How to Become a Health Information Manager

What is a Health Information Manager?

A health information manager is responsible for organizing and maintaining the incredible amount of health records and data on patients in all manner and sort of healthcare facilities. Though they typically play a behind-the-scenes role and seldom have direct contact with patients, health information managers still exert much influence over the quality of care that patients receive. That’s because workers in this field must stay on the cutting-edge of technology and healthcare to maintain the most accurate health records for all patients. In that regard, they are like the engine that drives the car that is the healthcare industry.

What are the Responsibilities of a Health Information Manager?

With an increasing reliance on electronic health records in the healthcare community, health information managers are tasked with obtaining patient medical data, organizing and storing it, and protecting it to ensure data is not breached and confidentiality and privacy are maintained.

Additionally, workers in this field are responsible for updating patient records as their health changes and ensuring that each patient’s records are accurate. What’s more, it’s often the responsibility of health information managers to ensure that all records are standardized such that any doctor, nurse or other medical professional can quickly glean the information they need from the records, no matter who the patient is or the facility in which they are being treated.

Health information managers often use a background in business management and information technology to carry out these tasks. For example, not only do patient records need to have complete and accurate medical information, but they often include financial statements as well, such as how much a patient owes for services or what contributions are made by insurance on behalf of the patient to cover medical expenses.

What’s more, workers in this field must have a deep understanding of information technology. For example, a health information manager would be responsible for updating a facility’s protocol for storing electronic health records as means of securely storing that kind of data change over time.

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As another example, health information managers would likely be responsible for training medical personnel in procedures used for accessing a patient’s electronic health records from a number of different devices, be that a computer, tablet, or even a smartphone. In essence, it is their job to make a tremendous amount of data easy to access and easy to read such that medical professionals can carry out their jobs in an efficient manner.

Aside from records management and delivery, health information managers also work with other healthcare professionals to determine best practices as it pertains to medical coding and classification. For example, if a new cancer treatment were developed, a health information manager would provide input regarding a way to standardize how that procedure is noted in a patient’s records, that way every patient that takes part in the treatment has the same notation. Likewise, this advisory role served by health information managers helps bridge the gaps between various stakeholders, including departments that focus on financial, legal, and clinical components of patient care.

Where Does a Health Information Manager Work?

Typically, health information managers work in healthcare settings like hospitals where there is a large amount of patient data to be collected and organized. Nursing homes, long-term care facilities, and even inpatient or outpatient treatment centers often employ health information managers as well.

Some workers in this field contract with smaller facilities, and therefore work from a central location like their office headquarters or even from home. In these cases, health information managers might work for a number of smaller clinics or doctor’s offices that might be spread across a wide geographic area.

Other popular workplaces for health information managers are pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies, and even government agencies that oversee research in the medical field.

What are the Requirements to Become a Health Information Manager?

Bachelor’s Degree

At a minimum, health information managers are typically required to have a bachelor’s degree in health information management. These four-year programs often require students to complete 120 credit hours of study, about half of which are general education courses and the other half of which are in the major area of study.

Admissions requirements for these programs are fairly standard, with minimum GPA requirements and a high school diploma or GED serving as the primary measures of admission. Some schools might additionally require a personal statement, letters of recommendation, and the like, in order to get a more complete picture of the applicant.

These programs aim to prepare students for entry-level positions in health information management. This is done through coursework that revolves around common duties for jobs in this field. That includes coursework to familiarize students with medical terms and coding, computer management, information management, and human resources.

Master’s Degree

To open up additional job opportunities, obtaining a master’s degree after the completion of a bachelor’s degree could prove to be a smart move for students in this field. Master’s degree programs last anywhere from 1-3 years depending upon the specific program requirements and any current job obligations students might have. For example, if a student works full time in a healthcare setting already, they would not be able to complete a master’s degree program as quickly as they likely wouldn’t be able to take a full load of classes each semester.

Admissions procedures for graduate studies are almost always stricter than those for undergraduate studies. GPA requirements might be higher (i.e., a minimum of 2.5 GPA instead of 2.0 GPA) and graduate schools might require students to submit to an in-person interview with an admissions committee. Furthermore, some graduate schools require students to pass a test before admission is granted, like the Graduate Record Exam.

Coursework at the graduate level revolves around the same topics as noted earlier. However, the level and depth of study is much different. Graduate studies are intended to dive deeper into specific topics and build upon the introductory knowledge and skills students acquired in their undergraduate studies. For example, bachelor’s degree students in this field likely take an introductory ethics course. But in graduate school, they would explore more advanced topics in ethics as it pertains specifically to maintaining secure and private patient records.

Work Experience Requirements

In some instances, healthcare facilities might require workers in this field to gain on-the-job experience as part of their training. For example, a newly hired worker with a bachelor’s degree in health information management might have to complete a six-month probationary period during which they are provided training and guidance by a supervisor.

Likewise, workers that are transitioning from one area of health information management (i.e., billing and coding) to another area (i.e., regulation and compliance) might be required by their employer to take part in mandatory trainings to become more familiar with their new tasks. Having said that, many positions in health information management can be had without prior work experience requirements, so long as the worker has the appropriate education.

Certification Requirements

Certification for a position as a health information manager is voluntary in many situations. However, some employers might require members of their management team to have certification.

In this case, Certification is granted to individuals that pass the certification exam that’s administered by the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA). AHIMA offers various certifications in this area, including Registered Health Information Administrator (RHIA). Eligibility requirements for the RHIA certification include holding at least a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution and a satisfactory score on the RHIA certification exam.

Another popular certification option for workers in this field is as a Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT). This certification prepares professionals to work at the highest levels to maintain complete, accurate, and proper patient records. Requirements for this certification include holding at least an associate’s degree from an accredited institution and a satisfactory score on the RHIT certification exam.

What Do You Learn in a Health Information Management Degree?

Health information management degree programs focus student learning on topics that relate to business, information technology, and healthcare. Common courses include:

  • Medical Terminology – Since health information managers are responsible for entering patient data, students must understand common medical terminology and how to accurately enter medical terms into a patient’s records.
  • Pharmacology – Students will explore topics related to pharmacology, focusing mostly on the names of common drug therapies and the conditions they are used to treat.
  • Medical Coding – Medical coding is a critical component of health information management studies, as medical codes are used to indicate specific medical conditions to various stakeholders, including hospitals and insurance companies.
  • Billing – Some health information managers are tasked with billing and invoicing patients for the procedures and services they receive during their care. As such, degree programs in this field typically require coursework in billing procedures and the guidelines that direct them for compliance purposes.
  • Healthcare Systems – Courses in this area of study provide students with insights into how health services are organized and how they function to serve their patients, including an examination of healthcare costs and funding for healthcare facilities.
  • Human Resources – Since health information managers work on the administrative side of healthcare, students are expected to understand the basics of human resources, including policies and procedures that govern healthcare administration.
  • Ethics – Managing patient information requires that students have a deep understanding of the laws that govern patient privacy and maintaining secure records.
  • Information Management – In this course, students learn the essential skills required to manage data and organize databases of digital files. That includes exploring best practices related to data security and maintaining systems that allow for easy expansion as the need to store more data increases.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Health Information Manager?

The number of years it takes to become a health information manager depends on the level of education that students pursue. In many cases, jobs in this sector are available for prospective employees that have a bachelor’s degree, which usually takes about four years to complete.

However, some positions in this field of work, particularly those that have more responsibilities and higher wages, requires workers to have a master’s degree at a minimum. Graduate degrees in health information management can be completed in two years, on average, though since many people that pursue degrees in this area are already working full-time in a health information management position, it might take an additional year to complete the program because of only being able to take classes part time.

As noted above, though it isn’t required for all positions, some health information managers also must obtain certification. Though the exam itself only takes a couple of hours to complete, the process of studying for the exam requires a few months of preparation and should be considered as part of the time needed to become a health information manager.

What are the Advantages of an Online Health Information Management Degree?

These days, online degree programs in health information management as well as many other areas are highly popular. Aside from offering students a more flexible means of studying without specific class times or the need to travel to an on-campus classroom, online degree programs offer the following benefits:

  • Ability to Continue working – With the flexibility that online learning provides, students can continue in their current careers while learning new skills related to health information management. This is especially true of people that already have a bachelor’s degree in this field and want to advance their career by obtaining a master’s degree.
  • Connect with other students worldwide – Health information management is a rapidly growing field, and with that growth comes diversity of workers, patients, and other stakeholders. Since online learning is much more global in scale than traditional coursework, it provides students with an opportunity to learn about the healthcare industry in areas much different from their own.
  • Improved course offerings – Online learning opens up opportunities to take classes that might not otherwise be offered at a local college or university. That gives students in health information management more opportunities to learn a greater diversity of topics.
  • Lower costs – At both the bachelor’s and master’s degree levels, students can get their degrees for less money by studying online. This is mostly represented in savings in housing and transit to and from campus.
  • Work experience – Like more traditional degree programs that take place on campus, online degree programs in health information management often have work experience or internship opportunities for students that allow them to apply their learning in real-world settings.
  • Computer-based learning – Health information management requires students to be computer and technology savvy. Taking part in an online degree program is one of the best ways to develop those technical skills in preparation for a career in this industry.

What Skills and Qualities are Required for a Health Information Manager?

Workers in this industry need to have a range of both hard and soft skills to be successful in their position as a health information manager. These skills include:

  • Diagnostic Coding – Workers must have intimate knowledge of medical coding procedures and be able to note diagnostic information in a patient’s record in compliance with ICD-9 and ICD-10 standards.
  • Procedural Coding – In addition to understanding diagnostic codes and being able to use them effectively, health information managers must also have a working knowledge of procedure coding, in which they notate diagnostic, surgical, and other medical procedures in a patient’s records.
  • Electronic Medical Records Software – Health information managers must have keen familiarity with common electronic medical records software and understand how to these programs to record patient data and maintain patient records.
  • Patient Records Management – A patient’s medical history is confidential, and as such, workers in this field must strive to maintain patient records in a manner that is safe and secure from breach.
  • Compliance – Various state and federal laws (i.e., the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) govern how medical records are managed. Health information managers must be acutely aware of the policies and procedures of health records management and be in compliance with regulations at all times.
  • Auditing – Health information managers are required to have the analytical skills required to conduct audits of patient records, coding procedures, compliance, and other areas of health records management.
  • Technology Skills – Since medical records are now mostly electronic, workers in this field must be able to utilize technology like computers, be able to type, and understand how to use medical records software programs.
  • Attention to Detail – Workers can ill-afford to make mistakes when updating and managing important information like patient records. As such, they must have a great attention to detail in their work.
  • Communication Skills – Working in a management position means that workers must not only have excellent written communication skills but excellent verbal communication skills as well.
  • Leadership Skills – Some health information managers oversee a team of staff members to maintain medical records. As a result, they must be able to lead their team effectively with strong leadership.
  • Adaptability – Policies, regulations, and laws that govern this type of work are often amended, updated, and changed altogether, making adaptability a key trait for people seeking employment in this industry.
  • Physical Eendurance – Though jobs in health information management aren’t physically strenuous in the traditional sense, being able to sit for long periods of time at a desk, type, and look at a computer screen does require a certain level of physical ability.

What is the Average Salary of a Health Information Manager?

As of March 2018, according to PayScale, the median annual wage that health information manager earn is $52,930. The range of salaries for this position varies quite widely, though, from a low of around $37,000 per year for the bottom 10 percent of earners to over $74,000 per year for the top 10 percent of earners.

As with most positions in the healthcare field, the salary one can expect to earn will also depend on the years of experience the worker has. Naturally, a health information manager that has been in the field for 20 years can expect a higher salary than one that’s new to the job. Likewise, workers with a master’s degree can command a higher salary than one with a bachelor’s degree.

What is the Job Outlook for Health Information Managers?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, positions for medical and health services managers are expected to grow at a faster-than-average rate over the coming years. In fact, the BLS pegs growth for jobs in this sector to be at 20 percent during 2016-2026, which represents an excellent opportunity for workers in this field to find employment.

The growth of the health information management field is due in large part to the increasing reliance on electronic medical records as a means of storing, organizing, and disseminating patient data. Additionally, with the general population getting older and more Baby Boomers entering old age, there are simply more patients seeking medical attention, and therefore more patient records that need to be managed.

What Professions are Similar to Health Information Manager?

Computer and Information Systems Manager – Workers in the field of computer and information systems management are responsible for planning and coordinating solutions for the technology needs of businesses and organizations. Not only do these managers lay out the goals of what an organization’s technology systems should be able to do, but they also devise strategies for implementing the systems that make those goals possible.

Human Resources Manager – Like health information managers, human resources managers are in management positions that require them to have strong organizational and planning skills. Human resources managers are primarily responsible for recruiting new hires, interviewing them, hiring new workers, and addressing employee problems.

Insurance Underwriter – People that work as an insurance underwriter primarily examine customer data to determine whether insurance will be provided and the terms under which the policy will be granted. To do so, insurance underwriters must be able to analyze information, determine risk, screen insurance applicants, and determine both premiums and how much coverage is offered.

Medical Transcriptionist – The primary function of a medical transcriptionist is to convert voice recordings made by healthcare providers into written reports. Additionally, they are responsible for translating medical terms and abbreviations into full text for inclusion into patient medical records and other related healthcare documents, like insurance forms.

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