Health Information Management Degrees: Bachelor, Associate & Online Info

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What will you learn in a health information management program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of an associate's or bachelor's degree and potential careers.
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Studying an Associate's or Bachelor's Health Information Management: Degrees at a Glance

A degree in health information management can prepare you for a career in the fast-growing health care field. Health information management professionals work closely with doctors and nurses to ensure the accuracy of patients' medical records. Excellent job prospects await students who complete an associate's or bachelor's degree program. Successfully passing one of the certification exams offered by the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) can further increase your chances of being hired.

Associate's Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? Individuals seeking an entry-level position in the health information management field Associate's degree holders wishing to advance their education; those planning on working in supervisory roles
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary)- Medical records and health information technician ($36,000)*
- Compliance auditor ($36,000-$78,000 in 10th-90th percentile range)**
- Certified medical billing and coding specialist ($21,000-$46,000 in 10th-90th percentile range)**
- Medical and health services manager ($96,000)*
-Health information management manager ($35,000-$81,000 in 10th-90th percentile range)**
Time to Completion 1.5 years full-time Four years full-time
Common Graduation Requirements Roughly 70 credit hours of coursework - 120 credit hours of coursework
-Capstone project
-Successful completion of practicum
Prerequisites High school diploma or equivalent Some programs require an associate's degree or 60-90 credit hours of coursework
Online Availability Yes Yes

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures), **PayScale (May 2012 figures)

Associate's Degree in Health Information Management

An associate's degree program in health information management can prepare you for a career as a health information technician, health care billing specialist or compliance auditor. Common places of employment include hospitals, rehabilitation facilities and surgery centers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the number of employed health information technicians was expected to increase 21% between 2010 and 2020. Employment opportunities should be strongest for technicians who hold professional certifications, like AHIMA's Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT) credential.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Faster-than-average job growth for health information technicians (21% from 2010-2020)*
  • Good degree option if you're interested in the health care industry but don't want a career involving patient interaction
  • Associate's programs allow you to gain hands-on experience before graduation

Cons

  • Completion of a program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education (CAHIIM) is required for RHIT certification
  • Individuals who hold an associate's degree often make less than those who hold bachelor's degrees (approximately $36,000 vs. $96,000 on average)*
  • Some health information technicians are required to work evening and overnight hours

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures)

Common Courses and Requirements

In addition to general education courses, your core classwork focuses on health information and medical records management. Medical terminology, electronic health records and health information technology are common core classes. Most accredited associate's degree programs prepare students to take national certification exams. An externship at a medical facility in the community is a requirement for graduation at most schools.

Courses you may take at the associate's degree level include:

  • Health data concepts and systems
  • Pharmacology for health information management
  • Statistical applications in health information management
  • Healthcare payment systems
  • Advanced medical terminology

Online Degree Options

Online programs leading to an associate's degree in health information management do exist. Most schools allow you to complete an associate's degree program completely online, but certain schools may offer hybrid programs. Taking classes online can give parents, returning students and individuals working full-time a flexible class schedule. Make sure you check the accreditation of any school offering classes or an associate's degree program online.

Stand Out with this Degree

According to the BLS, health information technicians with a good understanding of computers may stand out from the crowd. If you're interested in earning an associate's degree, make sure your program covers technical topics in detail, like electronic health records (EHR) systems.

You can also gain an edge in the field by earning the RHIT credential. In fact, some employers won't hire a candidate without this important certification. AHIMA offers other credentials as well, and students who pass multiple certification exams may have a better chance at securing employment.

Bachelor's Degree in Health Information Management

Completing a bachelor's program in health information management can prepare you for a career as a health information manager. These programs are available on campus and online; most of them require four years of study. However, completion time can vary depending on how many postsecondary credits you earn before pursuing a bachelor's degree.

The most typical employment setting for health information managers or administrators is in hospitals, but opportunities for employment are also available in education and research. Earning a bachelor's degree may qualify you for AHIMA's Registered Health Information Administrator (RHIA) certification exam.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Health information managers earn above-average salaries (approximately $96,000 as of May 2011)*
  • Faster-than-average job growth (22% for health information managers from 2010-2020)*
  • You may receive credit towards your degree if you hold the RHIT credential

Cons

  • Students who complete a bachelor's degree program that's not accredited by CAHIIM can't sit for the RHIA credentialing exam
  • Some bachelor's degree programs require students to hold an associate's degree before applying
  • As a health information manager, you may need to work nights and weekends

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures)

Courses and Requirements

Core classes in a bachelor's degree program are centered on health statistics and research methods, data management and leadership. You also need to complete a capstone project and a practicum experience in order to receive your degree. Common topics at the bachelor's degree level include:

  • Fundamentals of health information systems
  • Disease and medical science
  • Analysis and interpretation of healthcare data
  • Coding and reimbursement systems
  • Legal aspects of health information management

Online Degree Options

Bachelor's degree programs in health information management can be completed entirely online. These programs include the same core requirements as on-campus programs. Students enrolled in online bachelor's programs may need to complete a practicum at a clinical site in their community. Similar to associate's programs, it's important to confirm an online school's accreditation before applying.

Stand Out with this Degree

Students with a bachelor's degree in health information management can make themselves more marketable to employers by obtaining the RHIA designation. This can be obtained by successfully passing AHIMA's certification exam.

You can also stand out from the competition by joining a professional organization; some organizations, like AHIMA, allow you to join as a student. Membership benefits can include access to industry journals, job boards, credentialing discounts and continuing education courses.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Herzing University

    Program Options

    Associate's
      • Associate: Health Information Management
      • Associate: Healthcare Management
      • Associate of Science - Insurance Billing and Coding Specialist
  • Campus and Online Programs
    2. Virginia College

    Program Options

    Associate's
      • Associate: Medical Office Admin.
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Keiser University

    Program Options

    Associate's
      • Associate of Science - Medical Administrative Billing and Coding
      • Associate of Arts - Health Services Admin
  • Juneau, AK

    University of Alaska Southeast

  • Tiffin, OH

    Tiffin University

  • Canton, IL

    Spoon River College

  • El Paso, TX

    Southwest University at El Paso

  • Decatur, IL

    Richland Community College

  • Missoula, MT

    The University of Montana

  • Williamsport, PA

    Pennsylvania College of Technology

Featured Schools

Herzing University

  • Associate: Health Information Management
  • Associate: Healthcare Management
  • Associate of Science - Insurance Billing and Coding Specialist

What is your highest level of education?

Virginia College

  • Associate: Medical Office Admin.

What is your highest level of education completed?

Keiser University

  • Associate of Science - Medical Administrative Billing and Coding
  • Associate of Arts - Health Services Admin

What is your highest level of education?

University of Alaska Southeast

Tiffin University

Spoon River College

Southwest University at El Paso

Richland Community College