How to Become a Health Information Manager

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Access to clinical data, including patient records and population health statistics, empowers medical providers to make judicious decisions about patient care, ultimately optimizing patient outcomes while curbing the cost. To facilitate data access, healthcare organizations require the right technological infrastructure, and, according to the available statistics, an overwhelming majority of healthcare organizations are going to great lengths to put that infrastructure in place.

Consider a few data points from the Health IT Dashboard. According to reports from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, 9 out of 10 office-based medical providers have moved to electronic health records (EHRs), allowing for easier digital data collection and use. The same reports show that 99% of large hospitals and 97% of midsize hospitals have their own certified health information technology (IT) departments.

As the medical field relies more and more on data access, professionals in the health information management field have an increasing array of opportunities. Pursuing an advanced degree, such as a Master of Science in Health Information Management, can help professionals develop technical knowledge and leadership skills to add value to a healthcare organization and ultimately make a difference in the lives of patients and in the day-to-day work of doctors, nurses and administrators.

The Steps to Become a Health Information Manager

To lead health IT departments as health information managers, professionals need work experience and robust academic backgrounds, which together can help cultivate necessary skills and technical competencies.

Health Information Manager Education Requirements

First, consider the standard health information manager education requirements.

Generally, health information manager positions require a bachelor’s degree in healthcare management, IT or a related field. By pursuing undergraduate degrees, individuals can develop familiarity with core skill sets and technological platforms that will serve them well in their careers.

To further distinguish themselves, aspiring health information managers may choose to pursue graduate degrees. Earning an advanced degree not only helps hone and refine the skills most relevant to the role, but can also lead to positions of greater responsibility and higher salaries.

Specifically, pursuing a master’s degree in health information management provides students with the opportunity to further their understanding of anatomy and physiology, which can help them in assessing the accuracy and precision of health records. Additionally, an advanced degree program may offer insight into developing and implementing health information systems, legal and ethical issues surrounding health information systems, and the basics of healthcare financial management. Such robust, well-rounded skills and competencies can prove crucial to long-term professional success.

Experience Needed to Become a Health Information Manager

As regards how to become a health information manager, education is just one part of the equation. Professional experience is also important—specifically, job experience in a healthcare setting.

Before rising to health information manager roles, individuals may wish to accrue health administration experience, such as managerial or clerical work in a doctor’s office or hospital. Taking on an entry-level role in a health IT department can be an especially helpful way to gain familiarity with the field and develop some of the competencies needed for long-term success.

Licensing and Certification

Though health information managers don’t have to be licensed or certified, some professional designations can facilitate career advancement. For example, professionals in the health IT field may seek certification through the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA), an organization that upholds professional standards for health IT workers. To earn AHIMA certification, health IT professionals must pass an exam showcasing their technical competencies.

Health Information Salary and Job Growth

Those who are curious about becoming health information managers will naturally have some questions about how much money they can expect to make, as well as the kind of job market they’re stepping into. Because health IT is a burgeoning field, and because health IT professionals play such a critical role in helping medical providers navigate new technologies, ample opportunity exists to find stable, rewarding work in this field.

Average Health Information Salary

The median annual salary for medical and health services managers, including health information managers, was $100,980 as of May 2019, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The medical and health services managers category encompasses health information professionals who work in nursing homes, assisted living communities, office-based medical practices, hospitals and other healthcare settings.

Factors That Influence Health Information Salary

Several factors influence health information manager salaries, including years of experience, level of education, and geographic location.Typically, those who have more experience working in the healthcare field will command higher salaries. This is one reason for gaining experience in a medical environment before seeking a management-level position.

As for education, advanced degrees may not be required to become a health information manager, but attaining one can lead to more competitive salary offers. Finally, demand for health information managers is greater in larger metropolitan areas; therefore, those areas tend to offer higher salaries.

Job Outlook for Health Information Managers

As more and more healthcare organizations embrace robust technology infrastructure, the demand for seasoned health information professionals continues to rise. The BLS projects that employment for medical and health services managers, including health information managers, will increase by 32% between 2019 and 2029. (The average growth rate for all occupations during that period is 4%.)

The Role of the Health Information Manager

The role of the health information manager may be fairly broad, impacting virtually all aspects of a health organization’s day-to-day operation. That’s because health organizations increasingly rely on access to clinical and financial data to provide targeted treatments, optimize clinical outcomes, guide resource allocation and ultimately empower providers to work as efficiently as possible. The role of the health information manager is to maintain systems and processes that enable data to be used throughout an organization and to safeguard the integrity of the data.

Providing Patient Information

In many healthcare organizations, the role of the health information manager focuses on providing access to patient records. Doctors, nurses, technicians and even administrators may need to access EHRs quickly and securely, allowing them to rapidly get up to speed on a patient’s medical history and record of treatment. These clinicians depend on health IT personnel to provide them with comprehensive files; ultimately, this responsibility rests with the health information manager.

EHR access offers many advantages in the clinical setting, including the following:

  • Providing complete, up-to-date information about each patient at the point of care
  • Making it easier for records to be shared among clinicians; coordinating prompt and efficient care
  • Giving patients a way to access their own medical records as needed
  • Guiding providers as they diagnose patients and minimizing the risk of medical errors
  • Enabling safer, more reliable prescription of pharmaceuticals
  • Promoting clear medical records; streamlining the billing and coding processes
  • Helping providers improve their productivity and ultimately enjoy greater work-life balance

All these benefits may be realized through the health IT team, under a health information manager’s leadership.

Staying Abreast of IT Trends

While the role of the health information manager is often defined purely in terms of EHRs, these professionals can also provide critical leadership for organizations as they embrace other cutting-edge technologies. A few examples of how health information managers can guide innovations that improve efficiencies as well as patient outcomes are as follows:

  • Many providers now ask some of their patients to use wearable devices, which can record critical information, such as blood pressure and heart rate. The health information manager can ensure that providers and nurses know how to log this information in secure databases, and to access it as needed. Additionally, health information managers may provide programs that providers can use to integrate these data points into care plans..
  • Health information managers may also work with their teams to provide predictive analytics tools, allowing providers to synthesize data and make informed predictions about patient diagnoses and treatments.
  • Health information managers may also help physicians establish augmented reality programs, which can be valuable tools for educating their patients.

What Does a Health Information Manager Do?

Having outlined the basic role and responsibilities of a health information manager, let’s now go deeper: What does a health information manager do daily to add value and leadership to the organization?

Health Information Manager: Core Responsibilities

The health information manager oversees information governance throughout the organization, which comes with wide-ranging day-to-day responsibilities. Examples include the following:

  • Designing and implementing systems and processes that will facilitate consistent, accurate medical documentation
  • Working with physicians to ensure the quality and efficiency of medical documentation
  • Working with the coding staff to ensure streamlined and accurate billing processes, based on easy access to medical records
  • Preparing and providing clinical information that may be used for research or for population health studies
  • Tracking statistical trends on behalf of third-party auditors
  • Training providers and other staff members on how to implement new technologies

Compliance and Security

As they carry out their core responsibilities, health information managers must comply with laws and regulations that apply to their work and protect the integrity of the data that their organizations maintain.

For example, health organizations must ensure that their data collection and storage is always compliant with patient privacy guidelines, such as those outlined by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Maintaining compliance with HIPAA is an important way for health information managers to guard their organizations against potential legal or regulatory trouble.

Health information managers are tasked with keeping all financial and medical data safe and secure from cyberattacks and information breaches. This role encompasses keeping cybersecurity programs up-to-date and instructing employees on the best practices for maintaining data security.

Team Leadership and Collaboration

Health information managers must have leadership and communication skills to be effective in their roles. They typically are tasked with not only supervising a team of IT professionals but also providing support to other departments throughout their organizations.

For example, health information managers may work closely with any of the following administrators:

  • Billing and coding specialists
  • Information release specialists
  • Clinical documentation improvement professionals
  • Medical transcriptionists
  • Compliance analysts and auditors

Because medical record maintenance plays such a significant role in medical coding and billing, health information managers will often work with payers and other third parties.

Work Environments

Health information managers may find opportunities to work in a wide range of healthcare settings. The most common examples include hospitals, nursing homes, research institutions, long-term care facilities, and large or midsize private medical practices. Note that, most of the time, health information managers will be based in an administrative office rather than a clinical setting.

Many health IT teams operate on a partially or fully remote basis, which means that some IT staff  members won’t be physically present in the facility. Health information managers will need to develop some skills in leading and managing employees in virtual settings.

Key Skills for Health Information Managers

To find success as health information managers and contribute real value to healthcare organizations, professionals need to focus on cultivating the right skill sets. Here are some of the skills that are most important to the health information management role.

Leadership Skills

Most health information managers provide oversight and accountability to full IT teams. This may include directing strategic or operational duties throughout all departments of a hospital or medical practice. Robust leadership skills are a must for those in the health information manager role.

Technical Competencies

To provide high-level leadership with regard to implementing new technologies, health information managers need to be technologically proficient. This proficiency includes an in-depth understanding of key database and information management platforms and specifically with the most common EHR software providers.

Analytical Skills

Health information managers must be skilled in analytical and critical thinking. Often, their responsibilities will require them to identify inefficiencies in an organization’s IT infrastructure and develop solutions. Analytical skills are paramount here.

Communication Skills

Health information managers may be required to educate providers, nurses, technicians or administrators on how to leverage new technological solutions. As such, the ability to communicate clearly, even with people who have a limited understanding of technology, is highly valued.

Attention to Detail

One of the cornerstones of health IT is information accuracy. Simply put, patient records must be both precise and comprehensive for them to be of any use. To ensure data integrity, health information managers must pay attention to even the smallest details of the data collection process.

Knowledge of Coding and Billing

The work that health IT professionals do may have a big impact on how easily coding and billing specialists can do their jobs. Indeed, health information managers are often tasked with streamlining the billing and coding processes, which requires a baseline of knowledge about how these processes work.

Learn More About Careers in Health Information Management

While on-the-job experience can be an effective way to cultivate skills, a strong academic foundation is also critical. One way to begin honing the core competencies is by enrolling in the University of Illinois at Chicago’s online Master of Science in Health Information Management program, which is designed to help students achieve professional success as key contributors to their healthcare organizations.

Through this program, students may develop technical expertise in developing health information management systems. Students will also become familiar with some of the ethical and regulatory concerns that surround health IT.

By pursuing work in the health information management field, students may gain the opportunity to combine their love of technology, their zeal for creative thinking and their passion about effective healthcare. To start taking advantage of such opportunities, consider a formal education in health information management. Learn more about the University of Illinois at Chicago’s online Master of Science in Health Information Management program today.

 

Recommended Readings

Ethics of Wearables: How Health Providers Use Health Data Insights from Wellness Technology

Which Types of Data Are Valuable to Healthcare Organizations?

What is Healthcare Compliance? Exploring a Core Concept in Care Delivery

 

Sources:

American Health Information Management Association, Certifications & Careers

Digital Guardian, “What Is a Health Information System?”

Health Information and Management Systems Society, “Wearable Technology Applications in Healthcare: A Literature Review”

Health IT Dashboard, Quick Stats

Healthcare Finance, “Cybersecurity: The Enemy Is Already Inside the Gate”

HealthIT.gov, What Are the Advantages of Electronic Health Records?

Imaging Technology News, “6 Key Health Information Technology Trends at HIMSS 2019”

University of Illinois at Chicago, Current Trends in the Health Information Management Field

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Medical and Health Services Managers