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Virtually every patient who comes through the doors of a medical facility generates a paper trail of records tracking who they've met with, which treatments they've had, and what they've been prescribed. Health information technology, also known as health informatics or HIT, is the science of organizing and managing these vital records.

Precision and accuracy are high priorities in the HIT field, so employers look to graduates of health information technology degree programs to make sure this sensitive information is kept in order. HIT professionals might handle any of the following duties:

  • Reviewing medical records for relevance, accuracy and completeness
  • Using specialized software to sort records information by appropriate clinical code
  • Recording data electronically for storage, analysis and easy retrieval
  • Organizing clinical databases and maintaining data registries
  • Tracking patients' treatments and outcomes over time to assess quality of care

Employers typically require applicants to have at least some formal education in health informatics, and candidates who complete a dedicated health information technology degree program before moving into the workforce may be preferred. A full health information technology degree often includes one or more professional certifications, which are prerequisites for some positions in the field.

Health Information Technology: Coursework Overview

Course requirements vary by institution and healthcare program, but there are some fundamental concepts integral to most HIT programs. Here are a few of the subjects that students can expect to study on their path to a health information technology degree:

  • Healthcare data
  • Medical terminology
  • Healthcare coding and classification
  • Healthcare quality management
  • Database management
  • Fundamental computer technologies
  • Ethical and legal issues in healthcare
  • Information assurance and cybersecurity

An associate degree is often satisfactory for entry-level employment in the field, but students who desire more advanced positions can choose to pursue a bachelor's or master's degree. HIT-related postsecondary and graduate certificates also exist for students who have already earned a degree in a different focus.

Career Outlook for HIT Professionals

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of medical records and health information technicians is projected to increase 22 percent nationwide between 2012 and 2022, resulting in more than 41,000 new jobs in the field. Growth is expected to follow a rise in demand for medical services by the general population, as well as an increase in the adoption of electronic health records (EHR) by health care providers.

Medical records and health information technicians earned a median annual salary of $34,970 in 2013, based on BLS data. The top 10 percent of HIT salaries came in at more than $56,200 that year, and the bottom 10 earned less than $22,250. Graduates employed in pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing earned more in 2013 than their counterparts in other industries, taking home a median annual wage of $66,060.

Additional education or job experience might qualify health informatics professionals for careers in other branches of the health care system. Medical transcriptionists, who possess a similar skill set to HIT workers, earned 2013 median wages of $34,590. Positions in medical and health services management, which usually require at least a bachelor's degree and several years of experience on the job, paid a median salary of $90,940 in 2013.

"Medical Records and Health Information Technicians," Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook 2014-2015 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Healthcare/Medical-records-and-health-information-technicians.htm
"Medical Records and Health Information Technicians," Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2012 Occupational Employment and Wages, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes292071.htm
"Medical Records and Health Information Technicians," Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2013, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes292071.htm

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