What Does it Mean to Study Health Information Technology?
When someone breaks an arm, undergoes heart surgery, receives medicine to treat a sore throat, or simply gets an annual physical, a record of their physician's treatments, observations, and notes is created and saved. This record includes information concerning symptoms and medical history, previous medical exam reports, x-ray and laboratory test results, doctors' diagnoses, and a list of past treatment plans.
This information is crucial to providing quality health care, and is the main concern of professionals in the health information technology field. These workers have the responsibility of recording important information regarding patient care in digital files that can be easily accessed by other health care professionals. Keep reading to learn more about health information technology degrees, careers they can lead to, and what it takes to become a health information technology major.
Types of Health Information Technology Degrees
Degree programs that introduce students to health information technology are diverse and varied. Not only can students choose to pursue several different levels of health information technology degrees, but they can choose whether to pursue their studies in a traditional classroom setting or online via distance education. In some cases, they may even be able to choose a hybrid degree program where they can complete some of their coursework in-person and the rest online.
Before you consider a career in health information technology, it helps to know what kinds of degrees are generally available and what you should focus on during the course of your studies. Consider these options:
Earning a certificate in health information technology or medical coding can be a smart move for students looking to earn entry-level positions in the field. Health IT certificate programs are primarily designed for new students who are seeking introductory education in health information technology. These programs are intended to cover medical terminology, health insurance information, and many of the business aspects of health care, all with a background of the basics of coding systems.
Certificate programs encourage students to develop the skills necessary to assist health care professionals in accurately billing, maintaining and filing various health care documents. In many cases, students can opt to transfer certain completed courses to a more advanced degree program further down the line as well. Certificate curricula vary from school to school, but courses you may encounter during your studies include:
- Health informatics
- Communication in health care
- Health insurance
- Health care billing
- Medical terminology
For many careers in health information technology, an associate degree is the foundation required to obtain solid entry-level work. Associate degree programs typically focus on information management, computer technology, medical procedure and billing, health insurance and health care administration.
It is common for students to return to school after earning a few years of work experience, and many bachelor's in health IT programs allow students to transfer in Associate of Science credit as well. So, keep that in mind if you're considering earning an associate degree but potentially going back to school later on, or if you're not certain how much school you really want to commit to.
While associate degree programs vary in scope and content, some of the courses you should expect to take include:
- Computer applications
- Medical terminology
- Health insurance and reimbursement overview
- Health information fundamentals
- Health services and information systems
Health information technology bachelor's degree programs strive to teach students the skills they may need for careers in health care information administration and management. Courses may cover science, medicine, business, information management, technology, health insurance information and other concepts relevant for those whose goal is successfully managing health care facilities.
Pursuing a health information technology bachelor's degree is a challenging endeavor that should expose you to many different and important aspects of this field. Because of this, students should expect to commit four academic years to complete this degree program. Courses you'll come across may include the following, among others:
- Data management
- Information security, privacy and ethics
- Electronic health records
- Health information systems
- Network technology
Earning a master's degree in health information technology can help you move into the highest management roles of this important career field. You could wind up overseeing entire hospital data and record management systems, likely managing other health care information technology professionals and their work in the process.
Master's in health IT degree programs dive into the most complex areas of health information technology, helping students master the most difficult and important topics. Students who pursue these programs should focus on learning how to incorporate advanced technology into health care settings, and how to utilize this technology to reduce errors and become more efficient.
Courses students in these programs may take include:
- Social & organizational issues in health care settings
- Advanced information technology
- Health care innovations
- Database design
What Can You Do With a College Degree in Health IT?
If you are considering the prospect of becoming a health information technology major, it's crucial to understand the career options that may become available to you. Here are some of the many careers available in this industry, and what they entail:
Health Information Technicians
A health information technician is responsible for reviewing medical charts to check for completion and accuracy. These professionals also generate reports and assign diagnosis codes to medical charts for insurance claims and data collection purposes. Health information technicians gather, analyze, and manage information so that health care providers can successfully care for patients.
These professionals can work in a number of different health care-related situations. Commonly, health information technicians can find employment in locations such as hospitals, medical clinics, health maintenance organizations, public health agencies, home care agencies and nursing homes.
- A health information technology certificate or associate degree is a common requirement for this career.
- Certification as a Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT) may be required.
The medical coder's job is to review various medical documents, then translate their information into appropriate numeric codes. By using a standard health care coding system, they are able to boil complex medical data down to a simple series of codes that can be easily referenced at a later date.
This job is frequently the point of contact between the medical and business sides of health care. Doctors and pharmacists may use coders' reports to gain an understanding of a new patient's previous medical history, while health care insurance professionals often rely upon the same reports to decide how insurance can be paid out in regards to a condition or injury.
- Earning a certificate or an associate degree in medical coding usually qualifies students for entry-level positions.
- Becoming certified as a Certified Coding Associate (CCA) may increase your job prospects, although certification is not always required.
Health Care Information Managers
Health care information managers oversee the business components of providing health care services. These professionals might find themselves responsible for managing health information systems that house all medical documents and insurance information for an entire health care facility, from a small clinic all the way up to a sprawling hospital.
It is common for health information administrators to work in hospitals, nursing homes, home care agencies, medical clinics and health maintenance organizations. The position is typically held by advanced, experienced health care professionals who possess demonstrated skills and knowledge; as such, a formal education is a crucial component for those who wish to pursue the career.
- Health care information administrators should have at least a bachelor's degree, and many have also earned a master's degree in health care information management.
- Certification is not required, but many professionals in this field pursue a Registered Health Information Administrator (RHIA) credential.
A medical secretary primarily performs clerical and administrative functions that enable physicians and other medical professionals to work more efficiently. General responsibilities include transcribing dictation, generating and editing correspondence documents, and aiding physicians with various reports, speeches, articles and conference proceedings. Medical secretaries may also offer technical support, update and maintain medical records, and handle arrangements for the hospitalization of patients.
It is important for a medical secretary to be familiar with health insurance rules, billing methods, and medical and laboratory procedures. Since technology is constantly changing, it is also important for medical secretaries to update their understanding of the available information management systems on a regular basis.
- A college degree may not be required, but certification or an associate degree could increase your job prospects.
- Advanced credentials are not required for this career.
Health IT Salaries and Career Outlook
|Career||Total Employment||Annual Mean Wage|
|Medical and Health Services Managers||394,910||$115,160|
|Medical Dosimetrists, Medical Records Specialists, and Health Technologists and Technicians, All Other||331,790||$46,590|
|Medical Secretaries and Administrative Assistants||604,780||$38,090|
Health IT Associations and Organizations
Because the role of the health information technology professional can be so crucial to the workplace, employers usually want to be sure that the employees they hire have a solid understanding of the job. Becoming professionally certified through one of these organizations can be a good way to assure a prospective employer that you've got what they're looking for.
- American Academy of Professional Coders -- This organization works to keep its fingers on the pulse of the medical coding industry while offering members news and continuing education opportunities. Several credentials are also available through them, including the Certified Professional Coder (CPC), Certified Outpatient Coder (COC), Certified Inpatient Coder (CIC), and Certified Professional Medical Auditor (CPMA).
- National Association of Health Data Organizations -- This organization is a national firm dedicated to improving health data organization across the country. Here, you can access important health IT resources and learn about innovations in the industry.
- Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society -- This organization serves as an important networking tool for professionals in health care information and management careers. Professional development and continuing education opportunities are available, as are career and job boards.
- American Medical Informatics Association -- This organization focuses on offering continuing education and resources for medical informatics professionals. Workers can visit the website to connect with networking opportunities or continuing education courses in their area.
- National Institute for Health Care Management -- This foundation offers news and studies for health care management and related fields. They support research that aids in health care reform and delivery as well.
- Bachelor of Science in Information Technology, Health Information Management Specialization, Capella University, https://www.capella.edu/online-degrees/bachelors-it-health-information-management/
- Health Information Technology Associate Degree Program, DeVry University, https://www.devry.edu/degree-programs/health-sciences/health-information-technology.html
- Health Information Technology Certificate, School of Information, https://ischool.cci.fsu.edu/academics/undergrad/cert/
- Medical and Health Services Managers, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-26 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/Management/Medical-and-health-services-managers.htm
- Medical Records and Health Information Technicians, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-26 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/medical-records-and-health-information-technicians.htm
- MS in Information Technology, Healthcare Informatics, Southern New Hampshire University, https://www.snhu.edu/online-degrees/masters/ms-in-information-technology/healthcare-informatics
- Secretaries and Administrative Assistants, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-26 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/office-and-administrative-support/secretaries-and-administrative-assistants.htm