Health Information Technology Careers

Overview

Reviewed By Don Lindamood
HIT professional

Health information technology careers enable remarkable new opportunities to bring value to health care while lowering costs and enabling efficiency, with the goal to avoid medical mistakes. Those with a dual passion for ICT (Information and Communication Technology) and medical sciences have a great career possibility in the field of health information technology (HIT).

The timing for such a career choice could not be better: medical doctors now confront a huge procedural shift from previous methods to interaction with a standardized digital record and new electronic-based processes. The US Department of Health and Human Services (HSS) has mandated that doctors and hospitals adopt electronic health records (EHRs), which are also known as electronic medical records (EMRs). The relationship between physician offices and Healthcare institutions is strengthened by a sound EHR system and by qualified individuals committed to accurate and available EHRs.

According to an analysis by the Rand Corporation, “If most hospitals and doctors’ offices adopted HIT, the potential efficiency savings for both inpatient and outpatient care could average over $77 billion per year.” These massive savings are expected to come from more efficient drug prescriptions; reduced administrative time for doctors and nurses; and reduced time of hospital stays as a result of better scheduling, coordination and increased safety, and quality.

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said back in February 2012, “Health IT is the foundation for a truly 21st century health system where we pay for the right care, not just more care." Today, HIT workers enjoy robust job prospects. Additionally, HIT and healthcare will continue to grow into the foreseeable future. Health information technology professionals will continue to be on the front lines of implementing, managing, and directing technologies and process changes in their day-to-day work. The medical community calls upon them to find the best ways of sharing information - with the patients themselves as well as between providers, insurance companies and government agencies - without compromising patient privacy.

Work Environment

The medical community relies on HIT specialists in all geographical areas of the country and within all types of medical settings - private practices, hospitals, home health agencies, nursing homes, mental health facilities and public health agencies. The immediate tasks confronting an HIT professional are qualified by the current degree to which the employer has transitioned to electronic handling of patient information. Often the HIT professional’s tasks shift as the technology is adopted, changed, or enhanced.

As these healthcare facilities select and implement new hardware and software systems, they must also provide educational programs to train medical staff in their usage. Information technology professionals accept the challenges of optimizing these new systems as medical staff mature in their adoption and use. Owing to their significant responsibilities, these specialists expect full-time workloads and demanding schedules, often including an on-call rotation and some travel.

Requirements

Education

Prospective HIT specialists seeking future advancement will need a minimum of an associate (two-year) degree, preferably in computer sciences and/or information technology.

The Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education (CAHIIM) accredits informatics programs. Those who attend schools without this specific major or focus are urged to study computer science, math (including calculus and statistics) biology and medical terminology. Prospective health IT professionals must acquire solid knowledge of data base construction and management. The budding professional may also enjoy a competitive advantage by gaining specialized knowledge, such as in bioinformatics, the application of ICT to the mountains of genetic data being generated by researchers on a weekly basis.

Training

A college degree with courses as described above is the optimal training for health information technology careers. Many current ICT professionals began careers in a healthcare related field – learning the IT profession on the job. However, it is conceivable that someone with an appropriate bachelor’s degree, such as in math or biology, could follow that up with extensive training in computers from a top level vocational school, or through specific courses focused on HIT. Sources such as CompTIA (Computing Technology Industry Association) offer certifications for the Health Care IT Technician- designed to help educate and fill the gap of available positions. The Healthcare Information Management Systems Society (HIMSS) recognizes professionals who have passed the “Certified Professional Health Information Management Systems” examination.

Licensing and/or Certification

For positions specific to Health Information Management, the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) offers certification of two types: Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT) and Registered Health Information Administrator (RHIA). Candidates gain this certification by passing the corresponding test administered by AHIMA. An associate degree is a prerequisite for RHIT certification, while a bachelor’s degree is needed to sit for the RHIA exam. For those taking the RHIT or RHIA for the first time, a little over 70% will pass. AHIMA provides full information on the nature of the tests as well as recommended preparation and resources.

Necessary Skills and Qualities

In addition to good computer application and process understanding, the successful HIT specialist also possesses the following skills:

  • Knowledge of healthcare delivery workflow (departmental processes depending on areas of focus) - interacting with healthcare professionals.
  • Problem-solving and critical thinking - to meet new needs with solutions.
  • Strong verbal and written communication - effectively liaising within healthcare and IT.
  • Attention to detail and to customer service - meeting the needs of the internal department as well as those of clinical and business customers.
  • The ability to quickly learn and adapt to a rapidly changing work environment - both healthcare and IT continuously change.

Opportunities for Advancement

There are numerous opportunities for career advancement within the HIT field from introductory through administrative roles. Work experience tends to give people deeper knowledge in certain specialized areas, which can be parlayed into job and salary advancement either with a present employer or elsewhere.

The ability to learn, unlearn and relearn definitely helps HIT workers stand out within their group or department. Taking advantage of educational or experiential HIT opportunities broadens or freshens a person’s skill set, increasing value to an employer and opportunities for advancement. For example, professionals with a strong IT background can take courses to enhance their understanding of healthcare: clinical, business, or operations. Those with clinical or health business backgrounds can develop expertise in IT and can gain certification in health or clinical informatics, customer support, or in system and application maintenance.

If you would like to gain the necessary education to pursue a health information technology career, 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 for Health Information Technicians

Hover over any state to explore local income and job growth data.

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Average salaries reflect wide ranges in pay depending on geographic location, type of employer, qualifications of the individual, and his or her position within the broad spectrum of healthcare IT. An IT manager, for instance, could earn an average salary of $127,640, while a health information technician earns an average salary of $35,900, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Salaries and costs of living will tend to be higher in large metropolitan areas. Other factors being about equal, when comparing those with associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees, pay increases as the amount of education and training increases.

The job outlook in health information technology is stronger than average, with about a 15% growth projection through 2024.

U.S. health systems must continue to eliminate waste, add value, and reduce cost while continuing to improve patient health outcomes and effectiveness. HIT will continue to attract the interested individual who wants to be a part of an industry in transformation.

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