Medical Records Management: Associate, Bachelor & Online Degree Info

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What kind of job can you get with a degree in medical records management? Find out program requirements, online options and info on courses and medical records management degree programs.
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Studying Medical Records Management: Degrees at a Glance

Not many schools offer undergraduate degree programs in medical records management. However, degree programs that provide the training you need for this career field include healthcare information technology (HIT), healthcare informatics and healthcare information management (HIM). Medical records, also referred to as healthcare information, include patient information, doctors' notes, treatment records and medication histories. This information is highly confidential, and maintaining this information requires specialized training.

As with many allied health careers, some medical records management positions may require applicants to have several years of work experience in related fields. For example, some medical practitioners, such as nurses, go back to college to earn their HIT or HIM degrees. Their previous experience in the nursing field combined with their degrees make them more eligible for medical records management positions. Those without medical work experience may have to start at entry and mid-level positions, including medical coding specialists and health information technicians.

Associate Degree Bachelor's Degree
Who is this Program for? People interested in managing and maintaining healthcare records at medical institutions Professionals interested in the administrative side of the healthcare industry, as well as those interested in healthcare management and technology
Common Career Paths (with approx. median annual salary) - Health information technician ($33,000)*
- Cancer registrar ($33,000)*
- Medical records coding technician ($45,000)**
- Healthcare compliance director ($112,000)**
- Medical records coding manager ($69,000)**
- Medical records director ($103,000)**
Time to Completion Two years full time Four years full time
Common Graduation Requirements - Complete core healthcare informatics or HIT courses
- Fulfill general education requirements
- Participate in internships and/or practicums
- Pass final exams
- Pass required HIM classes
- Complete elective requirements
- Participate in professional practice experience internships
- Complete general education classes
- Complete capstone projects
- Pass final exams
Prerequisites - High school diploma
- Background check, if required
- Basic computer skills
- Some postsecondary prerequisite courses related to biology, computer science, math and psychology
- High school diploma
- 2-year HIT or HIM degree, preferred
- Background check, if applicable
Online Availability Yes Yes

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

Associate Degree in Medical Records Management

Most related degree programs at the associate degree level are in health information technology (HIT). These programs prepare students for updating, maintaining and managing medical records. More medical facilities are changing from paper records to digital ones, so the majority of HIT programs focus on the technical skills necessary for handling electronic healthcare records.

HIT degree programs teach students about the legal ramifications of confidentiality laws in relation to medical information. Students also learn how medical records are used for financial reimbursement, medical research, hospital surveys and marketing. Several degree programs also provide students with instruction about turning data from medical records into spreadsheets and statistics. Graduates from these degree programs can verify the accuracy of medical information, cross-reference healthcare records and translate medical terminology for coding and billing purposes.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Between 2010 and 2020, open positions for medical records and health information workers were predicted to grow by 21%*
  • Graduates can find job openings at doctors' offices, emergency rooms, medical research facilities, rehabilitation centers and other specialty medical locations
  • Most degree programs train students to use paper and digital records systems, allowing graduates to work in practically any medical setting

Cons

  • Often, too many students enroll in required HIT classes, so you may not get into the classes you need, or you might get stuck on wait lists
  • You may have to submit to background checks and drug screenings to be eligible for required internships
  • To find employment, you will most likely have to earn certifications after earning your associate degree*

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

Courses and Requirements

Before starting HIT core classes, you may have to take some prerequisites, which may include anatomy and physiology, introductory computer science courses, statistics, biology and psychology. HIT courses discuss technical skills, especially with using different electronic record systems. These classes also teach students procedural skills for working in different medical facilities. You can expect to take some of the following courses:

  • Medical and procedural terminology
  • Health information technology
  • Health data management
  • Medical reimbursement practices
  • Health data research
  • Clinical coding
  • Electronic healthcare spreadsheets and databases

Most HIT associate degree programs require you to complete internships or practicum/work experience courses. HIT internships and practicums often allow students to work with real medical records and electronic healthcare systems. Under close supervision, student interns may do such activities as code charts or update medical records.

Online Degree Options

Some degree programs offer all HIT lecture courses online. Not all general education courses are offered online, however, and students must complete these courses to earn associate degrees. Additionally, although students may complete HIT lecture courses online, internships must be completed in person. Most schools have prearranged internship programs with local medical facilities, so if you do not live near your college, you may have to make other arrangements for internships.

Stand Out with This Degree

If you complete an accredited HIT associate degree program, you may meet the requirements to take the Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT) certification exam. The RHIT exam is offered by the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA), and, according to its website, the exam asks questions about seven key areas: state and federal compliance regulations, legal issues, information technology, coding, quality assurance, data analysis and revenue cycles.

While still in the degree program, you can prepare for this exam by reviewing the AHIMA website, especially the recommended study resources and exam content outline. As you choose classes and electives within your associate degree program, you may want to choose classes that best prepare you for passing the RHIT exam. For example, not many degree programs have required classes related to state and federal compliance regulations, so you may want to choose electives that cover this information.

Bachelor's Degree in Medical Records Management

The majority of bachelor's degree programs related to this field are in healthcare information management (HIM). Some HIM degree programs are connected to other medical practitioner degree programs, such as nursing. Most HIM degree programs cover technology training and design, leadership skills, project management, communication and healthcare fundamentals.

Many degree programs prepare students to identify the healthcare information needs of various medical institutions. Students also receive information about financial concerns, especially in relation to the cost of implementing different medical records systems and protocols. Other common HIM degree program objectives include students developing the skills necessary to analyze medical records, cross-reference patient data trends and assure the quality of healthcare information.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • From 2010-2020, available job opportunities for health services managers were expected to increase by 22%*
  • Accredited HIM degree programs often prepare students for industry-standard certification exams
  • Most degree programs have an interdisciplinary design that incorporates training in human resources, finance, healthcare administration, regulation compliance and medical terminology

Cons

  • Some positions in healthcare information management may require applicants to hold master's degrees instead of bachelor's degrees*
  • Management careers in this field may require professionals to work at all hours and on weekends, and some employers may require medical managers to remain on call for emergencies*
  • Upper administrative positions often require applicants to have as much as seven years of related work experience, which may limit your job opportunities directly after graduation**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 statistics), **Salary.com (2012 statistics).

Common Courses and Requirements

Some HIM bachelor's degree programs may require students to complete foundational coursework, such as medical language, healthcare systems, clinical quality management and human resources management. Other prerequisite classes discuss topics within anatomy and physiology, computer science, statistics and health science fundamentals. Core classes in the HIM degree program may include some of the following:

  • Healthcare reimbursement methodologies
  • Database modeling
  • Alternative healthcare records systems
  • Organizational management
  • Healthcare information systems applications

Many HIM degree programs also require you to complete professional practice experiences, which usually include clinical internship hours. You may also have to complete final projects related to your professional practice experiences. Other graduation requirements include fulfilling all foundational and prerequisite coursework, meeting general education requirements and passing final examinations.

Online Program Info

Quite a few online HIM bachelor's degree programs exist. Some of these programs allow you to complete the majority of lecture coursework online; others may only offer a certain amount of online coursework. Some programs may offer all HIM classes online, but you may have to go on campus to complete capstone projects during your final semesters. Additionally, all professional practice experience courses must be completed on location as assigned by your program.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

Many HIM bachelor's degree programs prepare you for the Registered Health Information Administrator (RHIA) certification exam. The AHIMA website indicates that this exam covers six areas: organization and management, health data management, information technology systems, health statistics research, information security and regulation standards. Required HIM coursework prepares you for most of these areas, but you may want to take additional electives to prepare for less covered topics.

Another way to get ahead while still in an HIM bachelor's degree program is to simultaneously enroll in related certificate programs, such as medical coding, healthcare informatics or HIT. HIM programs tend to focus only on the administrative duties involved in this career field. Although you'll need strong managerial skills, you'll also need to understand the job duties of the employees you manage. Earning certificates in these areas may help you gain that understanding and improve your marketability.

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