Updated on Aug 22, 2023, with contributions from Nicholas Patterson.
Have you ever noticed that when you visit your physician’s office, you’re asked to review your past and current health status? You were likely given a form to verify your past medical history and a list of current medications. Do you ever wonder why you have to review this form every time you go to the doctor?
Continue reading to find out why.
An Example of Information Management in Healthcare
Meet Sara, a young mother of three children. It’s late at night when Sara’s two-year-old son Ben wakes up with shortness of breath. Because of Ben’s history of premature birth and subsequent breathing difficulties, Sara rushes Ben to the hospital.
When signing in at the emergency room, Sara is asked a series of questions about Ben’s past health concerns. Exhausted and distraught, Sara can’t remember important details of her son’s previous conditions. She remembers that Ben was in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for three weeks but can’t recall the details of his illnesses and treatments during the hospitalization.
The nurse reassures Sara that everything is going to be alright and that she can retrieve Ben’s health information from the electronic health record (EHR). As the nurse is reviewing Ben’s chart in the EHR, she notices an alert indicating that Ben has an allergy to Augmentin. This critical information is essential in treating Ben’s current illness. If it had not been documented correctly, Ben’s health safety could have been compromised during this emergency room visit.
How Health Information Management (HIM) Can Help
Having accurate health information documented is critical to patient safety, and this is where health information management (HIM) professionals can help:
- HIM professionals work to ensure health information is documented accurately, timely and securely.
- HIM professionals work with all healthcare providers and departments, including physicians, nurses, lab, radiology and pharmacy staff, to ensure patient information to promote patient safety through documentation practices.
- While overseeing documentation practices is one of the hallmarks of the HIM profession, these professionals manage many other key aspects of health information, including collecting, reporting, analyzing and protecting health data.
To that end, Dr. Pamela Varhol, an associate dean of healthcare professions at SNHU, said, “Healthcare professionals utilize electronic health record (EHR) systems and other key technology to manage health information. As the needs of health care organizations evolve, professionals need to embark on a continuous journey of learning new technology and soft skills (i.e., networking and emotional intelligence).”
Skills Required in Health Information Management
As you might imagine, working in HIM requires a unique skill set that encompasses healthcare, information technology and business concepts.
For example, HIM professionals must be knowledgeable in the health sciences, particularly in anatomy, physiology, pathology and pharmacology. Having this knowledge allows HIM professionals to manage and disseminate essential health information to internal and external stakeholders for clinical decision-making, research and revenue management.
HIM professionals also need to be able to make informed decisions on matters such as department budgeting and workflow processes and have the technological skills to oversee all of these facets of the profession.
In addition to these skills, Dr. Lynn Ward, a health information management program director at SNHU, said, “HIM professionals need to be able to communicate effectively, problem-solve, work independently and be very detail-oriented.”
Roles in HIM are also recognized as STEM disciplines, according to O*NET OnLine, a national occupational database recognized by the U.S. Department of Labor. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
STEM categorization is important because it highlights the industry’s use of technology, data analysis and scientific understanding. This distinction not only underscores the technical skills required for these roles but also validates the critical contribution they make to healthcare.
So, how do you acquire so many different skills? A bachelor’s in HIM could be your first step.
4 Basic Functions of Health Information Management
These functions are the overarching themes and specialty areas that fall under the HIM umbrella:
- Health information management encompasses coding and revenue cycle, informatics, data analytics and information governance.
- Coding and revenue cycle management include assigning diagnostic and procedural codes for billing to managing the revenue flow from patient registration to final discharge.
- Informatics oversees the technology aspects of managing health information, whereas data analytics manages the integrity of data through mapping and quality improvement processes.
- Information governance focuses on HIM operations and compliance and ensures the protection of protected health information (PHI). Each of these areas within HIM has entry-level opportunities with the potential to reach executive-level positions at the mastery level.
Is Health Information Management a Good Career Choice?
Earning a degree in HIM from a program that is accredited by CAHIIM, the Commission on Accreditation for Health Informations, can lead to a long-lasting career in a rapidly growing industry, according to the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) (AHIMA PDF Source).
AHIMA also offers a career map tool where you can explore the various roles available in the HIM industry. Here you can find information such as expected training, prior work experience, responsibilities and skills required for each role. You’ll also learn more about the education expected with each path, such as whether you will need a certificate, associate, bachelor’s or master’s in HIM.
As the HIM profession continues to grow, so do the career opportunities. These are just a sampling of job roles AHIMA notes are available, and many more opportunities exist nationally and internationally:
- Clinical documentation improvement specialist
- Health data analyst
- HIM director
- Medical coder
- Privacy or security officer
HIM professionals also work in a wide array of settings. In fact, nowadays, there are many opportunities to work remotely. Here are some of the typical settings where HIM professionals work, but there are many other possibilities, including working internationally:
- Government agencies and health information exchanges
- Healthcare software companies
- Hospitals, clinics and surgery centers
- Physical therapy, rehabilitation and behavioral health facilities
Salary and Career Outlook
The salary you can earn varies based on factors such as your role, education and experience.
Here are the average salaries for some HIM roles based on self-reported information to the AHIMA (Salary Survey Report PDF Source):
- Clinical documentation improvement (CDI): $84,300
- Compliance/risk management: $89,230
- Education/communication: $79,120
- Informatics/data analytics: $83,490
- IT and infrastructure: $98,180
- Operations-medical records administration: $81,950
- Revenue cycle management/coding and billing: $66,370
The number of credentials you earn throughout your career can also affect your potential salary, according to the AHIMA. Here is a breakdown of the average wage based on the number of credentials you’ve earned:
- None: $66,320
- One: $75,540
- Two: $82,620
- Three: $89,960
- Four or more: $113,950
Roles throughout the industry continue to expand as well, as health information technologist’s jobs are expected to grow by 17% through 2031, according to BLS, much faster than the national average.
Is Health Information Management a Good Fit for You?
Do you love digging into data? Are you someone who’s careful about the details and wants to get things just right? Do you care about being ethical and also like helping people?
If these sound like you, then you might really enjoy the HIM field. In HIM, you look at health information, make sure it’s correct, and use it to help people get better care. It’s a field where your love for data and care for people can come together.
Discover more about SNHU’s bachelor’s in HIM: Find out what courses you’ll take, skills you’ll learn and how to request information about the program.
Dr. Darla Branda is a former faculty lead for Health Information Management (HIM) at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU). She previously directed HIM programs in face-to-face and online formats at the associate degree level and online at the baccalaureate level. Branda also served as department chair over several externally accredited programs, including health information management, cancer information management and medical coding in a completely online format. Before becoming an educator, she served in a variety of HIM roles at a level-one trauma hospital in the Midwest. Branda is a proud veteran of the United States Air Force. She has a doctoral degree in educational leadership with a concentration in higher education.
Nicholas Patterson ’22 is a writer at Southern New Hampshire University. Connect with him on LinkedIn.