Data is neither wisdom nor knowledge. For healthcare providers, it’s the pieces of a puzzle that must be carefully assembled to see the big picture. Properly managed, medical records can accelerate the flow of information between doctors, improving efficiency and clinical outcomes. If you have a passion for technology and an aptitude for organization, why not become a health information technician? It’s a meaningful, future-forward career.
What Does a Health Information Technician Do?
Health information technicians manage medical data. From archiving paper charts to overseeing electronic databases, they organize records so that they’re easily accessible and secure. Their responsibilities include:
Reviewing Health Records for Completeness and Accuracy
Health information technicians work closely with clinical staff to ensure documentation is accurate. Mistakes are costly and can impact patient care. Some insurance claims are rejected for inaccurate coding leading to reimbursement delays and medical errors. Accuracy is critical.
Data Collection and Entry
Medical encounters rarely allow for all pertinent data to be collected. The victim of an automobile accident, for example, may not be able to provide medical or insurance details before being treated. Health information technicians follow up with patients and their providers to collect and enter necessary data.
Organize Data in Clinical Databases
A clinical database is a collection of health information from patient demographics to medical histories. It can be accessed by anyone with permission and an Internet connection to search for data related to a person or parameter.
By making the right queries, users can collate information in the ways that benefit them most. Doctors, for example, can see how many patients in their practices have had flu shots, while billing specialists can see which have overdue balances. Data helps administrators to better understand their patient population and plan capital expenditures. Public health officials use them to track disease outbreaks.
Clinical databases are multi-user and multi-tiered and need continual updating to ensure information remains timely. Health information technicians take the lead with this task.
Medical codes are short, alphanumeric sequences that describe symptoms, disorders, supplies, and services. By converting pages of data into a few digits, health information technicians reduce the volume of information facilities and insurers must process while making data easier to access and simpler to share.
Electronic health records were made mandatory in 2014. Though challenging, it’s vastly improved patient care by making data more accessible. Greater accessibility, however, leaves data vulnerable and requires precautions against an invasion of medical privacy. Health information technicians protect sensitive data by validating requests for information and implementing security protocols.
How Do I Become a Health Information Technician?
Most careers in the medical field require a college degree. But health information technicians can get a job with just a vocational school diploma. Having an associate or bachelor’s degree is required for certification, but getting a diploma is the fastest and most efficient way to get a rewarding job and gain valuable work experience.
How Long Is a Health Information Technician Program?
Students attending a vocational school program full-time can graduate with a diploma in eight months, or invest six months more and get an associate’s degree. Each path has advantages.
Diploma programs prepare students for entry-level positions. It’s the bottom rung of the career ladder, but it’s a financially responsible way for adults with life responsibilities to further their education without being out of work for long. Completing an associate’s degree program qualifies students for certification and may result in better job opportunities and faster professional growth. But either way, the important part is to take the next step and start training today.
What Do You Learn During a Health Information Technician Program?
Vocational school programs are designed for beginners, preparing students for success in entry-level positions and beyond. The curriculum covers:
Doctors have a language of their own, to function in a healthcare setting, a grasp of the terminology you’ll find in medical reports is essential. Instead of memorizing words, you’ll learn how to break them down into their parts, prefixes, suffixes, and roots, to determine their meaning.
The term “Benign Positional Vertigo,” for example, is derived from Latin, bene meaning “well,” positional referring to the patient’s position and “vertigo,” meaning to turn or spin. By the end of the course, you’ll feel comfortable sorting through charts for the information you need without a dictionary. Other classes will help build your medical vocabulary.
Anatomy and Physiology
This class covers the structure and function of the human body. Unlike the in-depth courses clinical providers take, health information students get the basic instruction they need to decipher medical reports. You’ll also receive a pharmacology primer to help you identify the medications used most often to treat common ailments.
Health Data Systems
Electronic Health Records (EHR) are stored in a wide range of conventional and digital formats. Topics in this course include data collection and analysis, information sources, storage and archival systems, and regulatory compliance.
Healthcare Law and Ethics
The healthcare field is strictly regulated for public safety. Working in a medical facility, health information technicians need to recognize the potential legal and ethical consequences of everything they do. This class covers legal terminology, confidentiality practices, patient privacy rules, data security, access and disclosure of health information, and ethical implications. Graduates will be prepared to work within procedural and ethical standards.
Insurance and Reimbursement
Healthcare finance is complicated. Most medical bills in America are paid for by insurers, so a large part of what health information technicians do requires an understanding of insurance and reimbursement models.
This course reviews the revenue stream, billing processes, regulatory guidelines, reimbursement goals, and compliance strategies. Students will learn about private and public insurance plans and will be comfortable filing claims.
Medical coding classes cover the three most common systems and how they drive reimbursement. They include:
ICD-10, the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, was first developed in the 1600s and continues to be used worldwide to classify every symptom, injury and medical disorder ICD-10 codes are used by public health departments to monitor disease trends and on insurance forms to identify why patients were treated.
CPT, or Common Procedural Codes, are five-digit numbers assigned to all medical, surgical, and diagnostic procedures. Developed by the American Medical Association in 1966, they’re used for reimbursement purposes and to monitor clinical outcomes. Combined with ICD-10 codes, they give insurers a better picture of patients’ health.
The Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System, or HCPCS, is a two-level alphanumeric system created specifically for the US government. Level I is the Common Procedural Code index. Level II covers medical products, ancillary professional services such as radiology and ambulance transportation and medically necessary non-professional services. HCPCS codes are used on all Medicare and Medicaid claims.
Where Can You Work as a Health Information Technician?
Employment settings for health information technicians are remarkably broad. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, a third are employed in hospitals, and a tenth work in private practices. There are also opportunities in public health and the private sector working for insurers, researchers, schools, and tech companies. As a health information technician, here’s what you can expect to do:
Hospitals offer several roles for health information specialists. You might work in the records department, storing data, transcribing doctor’s notes, and answering inquiries from patients and physicians. Or you may assist the billing department with coding and insurance claims.
With a large staff, entry-level positions are focused on limited tasks. It’s an ideal environment for honing specific skills and a good place for health information technicians with diplomas to learn more while working toward a degree.
Working in a doctor’s office, you’ll perform many of the same tasks as you would in hospitals. But with fewer staff members to divide duties amongst, you’ll be a jack-of-all-trades, participating in most data-related activities from managing records to troubleshooting insurance claims. It’s an ideal position for people who enjoy seeing a process through from start to finish instead of working on one task all day.
Insurers rely on health information specialists to manage health data and analyze coding on insurance claims. For graduates who want to further their careers, it’s a unique opportunity to see how reimbursement requests are handled. You’ll get a better understanding of documentation challenges and the revenue cycle, a plus in management positions.
Health services are a must on university campuses, but it takes an army of specialists to track student insurance and medical data. A health information technician working at a college will maintain student and faculty health records, ensuring regulatory compliance.
Research and Development
Medical research is conducted in settings from schools and private practices to hospitals and laboratories. The volume of documentation generated is profound and requires careful handling.
Health information technicians maintain these records, analyzing data and compiling reports. It’s an interesting place to work for people with an interest in both health and administration.
Public health is arguably the most intriguing place to work as a health information technician. Organizations like the CDC and WHO rely on data to monitor health trends and plan outreach programs. You’ll spend your days organizing data for analysis and assisting with reports. Most government positions, however, require at least an associate’s degree.
Healthcare is an exciting field, but not everyone wants a clinical role. Jobs for health information technicians are in demand, data is everything in medicine. Now’s the time for tech-savvy students with a passion for organization to train for this secure and rewarding career.
Health Information Technician Diploma
After completing the 8-month diploma program at our El Cajon | San Diego Health Information Technician School, you have the option to continue in the Health Information Technician (HIT), Associate of Applied Science program. The associate degree can be completed in an additional 6 months and contains general education courses, along with advanced courses in billing and coding.
Contact us today to learn more about medical records technician career opportunities offered at ATA College.