Pros and Cons of a Medical Records Career
The health information and medical records field provides opportunities for individuals handling patient records and for managers overseeing facilities' health information systems. Job titles in the medical records field include medical coder, health information manager and medical secretary. Below is a glimpse at these jobs:
|Medical Coders||Health Information Managers||Medical Secretary|
|Career Overview||Medical coders maintain healthcare records and convert medical information into clinical codes||Health information managers oversee the information and medical records department in a healthcare facility||Medical secretaries provide clerical and administrative support in healthcare facilities and physicians' offices|
|Education Requirements||Certificate or associate degree||Bachelor's degree||No formal education required, but certificate programs are available|
|Program Length||One to two years||Four years||One year|
|Certification||Certification is not required, but employers prefer certification from the American Academy of Professional Coders and the American Health Information Management Association||Certification is not required, but organizations like the American Health Information Management Association offer credentials||Voluntary certification is available through the American Association of Medical Assistants|
|Experience Requirements||None; entry level||Varies by position||None; entry level|
|Job Outlook for 2012-2022||41,100 additional jobs expected (22% increase)*||73,300 additional jobs expected (23% increase)*||189,200 additional jobs expected (36% increase)*|
|Median Salary (2014)||About $36,000*||About $93,000*||About $32,000*|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Medical coders work in physicians' offices, hospitals, clinics and other healthcare facilities, organizing patient records, entering medical data and ensuring the confidentiality of information. The job requires coders to review patient records and ensure the information is complete and accurate, which may require consulting with physicians and medical professionals. These workers translate medical data into codes and manage such data using health record indexes as well as storage/retrieval systems.
Entry-level positions in medical coding usually require the completion of a certificate or associate degree program. In one of these programs, you can expect to take courses in medical terminology, coding systems, anatomy and physiology, health information management principles, procedural coding and reimbursement issues. Select programs may require you to complete a cooperative education experience in the health information technology industry.
Below are some examples of medical coder positions available in December 2012:
- A New Jersey hospital-based clinical outsourcing company is looking for a medical coder with at least a high school education and one year of experience in medical coding. The employer prefers applicants with certification in the field.
- An ophthalmology center in Minnesota is searching for a medical coder who has completed a coding course from the American Academy of Professional Coders or the American Health Information Management Association. The employer requires applicants to have at least two years of medical billing experience.
- A California healthcare company is looking for a contract medical coder who will work with physicians to ensure the accuracy of coding techniques. Applicants must have certification as a medical coder to qualify for the position.
While not mandatory for this career, many employers prefer that medical coders hold credentials from a professional organization. In fact, according to December 2012 job listings, employers often prefer applicants who are certified by the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC) or the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA). The AHIMA, for example, offers the Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT) credential to candidates with associate degrees from accredited health information management programs. This credential also requires passage of an exam.
Health Information Managers
A health information manager is responsible for the medical records and health information department in a medical facility, such as a physician's office, hospital or clinic. Managers direct the activities of health information workers, create schedules, maintain budgets and report to upper management. These managers must also ensure the facility complies with regulations and laws regarding patient privacy.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), managers must have a minimum of a bachelor's degree to qualify for employment. Some employers require health information managers to have a master's degree. A degree in health administration usually includes coursework in health economics, budgeting, human resources management, hospital organization and strategic planning. In some programs, you can focus your studies in a specific type of medical facility, like hospitals, nursing homes or mental health centers.
Below are some examples of health information management positions available in December 2012:
- An Illinois hospital is looking for a health information manager with a minimum of a 4-year degree from an accredited health information management program. The employer requires applicants to hold the RHIT or Registered Health Information Administrator credential.
- A Minnesota employer is searching for a health information manager to oversee the facility's health information department and ensure compliance with government regulations. Applicants must have a degree in health information technology and at least 15 years of experience in the field with a minimum of five years in a supervisor position.
- A surgical management company in South Dakota is seeking a health information services manager with a minimum of a bachelor's degree in business administration or healthcare administration. The employer requires applicants to have a certification as a coding specialist.
December 2012 job postings reveal that employers often favor applicants who hold certification, particularly from the AHIMA. While the organization's RHIT credential may help you stand out in the field, the Registered Health Information Administrator credentials is specially geared toward health information managers. Candidates need to hold bachelor's degrees from accredited health information management programs, as well as passing a certification exam.
Medical secretaries provide clerical and administrative support to physicians and healthcare providers in hospitals, clinics and doctors' offices. The duties of a medical secretary include preparing correspondence, taking medical histories and arranging patient appointments as well as insurance billing. These workers also answer phones, greet patients and maintain medical records.
According to the BLS, no formal education is required to work as a medical secretary, but some may complete certificate programs through community colleges or technical schools. A medical secretary certificate program may include coursework in medical terminology, insurance and coding, office administration and medical transcription. Some secretaries train for the position on the job.
See below for examples of medical secretary positions available in December 2012:
- An Illinois obstetrics and gynecology private practice is looking for a medical secretary with a minimum of a high school diploma and at least three years of experience as a medical secretary.
- A Florida healthcare facility is seeking a medical secretary with experience releasing medical records and prepping patient charts in a high-volume office.
- A medical school in Maryland is searching for a medical secretary with a high school education and 2-3 year of experience in a medical office.
Medical secretaries can obtain certification to demonstrate proficiency in the field and stand out among the competition. The American Association of Medical Assistants offers the Certified Medical Assistant credential to candidates who have completed medical assisting programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools. You will also need to pass a certification exam, and you'll need to renew certification every 60 months by earning continuing education credits or passing a recertification exam.