Becoming a Registered Health Information Technician

Overview

By Wendy James, RHIA, PMP

Registered health information technicians (RHITs) are custodians of one of the most important tools in modern health care - the medical record. Medical records have traditionally been paper-based documents that contain a patient’s health information and history from birth to the time of death. The healthcare industry has slowly been evolving from paper-based records to computer-based records; using electronic record systems aids caregivers and providers in the ability to improve the quality and efficiency of services rendered for a patient.

With this transition from paper to electronic health records (EHR), there are many opportunities for those who have the knowledge, skills and understanding of health information management. Health information must be accurately captured, completed and maintained, protected from inappropriate disclosure, and available when needed for continuity of effective patient care. It is also a vital component used for research, statistical data analyses and trending, coding and reimbursement. In short, the information maintained by registered health information technicians is central to the efficacy of health care.

Work Environment

The workplace environment for a health information technician (HIT) is most often in a hospital setting. Common duties include using computer applications to perform record processing functions like assembly and analysis of the patient data to ensure that it is complete and accurate. Duties can also involve scanning and indexing paper documents for those organizations still in transition to an electronic record. HITs work closely with professional staff like physicians and other caregivers to ensure that the documentation gathered is signed and completed according to the organization’s bylaws and legal record requirements.

HITs most often specialize in the coding and abstracting of the patient data. This function includes gathering and reviewing the patient information in order to assign an ICD code that corresponds to the diagnosis and procedures for the patient, as applicable. This critical role has a direct impact on an organization’s reimbursement as well as the accuracy of data used in research and analysis. HITs also perform the very important compilation and maintenance of data needed for cancer registries.

Aside from employment within hospitals, health information technicians also find work in the physicians’ offices, nursing homes, insurance companies, government health agencies, cancer registries, pharmaceutical companies, attorneys and software vendors. Positions typically provide a full-time work schedule; however, with the shift to electronic records, greater flexibility with work schedules is on the rise, along with the ability to work remotely. Since technicians will spend long periods of time using a computer, it is advisable to practice occupational safety precaution against eyestrain and ergonomic injury.

Requirements

Education

High school students should try to take classes in business, computers, math, health and biology. Those individuals desiring the role of a registered health information technician should complete a two-year Associate degree program. Students should choose a health information management (HIM) program that is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management (CAHIIM).

Licensing and/or Certification

Candidates who have successfully completed the academic requirements at the associate level of a HIM program accredited by CAHIIM are eligible to sit for the RHIT certification exam administered by the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA). Upon successfully passing this exam, the candidate is then able to utilize the RHIT designated credentials. Obtaining certification credentials opens many doors for an HIT; many employers look for this designation as part of their hiring process.

Training

RHITs can receive on-the-job training. Some institutions will offer in-house development programs for new professionals in many of the functional areas of health information management. The highest demand currently is for those individuals who are talented and skilled in the areas of ICD coding.

Necessary Skills and Qualities

While RHITs do not provide hands-on patient care, they often interface with providers, insurance companies and health care facilities. Excellent verbal and interpersonal skills are therefore an asset. Health information professionals rely on strong computer and technological aptitude to keep pace in this rapidly evolving field. Comfort with math, word processing, data entry and electronic document management systems is also desirable. Attention to detail helps RHITs code with accuracy and comply with regulations and privacy laws.

Opportunities for Advancement

Experienced RHITs often pursue additional training and credentials in an area of interest such as medical coding (CCS, CCS-P, CCA) or cancer registry operations (CTR). There are also opportunities to further one’s education in HIM. For instance, there is a four-year bachelor’s degree path that includes education necessary for becoming a registered health information administrator (RHIA). This degree has more focus in the collection, interpretation and analysis of patient data and also more focused training in management. A master’s degree in HIM would likely bring a career more focused on administration and leadership roles, consulting, academics and information technology. Regardless of the level of education, health information management is an exciting and rewarding career.

If you would like to gain the necessary education to become a registered health information technician, we highly recommend that you check out our free School Finder Tool located HERE.

Salary and Job Outlook

Interactive Map of Income and Job Growth Projections

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According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, RHITs make an annual average salary of $40,430. Eighty percent earn between $24,190 and $61,400.

HITs with good coding abilities and/or experience with electronic health records experience are in a position to earn higher income. Obtaining a bachelor’s or master’s degree in the field can also boost both earnings and advancement opportunities.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs for RHITs are expected to grow by 15% between 2014 and 2024, which is considered faster than the average for all occupations. Our country’s population is getting older and a greater number of people are enjoying health insurance coverage, both of which mean that health services are in greater demand.

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Also, check out our Health Careers page for more career guides.

Further Reading

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