- Health information technicians are projected to be one of the 20 fastest growing occupations.
- High school students can improve chances of acceptance into a health information education program by taking courses in biology, chemistry, health, and especially computer training.
- Most technicians will be employed by hospitals, but job growth will be faster in offices and clinics of physicians, nursing homes, and home health agencies.
Every time health care personnel treat a patient, they record what they observed, and how the patient was treated medically. This record includes information the patient provides concerning their symptoms and medical history, the results of examinations, reports of x-rays and laboratory tests, diagnoses, and treatment plans. Health information technicians organize and evaluate these records for completeness and accuracy.
Health information technicians, who may also be called medical record technicians, begin to assemble patients health information by first making sure their initial medical charts are complete. They ensure all forms are completed and properly identified and signed, and all necessary information is in the computer. Sometimes, they talk to physicians or others to clarify diagnoses or get additional information.
Technicians assign a code to each diagnosis and procedure. They consult classification manuals and rely, also, on their knowledge of disease processes. Technicians then use a software program to assign the patient to one of several hundred "diagnosis-related groups," or DRGs. The DRG determines the amount the hospital will be reimbursed if the patient is covered by Medicare or other insurance programs using the DRG system. Technicians who specialize in coding are called health information coders, medical record coders, coder/abstractors, or coding specialists. In addition to the DRG system, coders use other coding systems, such as those geared towards ambulatory settings.
Technicians also use computer programs to tabulate and analyze data to help improve patient care or control costs, for use in legal actions, or in response to surveys. Tumor registrars compile and maintain records of patients who have cancer to provide information to physicians and for research studies.
Health information technicians duties vary with the size of the facility. In large to medium facilities, technicians may specialize in one aspect of health information, or supervise health information clerks and transcribers while a health information administrator manages the department (see the statement on
health services managers elsewhere in the Handbook). In small facilities, an accredited health information technician sometimes manages the department.
Health information technicians usually work a 40-hour week. Some overtime may be required. In hospitals where health information departments are open 18-24 hours a day, 7 days a week, they may work day, evening, and night shifts.
Health information technicians work in pleasant and comfortable offices. This is one of the few health occupations in which there is little or no physical contact with patients. Because accuracy is essential, technicians must pay close attention to detail. Health information technicians who work at computer monitors for prolonged periods must guard against eyestrain and muscle pain.
Health information technicians held about 92,000 jobs in 1998. About 2 out of 5 jobs were in hospitals. The rest were mostly in nursing homes, medical group practices, clinics, and home health agencies. Insurance firms that deal in health matters employ a small number of health information technicians to tabulate and analyze health information. Public health departments also hire technicians to supervise data collection from health care institutions and to assist in research.
Health information technicians entering the field usually have an associate degree from a community or junior college. In addition to general education, coursework includes medical terminology, anatomy and physiology, legal aspects of health information, coding and abstraction of data, statistics, database management, quality improvement methods, and computer training. Applicants can improve their chances of admission into a program by taking biology, chemistry, health, and computer courses in high school.
Hospitals sometimes advance promising health information clerks to jobs as health information technicians, although this practice may be less common in the future. Advancement usually requires 2-4 years of job experience and completion of a hospitals in-house training program.
Most employers prefer to hire Accredited Record Technicians (ART), who must pass a written examination offered by AHIMA. To take the examination, a person must graduate from a 2-year associate degree program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) of the American Medical Association. Technicians trained in non-CAAHEP accredited programs, or on the job, are not eligible to take the examination. In 1998, CAAHEP accredited 168 programs for health information technicians. Technicians who specialize in coding may also obtain voluntary certification.
Experienced health information technicians usually advance in one of two waysby specializing or managing. Many senior health information technicians specialize in coding, particularly Medicare coding, or in tumor registry.
In large health information departments, experienced technicians may advance to section supervisor, overseeing the work of the coding, correspondence, or discharge sections, for example. Senior technicians with ART credentials may become director or assistant director of a health information department in a small facility. However, in larger institutions, the director is a health information administrator, with a bachelors degree in health information administration. (See the statement on
health services managers elsewhere in the Handbook.)
Job prospects for formally trained technicians should be very good. Employment of health information technicians is expected to grow
much faster than the average for all occupations through 2008, due to rapid growth in the number of medical tests, treatments, and procedures which will be increasingly scrutinized by third-party payers, regulators, courts, and consumers.
Hospitals will continue to employ a large percentage of health information technicians, but growth will not be as fast as in other areas. Increasing demand for detailed records in offices and clinics of physicians should result in fast employment growth, especially in large group practices. Rapid growth is also expected in nursing homes and home health agencies.
Median annual earnings of health information technicians were $20,590 in 1998. The middle 50 percent earned between $16,670 and $25,440 a year. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $14,150 and the highest 10 percent earned more than $31,570 a year. Median annual earnings in the industries employing the largest number of health information technicians in 1997 were as follows:
|Nursing and personal care facilities
|Offices and clinics of medical doctors
According to a 1997 survey by the American Health Information Management Association, the median annual salary for accredited health information technicians was $30,500. The average annual salary for health information technicians employed by the Federal Government was $27,500 in early 1999.
Health information technicians need a strong clinical background to analyze the contents of medical records. Other occupations requiring knowledge of medical terminology, anatomy, and physiology without directly touching the patient, are medical secretaries, medical transcriptionists, medical writers, and medical illustrators.
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Information on careers in health information technology, including a list of CAAHEP-accredited programs is available from:
- American Health Information Management Association, 233 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 2150, Chicago, IL 60601. Internet: http://www.ahima.org
An industry employing health information technicians that appears in the
2000-01 Career Guide to Industries: Health