There are approximately 173,000 medical records and health information technicians working in the United States. Job growth projections for the next ten years indicates a better than average rate at 20%.
Medical records and health information technicians compile a patient’s medical history, symptoms, diagnostic tests, results, treatments and all other pieces of information. Technicians are trained to manage data, following procedures that ensure its accuracy, quality, accessibility and security. They communicate with a range of healthcare workers, including physicians, to fine-tune diagnoses or gather information. Most patient data is stored, manipulated and transmitted using electronic health records (EHR). Nuclear medicine technicians are competent with EHR software, work to maintain EHR patient security, and assess data to improve the quality of the information. Technician input contributes to constant improvements of EHR software as well as to the growth and maintenance of health information networks. Health information technicians’ responsibilities cover a wide range, depending to a large degree upon the size of the organization for which they work; some specialize.
Medical coders are concerned with information codification as it pertains to insurances. Using special classification software, medical coders assign codes to diagnoses and procedures to determine the amount of reimbursement that will be given to the healthcare provider under Medicare, Medicaid, or other insurance programs. Some coders use multiple systems; for example, independent systems might be established for the physician’s office, long-term care, and ambulatory care settings. Cancer registrars specialize in maintaining databases of cancer patient information. Registrars study patient pathology reports and records, and assign codes to the diagnoses and treatments of a range of cancers and benign tumors. Registrars track treatment, survival, and recovery statistics annually; information which helps project treatment and survivor success rates, find areas with high occurrence of certain types of cancers, and to locate patients who might participate in clinical drug trials.
Medical records and health information technicians work in comfortable surroundings that are well-lit and organized. Because there is no direct patient care, they do not have as high a risk of infection from exposure to ill patients. While overtime may be required on occasion, for the most part, these are jobs with standard weekday hours. Some facilities are open around the clock; employees here may be scheduled in a rotating shift.
Employers prefer technicians with an associate’s degree, although credentialing is sometimes sufficient. Many vocational and technical colleges offer two-year programs in which students will study anatomy and physiology, medical terminology, health data standards and requirements, clinical coding and classification systems, data analysis, reimbursement, and database security and management. Students who have studied math, health, biology, chemistry and computer science in high school will be stronger candidates for admission.
Job applicants with both an associate’s degree and credentials are stronger candidates. Several groups offer credentialing; applicants must pass an examination. Continuing education and occasional recertification is required to maintain the credential. Some coding credentials will be available only to technicians who have spent a specified length of time with on-the-job experience. A Registered Health Information Technicians (RHIT) credential is offered by the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA); it requires an associate’s degree from a program that has been accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education (CAHIIM) together with passing a written examination. There are over 200 CAHIIM accredited health information technology programs. Additional groups offering credentials are the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC), the Board of Medical Specialty Coding (BMSC), and Professional Association of Health care Coding Specialists (PAHCS). The National Cancer Registrars Association (NCRA) offers a Certified Tumor Registrar (CTR) certificate.
Because communicating information is so important to this occupation, health information technicians need excellent written and oral communication skills. Careful attention to detail is important, as is the ability to retain and categorize information mentally.
Medical records and health information technicians with experience who are interested in advancing their careers often earn a bachelor’s or master’s degree, or an advanced specialty certification. With this, they can become health information managers.
The median annual salary for medical records and health information technicians is approximately $31,000. Those in the midrange earn between $25,000 and $40,000. Those in the bottom 10% earn less than $21,000 while those in the top 10% earn more than $50,000.