What is a Health Information Technician? A Sneak Peek at this Behind-the-Scenes Career
Anyone with an interest in technology has probably encountered the field of 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 a health information technician?
At its core, HIT is about connecting all of the moving parts of healthcare and helping them work together for a stronger, cheaper and more accurate 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, adds Sean Khant, vice president of healthcare strategy at Bioscape Digital. 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 an average day for an HIT pro look like?
“The most interesting aspect of my day is connecting two wildly different worlds,” Balderaz says. “The tech and development world moves fast, takes risks and is highly nimble. Healthcare providers value the opposite attributes: consistency, safety, the tried and true.”
FACT: HIT jobs are expected to grow 15% through 2024.
Moving constantly between those two worlds is not only a side effect of working in HIT, but part of its overall purpose. Balderaz points out that creating strong communication lines between the ‘dotcom’ tech culture to the ‘suit and tie’ healthcare culture is part of improving the overall healthcare system.
HIT acts as a brain filtering the healthcare system full of information. The daily work activities break down to a progression of obtaining, processing and documenting information, according to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL).
Health information technicians must retrieve patient medical records for physicians and other medical personnel when needed. They’re also responsible for safeguarding patient information and ensuring that confidentiality is of the utmost importance.
Where do health information technicians work?
Most health information technicians work in hospitals or physicians’ offices, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).Technicians typically work full time, at desks or in offices, and they may spend several hours in front of computer monitors. If the healthcare facility for which you work functions 24/7, there’s a possibility you could be scheduled to work night or weekend shifts.
What skills are needed to be a health information technician?
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 10 skills employers are seeking in HIT candidates:
- ICD-9 coding
- Medical billing
- CPT coding
- ICD-10 coding
- Medical terminology
- Inpatient coding
- Epic systems
- Anatomy & physiology
- Outpatient coding
- Electronic medical records
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. Khant stresses the importance of being an effective communicator in order to collaborate with other medical professionals. He also says you should be extremely organized and have a genuine love of problem solving.
The BLS also lists analytical abilities, a detail-oriented mindset 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 is needed to become a health information technician?
Of the nearly 80,000 HIT job postings in our analysis that included educational requirements, 42 percent of employers required candidates to have a high school diploma.2
This means you don’t technically need a degree to get your foot in the door of this field. However, the data also revealed that earning an associate degree would qualify you for an additional 22,000 HIT positions!
“HIT demands a constant need for education,” says Mike Meikle, partner at SecureHIM. “IT is nearly a singular profession when it comes to the incessant need to hone one’s skill set.”
Because the field changes so rapidly, Meikle believes certifications are 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 five HIT certifications employers are seeking:
- Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT)
- Certified Professional Coder (CPC)
- Registered Health Information Administrator (RHIA)
- Certified Coding Specialist (CCS)
- Epic Certification
“It is my preference for potential HIT pros to first obtain a baseline of experience and then pursue industry certifications,” Meikle explains. “With a well-regarded industry certification attached to your credentials, it will make you more visible to recruiters.”
What is the career outlook for health information technicians?
The median annual salary for health information technicians in 2014 was $35,900, according to the BLS.3 But the real excitement is in the growth potential of the field. As the increasing population ages, the BLS projects many healthcare fields will experience significant growth.
Add that to the increased reliance on technological solutions, and you’ll see why HIT falls in the sweet spot of careers with a thriving future. The BLS reports that HIT jobs are expected to grow 15 percent through 2024, a rate that’s more than twice 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 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 132,835 HIT job postings, Feb. 01, 2015 – Jan. 31, 2016.)
2Burning-Glass.com (analysis of 78,027 HIT job postings by education, Feb. 01,2015 – Jan. 31, 2016.)
3Salary 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.