Becoming a Healthcare IT Specialist: Job Description & Salary

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What are the pros and cons of a career as a healthcare IT specialist? Get real job descriptions, career outlook and salary statistics to help you decide whether becoming a healthcare IT specialist is the right move.
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The Pros and Cons of a Healthcare IT Specialist Career

Healthcare IT specialists maintain patient records and keep them secure, as well as keeping up with current computer and software technology and legislative requirements. Read on to learn more about the pros and cons of a career as a healthcare IT specialist.

Pros of a Healthcare IT Specialist Career
Assist in streamlining healthcare system*
Healthy job market (22% growth from 2012-2022)*
Flexibility in job location*
Good salary relative to education (average annual salary around $36,000)*
Work with emerging technologies*

Cons of a Healthcare IT Specialist Career
Long hours are fairly common*
May need to be 'on call'*
Long periods in front of computer can lead to eyestrain and back discomfort*
Potential for high amounts of stress*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Essential Career Information

Job Responsibilities

Since patient data is frequently used for quality management and medical research, healthcare IT specialists must ensure that databases are complete, accurate and made available only to authorized personnel. Protecting patient confidentiality while also ensuring the integrity of data is a delicate balance that must be maintained by anyone working with medical information. As a healthcare IT specialist, you might also play an important role in research support, systems analysis, technical writing and project planning.

Working as a healthcare IT specialist involves interacting with various committees. If you assist in planning projects, you may have to work with steering committees or expert panels to set project timelines, objectives and budgets. Overseeing the implementation of electronic health records is another common task for healthcare IT specialists, with a lot of training often attached. You might also find yourself constantly developing new training materials and evaluating workflow as it relates to new system implementation.

Salary and Career Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects robust job growth for medical records and health information technicians in the coming years, with overall employment expected to increase by 22% from 2012-2022. As of May 2014, the BLS reported the median annual salary for medical records and health information technicians was about $36,000.

Requirements

Most healthcare IT specialist positions require a bachelor's degree in information technology, computer science or a related field. Many also require a certain amount of experience in health informatics or IT work in another field. Healthcare IT specialists are expected to be well versed in a wide range of computer applications, from basic word processing and database programs to clinical document architecture and software programming. Some positions may prefer some experience with direct patient care in a clinical setting.

If you're interested in pursuing a career as a healthcare IT specialist, you'll need to have strong communication skills along with good problem-solving abilities. The ability to communicate effectively is especially important, since you may find yourself explaining the utility of a new information system to people of varied technical backgrounds. A good deal of patience is also required for training employees in new applications.

What Are Employers Looking For?

If you meet the standard prerequisites for a position as a healthcare IT specialist, you'll likely have the opportunity to work in a wide range of healthcare settings. While responsibilities may vary significantly depending on employer, some job postings open as of March 2012 clarify some of the specific duties of a healthcare IT professional.

  • A not-for-profit healthcare organization in Washington, DC, seeks a technical specialist for its health IT department. The position supports IT projects, workshops and meetings and requires a bachelor's degree in health informatics and one year of relevant work experience.
  • A primary care association in New Mexico is looking for a health IT implementation specialist to oversee the adoption of an electronic health records system for small physician group practices. The position requires a bachelor's degree in a related field and at least two years of experience working in the healthcare IT industry.
  • A large technology company seeks a healthcare IT transition manager in Kansas City, Missouri. Easing the transition to new IT products for staff and customers is the key function of this job. This position requires extensive travel and requires a bachelor's degree.

Standing Out in the Field

One way to make yourself an attractive candidate in the competitive job market for IT specialists is to stay up to date with emerging technologies and software applications. Your responsibilities as a healthcare IT specialist may extend to research and development of new software and systems, so knowledge in these areas is key. Understanding current research and test cases related to healthcare IT systems will be very helpful as a prospective employee.

Certification may be another way to stand out in the healthcare IT field. The American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) offers credentials in several areas, including certification as a registered health information technician (RHIT). Product-specific certifications offered by software companies may also be appropriate for advancing your IT specialist career.

Alternative Career Options

While many opportunities exist within the broad field of healthcare information technology, spending most of your time in front of a monitor may not be ideal for you. Healthcare organizations feature many administrative career options, some devoted entirely to streamlining patient care and increasing efficiency. One such position is medical and health services manager. As a medical and health services manager, you'll plan direct and coordinate medical services in a healthcare facility. These positions usually require a bachelor's degree, and the BLS projects 22% employment growth from 2010-2020. As of 2011, the BLS reported a median annual salary of about $86,000 for medical and health services managers.

If you'd prefer to pursue an alternative career with a technological focus, you might want to consider a medical transcriptionist position. This occupation involves converting voice recordings of physicians into written reports. Medical transcriptionists also use medical terminology and abbreviations to prepare patients' medical histories and other documents. While these positions generally require only a 2-year degree or certificate, the BLS reported a median salary of only about $33,000 as of 2011. Employment growth is also expected to be slower than average for medical transcriptionists.

Popular Schools

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Loyola University New Orleans

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  • MSN - Nursing Leadership
  • RN to MSN - Nursing Leadership

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George Mason University

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  • Master of Science in Health Informatics

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Benedictine University

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The George Washington University

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Sacred Heart University

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Widener University

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American University

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Keiser University

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