What is a Health Information Technician? A Sneak Peek at this Behind-the-Scenes Career
Anyone with an interest in technology has probably heard a good deal about health information technology (HIT) in the past few years. This sector of healthcare has received some well-deserved limelight for the innovations it has brought to the industry at large.
But while we see the fantastic results of the HIT workforce, it can be hard to picture what a job in HIT actually looks like. Who stands behind the HIT curtain? What is a health information technician, anyway?
We did some research and spoke to professionals in the field to get the real story. Read on to sneak a peek behind the scenes and step into the shoes of an HIT professional.
What is the role of information technology in healthcare?
At its core, HIT is about connecting all of the moving parts of healthcare and helping them work together for a stronger, cost-effective and higher quality health system. Put simply, HIT professionals use technology to help healthcare providers improve care and lower costs, according to Bill Balderaz, president of Futurety, a healthcare consulting company.
The goal is to effectively utilize and exchange healthcare data for better communication and decision-making among patients, providers, hospitals and insurers. While the system can get very technical, the result is to attempt to simplify things for the sick patients in need of care.
What does a health information technician do every day?
So where does a health information technician fit into this? Simply put, technicians are responsible for much of the data input fueling these systems. To do this, they focus on obtaining, processing and documenting important healthcare information.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), technicians organize data for clinical databases, track patient outcomes, assign clinical codes for insurance reimbursement and record key data where it can be easily indexed and cross-referenced.
Health information technicians also retrieve patient medical records for physicians and other medical personnel when needed. They maintain confidentiality and security standards to safeguard patient information.
Where do health information technicians work?
The adoption and expansion of electronic medical records systems means this kind of work is needed in almost any healthcare facility.
“Typically, provider clinics or hospital settings are the most popular destinations for HIT graduates,” says Sandy Stevens-Berens, RHIT MS and HIT program coordinator at Rasmussen College. “Other settings include chiropractic offices, dental offices, nursing homes, billing departments and insurance companies.”
But that is only the beginning. Stevens-Berens says experienced health information technicians can move into auditor roles, cancer or trauma registrars, and supervisory roles—making HIT a great career choice for those who hope to advance as they go.
If you gravitate more toward the technological aspects of the job, Stevens-Berens says you might consider working for the companies that design and produce the systems and platforms for healthcare facilities. These companies may employ health information technicians to assist in a program’s deployment or development.
“Coders who obtain the necessary work experience and demonstrate the required quality and productivity standards may find opportunities to work remotely for a facility or for contract services,” she adds. An arrangement like this might allow you to make a work schedule that fits your preferences. HIT professionals who work in hospitals or other 24/7 healthcare facilities could have schedules that include nights, weekends or holidays.
What skills are needed to be a health information technician?
So what do you need to succeed in this career? Let’s take a look at what employers are seeking. We used real-time job analysis software to examine more than 130,000 HIT job postings from the past year.1 The data helped us identify the top skills employers want from health information technician candidates:
- Medical coding
- Customer and medical billing
- Medical records
- ICD-10 coding
- Customer service
- Health information management (HIM)
- Data entry
- CPT coding
- Medical terminology
To that list, Stevens-Berens adds digital fluency with the Microsoft Office™ suite and other applications as important skills for health information technicians.
As you can see, the work of a health information technician is quite technical. But don’t let that intimidate you—these are precisely the types of skills you’ll acquire in a health information technician program.
It’s not all about technical skills either. Being an effective communicator is critical to collaborate with other medical professionals. “The most important skill is communication—both verbal and written forms,” Stevens-Berens says, adding that proper grammar and spelling are key.
The BLS also lists analytical abilities, a detail-oriented mind-set and personal integrity as critical skills for this career. That final skill is particularly important, as health information technicians work with highly confidential patient data protected by law.
What education & training are needed to become a health information technician?
Educational and training requirements can vary—some lower-level health information and medical records roles only require a high school diploma, while others prefer an Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree. These programs prepare students with courses covering medical billing and coding procedures and a big picture understanding of electronic health records systems and how they’re used.
Certifications are also a strong component for a solid career since they can usually be applied to more than one specific job.
Our job analysis helped us identify the top HIT certifications employers are seeking:
- Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT)
- Certified Professional Coder (CPC)
- Certified Coding Associate (CCA)
- Registered Health Information Administrator (RHIA)
- Certified Coding Specialist (CCS)
What is the career outlook for health information technicians?
The median annual salary for health information technicians in 2017 was $39,180, according to the BLS.2 But the real excitement is in the growth potential of the field—as the massive baby boomer generation ages, healthcare services will see increased demand.
Add that to the increased reliance on technological solutions, and you’ll see why HIT falls in the sweet spot of careers with a potentially bright future. The BLS reports that employment of health information technicians is projected to grow 13 percent through 2026, a rate that’s much faster than the average for all occupations.
Do you have a future in HIT?
Health information technicians play an essential role in a thriving industry dedicated to improving the healthcare experiences of those who need it most. They bridge the gap between healthcare services and critical technology in an industry that depends on their merging.
“If you want a broad base of education that can lead to diverse opportunities, I would recommend HIT,” Stevens-Berens says. If this sounds like the perfect opportunity to merge your love of healthcare and technology, you may be destined to become a health information technician. Learn how you can acquire the skills and experience necessary for a role in this growing field by earning your Health Information Technician degree online.
1Burning-Glass.com (analysis of 104,785 HIT job postings, Dec. 01, 2017 - Nov. 30, 2018.)
2Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, [information accessed 12/17/2018] www.bls.gov/ooh/. Salary data represents national, averaged earnings for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries, and employment conditions in your area may vary.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was originally published in March 2016. It has since been updated to include information relevant to 2019. Insights from Balderaz remain from original article.