The growing sector of health information promises high growth in jobs for specialists, including technicians. Health informatics professionals gather, analyze and code patient data for reimbursement from insurance companies; maintain accuracy and completeness of patient data for research and analysis as well as for databases and registries; and maintain the medical and treatment histories of patients. Here are specifics on the profession’s career paths, duties and skills, and job outlook.
Health informatics specialists usually need a postsecondary degree before being able to work, and often need additional certification. Associate degree and certificate programs in health information technology include courses not only in classification and coding systems, but also medical terminology, health care reimbursement methods, health care statistics, computer systems, anatomy and physiology, and health data requirements and standards.
Employers prefer to hire candidates who are certified, or they may require that an applicant earn certification shortly after being hired. There are a number of organizations that offer certifications, which include the Certified Tumor Registrar and the Registered Health Information Technician.
Qualities of a Health Information Professional
Analytical skills: Health information technicians need strong analytical skills. They must be able to understand medical records and diagnoses, and know how to code them into medical records.
Integrity: Because health information specialists are trusted with patient data that are required to be kept confidential, professionals must have a strong sense of integrity, duty and ethics. They must be alert and exercise caution in order to protect patient confidentiality.
Technical Skills: A strong understanding of classification and coding software is required. Technicians must fully understand the electronic health record (EHR) system used by the health care organization or practice in which they are employed.
Attention to detail: Accuracy is crucial when coding and recording patient information, because health records impact not only the patient’s health, but the liability of those involved in care and recordkeeping.
Interpersonal skills: The health information technician must be able to discuss, clearly and concisely, the complex matters of patient information and data requirements with other professionals who are not specialists in the field.
Health information technicians manage and organize health data, using classification systems to code and categorize information for databases and registries. This is done for the purposes of insurance reimbursement, and to maintain patient histories of treatment. The media involved is both electronic and analog (paper based).
Regular duties include reviewing records for completeness and accuracy, organizing and maintaining data for clinical databases and registries, electronically recording data for storage and analysis, using classification software to assign clinical codes for reimbursement and analysis, tracking medical outcomes to assess quality, and always maintaining confidentiality.
Health information specialists often will work with registered nurses and other health care professionals to clarify information in maintaining the accuracy and completeness of medical records.
There are a couple specializations available to health information technicians, which include the following:
Cancer registrars: These specialists review patient records and reports to verify accuracy, conduct annual follow-ups to track treatment and recovery, compile information on cancer patients for analysis and research, maintain regional and national databases of cancer patients, and assign classification codes for treatment and diagnostics of cancers and benign tumors.
Medical coders: Medical coders review patient information for preexisting conditions; assign appropriate diagnoses and procedure codes for billing, patient care and population health statistics; and work as liaisons between health clinicians and billing offices.
Job Outlook and Pay
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the growth in health information technician jobs is predicted to be 15 percent from 2014 to 2024, which represents much faster growth than the average for all occupations. This growth is due to the aging population, which will require more medical services, as well as the growth of the health information sector, which continues to expand as new technologies are implemented and perfected for tracking medical data. Cancer registrars especially will continue to be in high demand, because many illnesses are detected and treated later on in the life of the patient and are more likely to be cancer related.
According to available data, the annual pay for health information specialists in the U.S. is approximately $61,000. Factors that affect compensation are location, specialization and experience level. Most health information technicians receive vision and dental coverage, and they enjoy high job satisfaction.
The University of Illinois at Chicago delivers some of the most innovative and comprehensive Health Informatics and Health Information Management programs in the country. Our advanced degree and certificate programs can prepare you to make an immediate impact within your organization and play a vital role in the evolution of the healthcare industry as a whole.