the students on track and to keep them moving forward.

As an example, we open all classes one week before they actually start. So if the class is going to start on August 26 let’s say, we will open the class on August 19th. That way the student has a chance to go in, review the syllabus and requirements, get familiar with how much work this is going to be required, do any kind of introductory kinds of things that are required for the class, and then that way they’re ready to start on the 26th on the ground running.

Generally, there’ll be a combination of methods that are used in teaching. We use discussions when we feel that is a value. It’s not solely what we do, but we may have a few per class where we pose a question, and then students interact with them with each other with a facilitator oversight. The facilitator will make comments and give feedback to the students on their comments. These, again, will have a due date. For example, you may have to post your initial posting, say of 250 words or so, by Wednesday of a week, and you can comment on other postings for the next day or two. There’s a definitive beginning and end to a discussion so that it’s focused.

The other things that they might find are assignments, which might include some written papers, it may include creating some PowerPoints, slides, presentations, for example. It may involve doing some analytical or statistical problems, and there are probably quizzes and final exams. Our final exams are all proctored, meanings that we use and online service. There is a fee for this, usually $25 for the exam, but the student, again, can decide when they want to take the exam within a period of time. You know, say you know a 48 hour period. They can pick the time they want to take it and then it’s a proctor literally watches them while they’re taking the test. No problem for the students, they get used to this, and it works pretty well. We found that unfortunately with online students, we need to do that to ensure integrity of the test questions and make sure that the student really does validate what they’re they’re doing in the course. That’s kind of a a flavor of what’s involved in the courses.

Now, students receive a lot of support. They are assigned and enrollment advisors to help with the application process. They’ll walk them through what’s required in terms of the application itself, the recommendation forms, the application fee, and all that that I mentioned before. They will set up a time to do the required interview with the student. Then once the student is accepted, and they will work with the student to get them enrolled and get them through the orientation process. Then they will turn them over to a student support coach who will work with them throughout the program, checking in on them periodically to see how he’s doing, how they’re doing, asking if they’re having any personal issues that might be getting in the way with their work, facilitating connections between the instructors and the students, and just kind of making their life easier because we want our students to be successful in the program.

So now, you’ve successfully completed the program. You’ve had a good support. You’ve done well with your courses. You’re wondering what kinds of careers can you try for and now that you’ve completed the program. Well, there are typically a lot of a variety of things that you can go into.

First one I would like to talk about is revenue cycle management. Again, this is something that probably builds upon what you had in your two year program, but these would be things more on the management level. A revenue cycle manager, a specialist in clinical documentation improvement, also a CDI manager, an auditor for revenue cycle. A large population of jobs that this frequently filled by HIM professionals is a compliance coordinator, making sure that the bills that are submitted are adequately backed up by documentation in the records and so forth.

In the area of data analysis, now as you probably heard, data analysis, big data, looking at data, looking at outcomes, is a big focus of all health care delivery organizations. You can certainly find positions either working with the data and data analysis, working in ensuring data quality or data integrity, and other aspects of data analysis and data management. Finally, working in general operations such as managing an HIM department, working in other areas of the facility and management, privacy officers dealing with meaningful use, those are all areas.

Then finally something that’s not listed here but is in the area of working with vendors or consulting organization. A number of our graduates ended up taking positions with Epic, Cerner, Allscripts as vendors doing things like sales, training and implementation, and then working perhaps on the hospital side, with again, working with the implementation and making sure that everything goes smoothly.

You probably know about the AHIMA career map, but if you haven’t looked at that recently, it has been updated within the past year and has a lot of good ideas for where you can go from position to position. What’s a starting position, what’s a medium level position, and what is one that you can progress into once you’ve advanced your education. So, you should be well-positioned when you complete our program to go forward and work in many different areas of the health information management profession.

I’d like to close by sharing some stories from students that have completed the program. Both of these students were RHITs coming into the program, and you can see that they are very happy with the experience that they had here at UIC. They’re happy with the HIM profession in general and we assume your students will be, too. We have faculty that are very connected with our students. Many of our faculty are authors in the field. They’ve written books that are used in the curriculum, both at the two year and four year level. They’re speakers at professional meetings. They enjoy working with students. We certainly hope that your students are interested in continuing on their education and that we can help them work with us.

In the next slide, you’ll see contact information for the enrollment advisors that work with the students. You are encouraged to reach out to them with any questions that you have, or if you have a question that they can’t answer, they will forward it to me and I will be glad to work with you on getting your students into the program.

It’s been a pleasure talking with you and we hope you enjoy the rest of your day.

Thank you very much, Karen, for sharing this overview of UIC’s bachelor of science in health information management. Please feel free to share our enrollment advisors contact information below with your students that might be interested in learning more about UIC’s program. Also, if you have additional questions, please reach out to our enrollment advisors. Thank you again for joining us today and have a great day.