Health information technicians organize the medical records and other health information of healthcare patients. Every time a person receives healthcare, a record is generated. This record may include information about symptoms, medical history, x rays, laboratory tests, diagnoses, and treatment plans. Technicians ensure the completeness of medical charts, communicate with physicians to clarify or augment the information, and assign codes to diagnoses and procedures using manuals and their knowledge of diseases. Using computer software, they assign patients to a “diagnosis-related group” (DRG), which is used to determine the amount hospitals are reimbursed under insurance programs. Some health information technicians specialize in this coding process.
Health information technicians analyze medical data to aid healthcare providers in such challenges as improving services, keeping costs down, and completing medical research. Their day-to-day activities depend largely on the size of the facility in which they work. In smaller facilities, credentialed health information technicians often manage an entire department. In larger facilities, technicians usually specialize or supervixe health information clerks and transcriptionists.
Health information technicians need to be able to pay very close attention to detail, as mistakes in their work can have drastic consequences. They should have good eyesight and manual dexterity. They also need to have well-developed interpersonal and communication skills because they often interact with many people during the course of a typical day.
In 2002, health information technicians earned a median annual salary of $23,890. Earnings ranged from the lowest 10%, who earned less than $16,460, to the highest 10%, who earned more than $38,640. The following shows the median annual salaries in the industries employing the highest numbers of health information technicians:
- Nursing care facilities — $25,160
- General medical and surgical hospitals — $24,910
- Outpatient care centers — $22,380
- Offices of physicians — $21,320
Education and Training
The standard degree for entry-level health information technician positions is an associate degree from a community or junior college. These degree programs usually include courses in medical terminology, anatomy and physiology, legal issues, coding and abstraction of data, statistics, database management, quality improvement methods, and computer science. Some hospitals promote health information clerks to these positions if they have 2 to 4 years of experience and complete an on-the-job training program, although this is expected to become less common.
Technicians who have earned the Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT) designation have a great advantage when it comes to getting hired. In order to earn the designation, a person must graduate from one of the 182 accredited 2-year associate degree programs and pass a written examination. Health information technicians who gain experience can advance later in their careers to become specialists or managers. In larger facilities, experienced technicians may advance to section supervisor. In smaller facilities, they may advance to director or assistant director of a medical records and health information department.
In 2002, health information technicians held about 147,000 jobs. 37% worked in hospitals. The remainder worked mostly in offices of physicians, nursing car facilities, outpatient care centers, and home healthcare services.
Between 2002 and 2012, employment of health information technicians is expected to increase much faster than the average. This growth will be the result of an increasing need on the part of regulators, courts, consumers, and third-party payers to examine and scrutinize medical records. The fastest employment growth will be in offices of physicians.
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