Becoming a Registered Health Information Technician
Registered health information technicians (RHITs) are custodians of one of the most important tools in modern health care—the medical record. These professionals ensure that patients’ histories are accurate, complete, up to date and properly entered into the clinical database. Thanks to the work of RHITs, doctors and other providers have a full range of information at their fingertips which can be used to plan and deliver high quality care.
Many RHITs use universal coding systems to assign diagnostic and procedural codes to each piece of patient information. This allows administrators, third-party payers and researchers to retrieve and analyze data quickly and easily. Hospitals and health systems use codes to track patient outcomes and develop strategies for continuous improvement while insurance carriers use them to calculate provider reimbursements. RHITs also lend their expertise to cancer registries—organizations that curate tumor data for use in public health and epidemiological research.
RHITs are experts in medical terminology, computer technology and disease process. In order to ensure the confidentiality of patient records, they adhere closely to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), a set of rules governing the privacy and sharing of personal health information. As the guardians and gatekeepers of high-quality medical data, RHITs take great pride in supporting the work of providers, administrators and researchers. The importance of the health information management field is growing quickly due to advances in technology and wide adoption of the electronic health record.
RHITs are employed in physician offices, hospitals, nursing homes, insurance companies, government health agencies and cancer registries. Health information technicians are usually employed full-time. Those at 24-hour inpatient facilities often work night and weekend shifts.
Most health information management work takes place behind the scenes in office environments. Technicians usually do not have direct patient contact but may speak with providers to double check facts and clarify ambiguities in records. These professionals spend long periods at the computer and must take occupational safety precautions against eyestrain and ergonomic injury.
To be eligible for RHIT certification, candidates must hold an associate's degree in health information technology from an accredited organization. High school students can prepare by taking courses in computers, math, health and biology. Many vocational centers now offer health information management programs to help young people explore this growing field.
RHITs receive extensive on-the-job training. Some hospitals offer in-house development programs for new professionals.
Licensing and/or Certification
Candidates who have completed an accredited training program are eligible to sit for the RHIT certification exam administered by the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA).
Necessary Skills and Qualities
While RHITs rarely work with patients, they often interface with providers, insurance companies and health care facilities. Excellent verbal and interpersonal skills are therefore an asset. Health information workers 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 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 or cancer registry operations. Some return to school to complete a bachelor’s or master’s degree in health information management, which enables them to advance into health care administration.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, RHITs made an annual median salary of $32,350 in 2010. Eighty percent earned between $21,240 and $53,430.
Technicians with electronic health record experience and strong coding abilities generally command higher salaries. Obtaining a bachelor’s or master’s degree in the field can also boost both earnings and advancement opportunities.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of RHITs is expected to grow by 21% between 2010 and 2020, which is considered faster than the average for all occupations. This is due in part to the aging of the U.S. population, which is increasing demand for all types of medical services. The emergence of electronic health records is also creating new opportunities for RHITs with strong computer skills.