Medical Records Administration Careers

What is a Medical Records Administrator?

A medical records administrator is a healthcare worker that is tasked with the responsibility of collecting and maintaining patient medical records in databases. Though that is the primary responsibility of workers in this field, this career field is actually much broader. Not only do medical records administrators design databases to manage patient data, but they also strive to ensure that these databases and the patient records contained within are secure from breach. In that regard, a career in medical records administration bridges several fields of work, including healthcare, information technology, and business.

What Does a Medical Records Administrator Do?

As their job title indicates, medical records administrators are primarily responsible for collecting patient data, entering it into a computerized system, organizing patient data therein, and ensuring that patient data remain secure at all times.

Most workers in this field are employed by hospitals, HMOs, medical clinics, and long-term care facilities like nursing homes. However, medical records administrators might also be employed in medical clinics, doctor’s offices, facilities that specialize in delivery of mental health services, and perhaps even government agencies as well.

Though their job duties might vary slightly depending upon the location of employment, medical records administrators carry out very similar tasks.

As noted earlier, the primary responsibility of a medical records administrator is to ensure the accurate and timely collection and entry of patient data into patient records databases. Not only that, it is the responsibility of these workers to also maintain patient data to ensure its continued accuracy and security.

For example, if you visit a hospital and have a medical procedure performed, it would be the job of a medical records administrator to oversee the process of updating your medical records. First, the medical team responsible for the procedure would make a note of the procedure in your chart. Then, a health information worker would input the new data into your electronic medical record, which is stored in a secure health records information database.

Related Reading: What are the Careers in Health Information Management?

An administrator might oversee the input phase of data recording or perhaps double-check the new information later on. In other instances, an administrator in this position might leave it to his or her team members to handle the day-to-day tasks of obtaining and entering data. The level of their involvement would likely depend on the workplace.

For example, a medical records administrator in a large hospital would likely have a number of technicians working in their department that take care of inputting individual patient information. On the other hand, if employed in a small medical clinic, a medical records administrator might be the entire department on their own, and have to input patient data themselves.

As another example, in some work settings, medical records administrators might play a key part in developing software or database applications for health records management. This would most likely occur in a large health facility or if working for a government agency, where a worker in this field employed in a local nursing home would be more likely to use said software and database applications rather than design it.

What is the Work Environment for Medical Records Administrators?

Medical records administrators work in typical healthcare settings like hospitals, medical clinics, and so forth. Workers in this field would likely be classified in the records department, business department, or information technology department.

Some medical records administrators are highly specialized. For example, administrators that have significant experience might be in a role that’s more of a management position, in which they coordinate the activities of their department and spend very little, if any, time actually working directly with patient data. In that case, the work environment would resemble a professional office.

On the other hand, other medical records administrators are much more involved in the information technology aspects of medical records management, and might work in an environment that’s much more like a computer lab, where they design and test software to manage health records.

What are the Requirements to Become a Medical Records Administrator?

Educational Requirements

Medical records administrators typically must have a bachelor’s degree to gain employment. These four-year programs offer students the opportunity to learn about generalist studies – math, science, language arts, humanities, and so forth – as well as concentrated studies in one’s major.

In the case of medical records administration, the coursework in the major area of study is usually quite diverse, given that jobs in this field of work includes business applications, information technology, and healthcare. As a result, classes focus on these areas as a means to prepare students for entrance into the workforce.

For example, a bachelor’s degree program in medical records administration might require students to take a business administration course, in which they learn how to manage daily activities in a business environment, oversee the work of others, and manage budgets, finance, and the like. Additionally, students would likely take courses in information management, such as using technology to maintain critical records and do so in a secure manner. Lastly, students in these programs would undoubtedly be required to take courses related to ethics as their work involves obtaining, recording, and maintaining confidential information about patients.

If a student attends school full-time, a bachelor’s degree in medical records administration can be completed in four years or less. However, if a student attends part-time, this degree program could take an extra semester or two (or longer), depending on how many credit hours a student takes each semester.

Though there are opportunities for workers in this field to advance their education with a master’s degree, it’s usually not required to do so. That being said, having more education in the form of a graduate degree in medical records administration or a related field can open up advanced opportunities in this field. That’s because graduate studies are not only more in-depth but they are also more rigorous.

For example, where bachelor’s degree programs tend to focus on knowledge, master’s degree programs tend to focus more on applying knowledge to real-world situations. So, rather than just learning about ethical practice in medical records management, graduate students often have the opportunity to actually work in a healthcare setting to apply their understanding of ethical practice in a practicum or internship experience.

Not only do graduate programs usually offer these on-the-job experiences, but they also often lead to more connections in the industry, which could help students find employment upon completion of their master’s degree program. Typically, these programs take between one and three years to complete, so having a network of potential employers in place by the time the program is finished could be highly beneficial to graduates.

Work Experience Requirements

As noted above, workers that graduate from master’s degree programs in this field often have some relevant experience via a practicum or internship placement. However, that kind of work experience is not usually a prerequisite for entry-level positions in this field.

Instead, if a student has a good academic record, a strong testing performance, recommendations from faculty, and so forth, there is a strong likelihood that they can find entry-level and mid-level positions in the field of medical records management right out of college.

Having said that, more advanced positions or positions with increased responsibilities do require some level of advanced education and/or experience. For example, a large hospital is not likely to hire a fresh graduate with a bachelor’s degree to oversee the entire medical records department. Instead, that position would most likely be reserved for someone that has at least several years of experience working in this field.

Certification Requirements

Certification for medical records administrators is done on a voluntary basis in most cases. Certification can be obtained by workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher from the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA). This organization oversees credentialing for Registered Health Information Administrator, which are usually mid-level to upper-level workers in this field of work.

However, having this certification early in one’s career could potentially lead to more rapid advancement within a healthcare organization, even though having the certification is not required. Obtaining certification is a simple process that requires candidates to pass a written exam with a satisfactory score, so pursuing the certification could be well worth the time.

What Do You Learn in a Medical Records Administration Degree?

Typical degree programs in medical records administration require students to learn the following:

  • Health information management – Students learn how to maintain medical information in a secure online environment.
  • Information systems – Coursework in the area of information systems introduces students to various software programs and structures that can be used to store patient medical records and other important information.
  • Medical terminology – Students must be adept at understanding basic medical terms that must be recorded into patient records. As such, courses in medical terminology are commonly offered in degree programs in this field.
  • Medical coding – Medical codes are abbreviations that are widely used in medical records to denote a patient’s condition. An understanding of these codes is essential for students to understand in order to maintain accurate medical records.
  • Reimbursement procedures – Since medical services can be paid for in a wide variety of ways, medical records administration students must have a working knowledge of billing, invoicing, and reimbursement for insurance and other purposes.
  • Finance – Finance courses focus student learning on using data to predict the financial health of an organization. In the context of medical records administration, this could be an important skill particularly as it pertains to reimbursement procedures.
  • Business administration – Healthcare facilities are businesses, and since medical records administrators often oversee an entire department of workers, having knowledge of business and management procedures is a must.
  • Statistics – Statistics courses help students develop the skills they need to collect, analyze, and interpret data for reporting purposes.
  • Human resources – Students learn how to manage other workers, resolve conflicts, and develop a work environment that is conducive to a happy and healthy workplace.
  • Medical ethics – The need to maintain medical records in a manner that is secure and private requires students to learn about laws, policies, and procedures that are relevant to ethical practice as a medical records administrator.

What are the Advantages of an Online Medical Records Administration Degree?

There are numerous advantages to studying medical records administration online. These include:

  • Flexible scheduling – Studying online means that you can study when it’s best for you rather than having to attend a class at a specific time of day or day of the week.
  • Cost-effectiveness – Studying online negates the need to pay for gas, mass transit, parking, and other fees that are necessary when one travels to and from a traditional campus environment.
  • Learn at your own pace – Online learning typically allows students to take an approach that best suits their pace of learning. When concepts are more difficult, you can slow down. When concepts with which you are more familiar are covered, you can speed up.
  • Supportive environment – With the rising popularity of studying online, colleges and universities have done well to create online learning environments that have the tools students need to succeed. When studying for a degree in medical records administration, having the ability to connect with other students and your professors makes learning seem more like an on-campus experience.
  • Advanced learning – Some online degree programs offer students advanced learning opportunities, like practicum or internship placements. These types of on-the-job learning experiences can prove invaluable for online learners in applying the knowledge and skills they’ve acquired to actual work experiences.

How Much Does a Medical Records Administrator Make?

Administrators in the healthcare sector enjoy higher-than-average salaries. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of May 2016, medical records administrators and similar occupations offer annual salaries of $96,540, though that figure can vary widely.

One factor that influences how much one can earn in this line of work is the employment location. Workers that are employed in public or private hospitals earn even more money, at around $104,340 per year. On the other hand, medical records administrators that work in doctor’s offices earn $87,540 per year.

The years of experience and the level of education are two factors that further impact how much salary one can make in this occupation. The more experience and education, the higher the salary that a worker can command.

What is the Job Outlook for Medical Records Administrators?

Given the increasing demand for healthcare services, it should be of no surprise that workers in this field are in high demand. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that demand for medical records administrators will rise by 20 percent through 2026. That’s extremely fast growth.

Part of the reason why medical records administrators are in such high demand is that more people are obtaining more medical and healthcare services, and as a consequence, there is simply more healthcare data that needs to be recorded, entered, and managed. What’s more, as the population continues to grow older and more people retire, their advanced age necessitates more frequent doctor’s visits for both routine and major medical procedures. Again, that means more records that require the attention of medical records administrators and other workers.

What Professions are Similar to Medical Records Administration?

Medical Records Technicians – A medical records technician take care of the daily tasks of medical records management. That is, where a medical records administrator might oversee an entire records department, a technician is more likely to handle the actual input of patient data into a health records system, including the use of procedural and medical codes to properly classify patient data.

Medical TranscriptionistMedical transcriptionists are tasked with the responsibility of transcribing voice recordings made by medical staff into written records for inclusion in a patient’s electronic medical record. These records can be anything from noting a recent surgery that was performed to when a patient was discharged from the hospital to the current status of the patient’s insurance payments.

Computer Information Systems Manager – Someone that’s employed as a computer information systems manager is responsible for planning and coordinating the computer-based activities of a business or organization. This involves everything from designing bespoke software for a specific organization to updating computer systems to utilize modern technology to establishing short and long-term goals for utilizing technology to improve the workflow of the business.

Social and Community Service Manager – Workers in the field of social and community service management coordinate social services for communities and supervise programs that provide communities with much-needed support. In particular, these workers focus their attention on the administrative tasks associated with social services, like overseeing the implementation of an after-school program for at-risk kids and analyzing the budgetary output of the program to ensure it is in compliance with applicable policies and regulations.

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