What Is Patient Information, and How Is It Protected?

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Health information management professional securing patient dataWhen people visit health care facilities to receive medical services, they are usually required to give their health care providers relevant information that can be used to inform their treatment process. The information they give to these providers is typically referred to as patient information. But what is patient information, and why is it important?

Patient information includes a range of different data types, such as patients’ medical history, medical test results, and insurance information. Health care professionals can use all of this data to provide better care for their patients, but patient information also has the potential to be abused by malicious parties if it is not protected. Maintaining the confidentiality of patient information is important because health records often contain extremely personal details or financial information. Health care information systems are complex, but earning an online Bachelor of Science in Health Information Management equips health care professionals with the skills to navigate these systems effectively to keep their patients’ privacy fully intact.

The Different Types of Patient Information

To understand what patient information is, it is important to know the difference between protected health information and de-identified health information, also referred to as consumer health information.

Protected Health Information

The most sensitive forms of patient information fall under the umbrella of protected health information (PHI). The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996 defines PHI as any information in a medical record that can be used to identify an individual and that was created, used, or disclosed in the course of providing a health care service, such as a diagnosis or treatment. Examples range from blood test results to billing information and can even include seemingly obscure exchanges of information, such as an email from a doctor’s office.

De-identified Health Information

De-identified health information is less strictly protected, as it cannot be used to identify patients. This data is often compiled in a database and analyzed so that health care organizations can learn more about the general health of a patient population. Examples of de-identified health information include basic data, such as calories burned or heart rate readings, that do not include identifiable information. In instances where data does include identifiable information, a qualified informaticist can remove identifiers of the individual and make it acceptable as de-identified health information.

What Is Patient Information Security?

The HIPAA Privacy Rule established by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) states, “The Standards for Privacy of Individually Identifiable Health Information (‘Privacy Rule’) establishes, for the first time, a set of national standards for the protection of certain health information.” The overarching goal of the Privacy Rule is to keep sensitive patient information protected without hindering the flow of valuable health information that health care providers need to perform their work.

In the modern age, where data can be communicated instantly via the internet, the process of protecting this data has become more complicated than ever. To address this complex issue, health care educators developed a subfield of health care administration: health information management and health informatics. Students who study this discipline gain technical skills that are valuable to health care employers.

Medical Records and Health Information Technicians

Medical records and health information technicians use their knowledge of health care information technology and regulatory standards to ensure their employers have a functional system for keeping patient information organized, accurate, accessible and secure. The core of their work entails electronically recording patient information and analyzing it to improve patient outcomes.

Medical coders are a specialized group of health information technicians who translate health care information into universal medical alphanumeric codes and record them in an electronic system that can be easily referenced by future health care providers. This documentation can be used to more easily diagnose patients’ conditions, allowing for a more pleasant and satisfying patient experience.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, medical records and health information technicians earned a median annual salary of $40,350 in 2018, and the BLS expects the number of jobs available in this profession to increase by 11% between 2018 and 2028.

Higher Education for Health Information Scientists

The curriculum featured in the University of Illinois at Chicago’s online Bachelor of Science in Health Information Management program positions graduates for long-term success in the health informatics field. These are two of the valuable courses students can expect to take in this online program:

  • Information Systems for Health Information Management. This course teaches students how to apply a wide range of health information systems management concepts in real-world scenarios. Upon completion, graduates should understand how they can best use health information systems to solve business problems and optimize an organization’s performance.
  • Health Data Structures and Management. In this course, students learn how to navigate the different information systems that health care organizations use to store and access patient information. Students can develop a firm understanding of how to effectively navigate and secure patient information databases.

Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Health Information Management

Bachelor of Science in Health Information Management graduates are eligible to further their education with the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Health Information Management (PBC HIM). This certificate program provides graduates with a more in-depth look at the advanced concepts covered in the undergraduate information management coursework. Students can expect to take the following courses, among others, during the certificate program:

  • Principles of Management and Human Resources. Health information managers adept at managing other people can potentially advance into leadership roles. This course teaches prospective health informatics managers how to effectively organize, lead and motivate their team members. With these skills in hand, certified information managers are more desirable candidates for leadership positions.
  • Legal Aspects, Risk Management and Security of Health Information. In this course, students take a more extensive look into how law, confidentiality, and ethics impact people who work with health records and other forms of patient information. Graduates can use this knowledge to mitigate the risks associated with mismanaging sensitive patient data.

Learn How to Start Managing Patient Information Systems with a Bachelor of Science in Health Information Management

What is patient information management education worth to you? Bachelor of Science in Health Information Management graduates are also qualified to pursue a Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Health Information Management (PBC HIM), which further validates their ability to effectively secure patient information. With each of these qualifications on their resumes, health care professionals can become far more competitive in their field, making them desirable candidates for higher-paying positions.

A first step toward becoming a leader in the health informatics field is earning the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Bachelor of Science in Health Information Management. This degree can help open the door to the plentiful opportunities in this rapidly growing industry.

Recommended Readings

What Is Health Care Data? Examining a Key Concept in Modern Care
Career Spotlight: Health Informatics Consultant
7 Interesting Blogs for Health Informatics Students

Sources

HHS.gov Summary of the HIPAA Privacy Rule
HIPAA Journal, “What Is Protected Health Information?”
Journal of Big Data, “Big Healthcare Data: Preserving Security and Privacy”
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook – Medical Records and Health Information Technicians