When you sit in the doctor's office waiting for an examination, you probably notice the medical equipment, supplies, and informational pamphlets around the room. It's a medical office, after all. But did you ever notice how systems for information play an increasingly important role in health care? From the charts in the front office, to the notes your general practitioner enters into a computer during your visit, to the portal you log into so that you can see your blood test results; health information management systems are everywhere. Although it is a far cry from delivering a baby or treating a chronic disorder, administering these systems is a vital part of the health care industry.
The Need for a New Kind of Information Management
In January 2014, a key provision of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 went into effect, mandating that all health care providers must adopt a "meaningful use" of electronic medical records (EMR) in order to keep their Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement levels intact. The same act provides financial incentives to doctors who maintain electronic health records (EHR) for their patients.
This push to store and disseminate records electronically was based on a need for greater efficiency in a system that had become increasingly difficult to manage, particularly in a society like the United States where people are increasingly mobile and live decades past retirement age. The implementation of the Affordable Care Act, which has successfully enrolled 9.5 million people thus far, has placed an even greater burden on the old system. Electronic medical and health records:
- Use less storage space and consume fewer resources.
- Can be safely stored and are not subject to catastrophic loss or damage.
- Are easy to share with specialists and other clinicians.
- Provide centralized and comprehensive access.
Theoretically, the EHR also allows for a better standard of care. When a physician or specialist can see the patient's entire history at a glance, they know which procedures have been performed and can compare multiple test results effortlessly. This ability facilitates accurate diagnosis, and it allows physicians to spend more time inquiring about the patient's current symptoms, creating a better quality of care.
Careers in Health Information Management (HIM)
The move to electronic records has revolutionized the health industry, creating new opportunities for professionals to work in management science, information technology, and administration. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for medical and health services managers was $88,580 in 2012. The projected job growth for health information managers is 23 percent by the end of 2022, placing it on par with nursing as one of the most in-demand professions in the health industry.
Health information managers work in a variety of different settings:
- They oversee the day-to-day operations of an HIM office for a clinic or hospital.
- They may be in charge of the medical coding or transcription for a health institution.
- Some health information managers work in accounting and insurance offices, handling the intricacies of reimbursement.
- Health information administrators may work in quality assessment and performance improvement.
- They may manage the information technology for an entire institution, making sure that the implementation of electronic records is handled correctly and the systems function smoothly.
- They may work in pharmaceutical research managing projects and staff.
- They may manage health records and perform quality control services for a correctional institution.
Health information managers may run a physician's private practice or a single department; some executive managers oversee an entire hospital. The job requires a diverse skill set, including clinical, technical, and managerial knowledge. It is an excellent way for individuals who are already working in the health care industry as technicians to advance to a higher level once they have gained enough practical experience. It is also a suitable career path for students who want to combine business and technology interests.
How to Become a Health Information Manager
Candidates who wish to advance in the field of managing health information will want to earn a bachelor’s degree in Health Information Management from an accredited university. Upon graduation from an accredited bachelor’s degree in health information management, professionals are eligible to sit for the Registered Health Information Administrator (RHIA) exam. Participating in an internship in a particular area of health information management is an excellent way to learn hands-on what the duties of the career entail and gives the degree candidate a competitive edge in the job market.
Managing the organization, storage, and dissemination of information for a busy medical clinic may not seem as important as saving lives. But by creating an efficient system that frees medical health care workers time, they can spend more time with patients, which is a valuable service that is just as much in demand.