10 Must-Have Health Information Technology Skills to Get Ahead in the Real World
Now that you’re in the midst of earning your health information technology (HIT) degree, and you’re starting to think about what comes next, it’s natural to look at the state of the economy and experience pangs of doubt. Maybe you’re wondering if you’re learning the skills you need to actually succeed in this career.
That’s OK because HIT skills are pretty job-specific: Medical coding and knowledge of medical terminology and medical records all fall into the scope of specialized skills you’ll need.
But that’s not where the list ends if you want to be a successful health information technician.
An analysis of nearly 11,000 online job postings* identified the top 10 skills employers are looking for in their HIT candidates.
Whether you code a patient’s medical procedure, analyze data in Excel or write a memo to your boss, these are all skills you’ll need to make it in the real world. HIT professionals use these skills daily, says Eunice Carlson, HIT program coordinator at Rasmussen College and a 20-year HIT industry veteran.
These 10 skills can be condensed into five core areas. Let’s take a closer look at the skills you need.
HIT Skill #1: Be Trained & Educated
OK, this one isn’t so much a skill as it is an experience – education. Employers want to hire candidates who hold an Associate’s degree or certification, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And what employers want is important – the number of jobs in this field through 2020 is expected to grow 21% faster than average.
Your degree program should teach you specific medical codes, how to code accurately and how to use field-specific computer programs and technology, according to Carlson.
HIT Skill #2: Be Able to Communicate & Write Clearly
You will work with a variety of doctors, nurses, colleagues and other staff members throughout the course of your HIT career. Being able to communicate effectively with all of them is a necessity, Carlson says. Remember that you’ve been trained to do your job and, while you know and understand technical terms, others might not.
For example, HIT professionals are often tasked with explaining to doctors about new or developing coding regulations. They also sometimes educate staff on organizational policies, including patient privacy.
HIT professionals often need to write letters and memos to doctors or insurance companies – and spelling and grammar counts! Carlson says the ability to write well will determine your credibility as a HIT professional.
Put simply, HIT professionals would be well-served to use industry speak sparingly and be sure to clarify themselves when communicating with those outside their immediate circles. If you’re unsure about your writing skills, take an extra writing class to solidify your knowledge.
HIT Skill #3: Be Organized & Detail-Oriented
Organization and accuracy are necessary for many jobs, but they’re crucial in the HIT field. In fact, accuracy is the most important skill you’ll need as a HIT professional, Carlson says.
Inaccurate data could lead to a domino effect within the medical facility and could affect patient care, she says. If you type in the wrong medical code or mix up patient records, the repercussions might be lengthy. In the most extreme cases patient safety can be at risk, but other inconveniences include patient care or insurance coverage delays, paperwork corrections and surely an unhappy boss.
HIT Skill #4: Be Computer Savvy
Employers will expect you to be a Microsoft Excel expert because the program is used industry-wide for data tracking and analysis, Carlson says. For example, Excel is often used to help doctors track how many patients they’ve seen in the last 12 months. You might even be asked to use the data to compare workflow and workload for various doctors from the past five years – so know advanced Excel functions like pivot tables, macros and formulas.
In addition to basic computer skills, you’ll be expected to quickly master HIT-specific programs such as a master patient index, which holds all the information for every patient registered to a particular medical facility.
HIT Skill #5: Be a Problem Solver
As a HIT professional, you need to be ready to solve problems related to patient records or technology.
Problem solving and research will be needed if a claim is denied. Was the patient ineligible? Did someone enter an incorrect code? Is the patient’s name misspelled? It’ll be your job to figure out the issue and make the necessary corrections.
Problem solving and research skills are particularly important if your facility hasn’t moved to electronic medical records (EMR). EMRs allow healthcare professionals at different facilities to access a patient’s records in real-time, which allows for more comprehensive care.
But if your facility still uses traditional paper records, part of your responsibilities will be to locate those patient records, garner the necessary information and get them transferred to the correct location. Additionally, all medical facilities need to use EMRs by 2014, so your skills will be put to use as you help your facility make the switch.
The Bottom Line
Now that you know the HIT-related skills employers are seeking, it will be easy to determine whether or not you’re learning the skills that are in demand in the industry. One of the best ways to learn these skills is to enroll in a Health Information Technician Associate's degree program that can be completed in as few as 18 months!
*BurningGlass.com is a comprehensive database providing statistics and insights about the current labor market.