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With every patient visit comes a medical record: every medical exam, laboratory test, x-ray, diagnosis, and treatment plan must be recorded. Health information technicians use computer software to compile and organize these records, so that patients can be best treated at the moment and in the future. It is the technician's responsibility to assemble patients' health information, making sure patients' medical charts are complete, and that all forms are authenticated. Technicians also communicate with physicians and other health care professionals about medical records.
Specific job duties for health information technicians could vary depending on the size of the medical facility. In larger facilities, such as hospitals, technicians often specialize in one type of health information, such as coding medical records for insurance purposes. They might work on one or two steps in the record-keeping process or supervise clerks and transcriptionists. In smaller facilities, technicians often work with all aspects of health information and in all steps in recording information.
Health information technicians must be highly organized and pay extremely close attention to details. Preserving medical records takes meticulous care, as mistakes could be disastrous for patients. Technicians must also have good eyesight and manual dexterity, and need strong interpersonal and communication skills. Although health information technicians are among few medical professionals who do not interact with patients, they must communicate clearly and effectively with physicians, x-ray technicians, and other medical personnel. Technicians also must have strong computer skills, as nearly all their work will be done on the computer.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the 2008 median annual salary for health information technicians was $30,610, ranging from $20,440 to $50,060. Technicians who earned the highest mean salaries worked in pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing followed by business, professional, labor, political, and similar organizations.
Education and Training
Health information technicians typically earn an associate's degree from a community or junior college. Most students who attend full-time can complete this within two years. Many colleges offer online courses and flexible scheduling, allowing students to attend part-time or otherwise work around their current schedules. Typical coursework should include medical terminology, anatomy and physiology, health information technology (HIT), legal issues, coding and abstraction, statistics, database management, and computer science. Also, as HIT continues to improve upon record safety and confidentiality, many HIT providers are turning toward redaction software, which removes confidential information upon command, and other types of new technology. Technicians might be required to know up-to-date redaction or other security-focused software.
Although it is not required, most employers prefer to hire Registered Health Information Technicians (RHIT), who are certified by the Health Information Management Association (AHIMA). To be certified, applicants must have completed an associate's degree through one of the 245 programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education (CAHIM), and pass a written examination.
According to the BLS, in 2008, there were 168,650 health information technicians, with the expectation of dramatic increases in the near future. The largest employer of technicians was hospitals, followed by doctors' offices. The remainder worked in nursing homes, outpatient care centers, the federal government, pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing facilities, and business and professional organizations.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects employment of health information technicians to be 200,000 by 2016, reflecting an 18 percent increase between 2006 and 2016. The BLS noted that more demanding governmental regulations and the growth of managed care, which increases the amount of medical/insurance paperwork, would be key reasons employment would grow so dramatically. The best job prospects should be for those with a strong background in medical coding.
About the Author
Candice Mancini is a freelance writer and a teacher of AP English literature and college writing. She has an M.A. in Education and a B.A. in English and history.