Health Information Technology: Associate, Bachelor & Online Degree Info

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What kind of job can you get with an associate's or bachelor's degree in health information technology? Get the truth about the requirements, courses and career options, and find out what you can do with your degree.
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Studying Health Information Technology: Associate's and Bachelor's Degrees at a Glance

Health information technology is a rapidly expanding field. Individuals employed in the health information technology sector work closely with doctors and nurses to accurately maintain and update patient records. You can expect ample opportunities for employment after completing an accredited associate's or bachelor's degree program. A career as a health information technician is a popular choice for students who complete an associate's degree program.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that the number of working health information technicians will grow 21% from 2010-2020. Students pursuing a bachelor's degree may find excellent job prospects as medical or health services managers as well; the number of professionals in that field is expected to increase 22% from 2010-2020.

Associate's Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? Individuals interested in pursuing an entry-level position or those seeking entry to a bachelor's degree program Individuals who hold an associate's degree and want to move into a management or administrative position
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) - Medical records and health information technician ($36,000)* - Medical and health services manager ($96,000)*
- Health information management (HIM) manager ($35,000-$84,000)**
Time to Completion 2 years full-time 4 years full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - Roughly 65 credits of college coursework including practicum - Approximately 120 credits of coursework
- Completion of capstone project and/or practicum
Prerequisites - High school diploma or equivalent - High school diploma or equivalent
- Some programs require an associate's degree (or 60 college credits) and IT or healthcare experience prior to enrollment
Online Availability Yes Yes

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures); **Payscale (May 2012 figures in the 10th-90th percentile range).

Associate's Degree in Health Information Technology

An associate's degree program in health information technology can prepare you for a medical records or health information technician career. Health information technicians are commonly employed by hospitals, but they may also work in physician's offices or government agencies. If you want to become a registered health information technician, make sure the college you plan to attend is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education (CAHIIM). Professionals in this field may have a difficult time earning advancement opportunities without completing a bachelor's degree.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Good job prospects (21% job growth expected for health information technicians from 2010-2020)*
  • Opportunity to work in a comfortable environment
  • Online classes, on campus classes and hybrid programs exist

Cons

  • You may have a difficult time finding employment unless you've passed a certification exam
  • Some programs offering associate's degrees may not be accredited by the CAHIIM, which won't make graduates eligible for certification
  • Credits earned in some associate's degree programs may not be transferable to bachelor's degree programs

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Common Courses and Requirements

General coursework in math, English composition and psychology is required in addition to core classes. Common healthcare and health technology topics include anatomy and physiology, human diseases and database design. You're also required to complete a practicum at a medical facility before receiving your degree.

Courses you might take in an associate's degree program include:

  • Health information management applications
  • Medical billing and reimbursement
  • Electronic health records
  • Basic medical terminology
  • Legal and regulatory issues in health information

Online Degree Options

Online associate's degree programs in health information technology are widely available. Many schools offer hybrid programs that allow you to take classes online and on campus. Even if your program is available completely online, you may need to complete a practicum in the workplace. Online degree programs offer a flexible schedule for returning students, parents and individuals working full-time.

Stand Out with this Degree

Students who have completed an associate's degree program in health information technology can set themselves apart from the crowd by gaining certification. Successfully passing a certification exam offered by the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) allows you to become a registered health information technician. Employers are more likely to hire registered health information technicians than individuals who only hold an associate's degree.

Bachelor's Degree in Health Information Technology

A bachelor's degree program in health information technology or health informatics can prepare students for careers as health information managers. After graduating from a bachelor's program accredited by the CAHIIM, you may qualify for professional credentialing through AHIMA. Keep in mind that some administrative or managerial positions in the health services sector require several years of experience.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Health information management is one of the fastest growing fields (22% expected job growth from 2010-2020)*
  • Opportunity to help patients improve their health
  • Above-average earnings are possible (Health information managers made an average of $96,000 per year as of 2011)*

Cons

  • You may be competing for jobs with master's-program graduates
  • Some bachelor's degree programs require an associate's degree or previous college credits in order to enroll
  • Many bachelor's degree programs are entirely online, and you need to consider if an online learning environment meets your needs

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Courses and Requirements

Students enrolled in a bachelor's degree program can expect to take courses in health information technology and systems, biomedical sciences and systems administration and management. Most bachelor's degree programs require students to complete a practicum in the community. Depending on the college, a culminating capstone project may be required as well. Capstone projects commonly require students to complete an internship at a medical site in the community and create a culminating project to summarize their learning experience.

Courses you might take at the bachelor's-degree level include:

  • Database structures and management systems
  • Healthcare informatics
  • Healthcare systems design and management
  • Data communications and networks in healthcare
  • Healthcare compliance and coding

Online Degree Options

Fully online programs leading to a bachelor's degree in health information technology are common. The coursework required for online bachelor's degree programs closely parallels the coursework completed on-campus. Hybrid programs, which offer some courses online and some in the classroom, may be available as well.

Stand Out with this Degree

After completing a bachelor's degree program, you can stand out to employers by obtaining professional designations. For example, you might pursue AHIMA's Registered Health Information Administrator credential, which requires completion of a CAHIIM-accredited bachelor's program and an exam.

Keeping up to date with the latest advances in technology and software is another way to show employers your dedication to the field. Professional organizations, like AHIMA, may offer continuing education courses that cover evolving technologies, like electronic health record systems. Some of these courses can be completed online.

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