Pros and Cons of a Registered Health Information Technician Career
Registered health information technicians work in healthcare facilities to record patients' medical information and code that information for insurance purposes. Check out these pros and cons to see if becoming a registered health information technician is right for you:
|Pros of a Registered Health Information Technician Career|
|High-growth field (22% through 2022)*|
|May help improve quality of care through tracking patient outcomes*|
|Does not require an advanced degree to enter the field*|
|Can work almost anywhere*|
|Cons of a Registered Health Information Technician Career|
|Relatively low annual median wage (around $35,900)*|
|Long hours in front of a computer*|
|Examination required for registration*|
|Requires strict attention to detail*|
|Possible nighttime or weekend hours*|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Essential Career Info
While most health information technicians work in hospitals or doctor's offices, some also work in nursing homes or other healthcare service companies. If you work in a facility with overnight hours, you may have some nighttime shifts, though many health info techs work a traditional 40-hour week. While you may work under a supervisor, many of your tasks would be self-directed. You'll organize patient data using medical software programs, review records to ensure that they're complete and make sure patient information is confidential. You need to have good attention to detail in order to perform these tasks. You may also analyze the data in the records for research purposes.
Salary and Career Prospects
As of May 2014, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that medical records and health information technicians had a median annual wage of around $35,900 (www.bls.gov). Those in the top 90th percentile pay range earned around $59,160, while the lowest 10% had yearly earnings around $23,340. The BLS projected a 22% increase in the employment of medical records and health information technicians in the decade from 2012-2022.
Many healthcare jobs will see increased employment as the aging population requires more medical procedures and treatments. Federal legislation made electronic health records mandatory. Consequently, as the industry switches over, the need for health information technicians with computer skills will increase.
Education and Registration Requirements
In order to become a registered health information technician, you must attend a 2-year associate's degree program in health information management or technology. The Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education (CAHIIM) accredits health information programs at the associate's, bachelor's and master's degree levels. These programs typically include courses in medical terminology, medical coding, health information systems, data management and medical fundamentals. After completing a CAHIIM-accredited associate's degree program in health information, you'll be eligible to sit for the exam to become a Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT).
The American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) offers the RHIT credential. The exam consists of 150 multiple-choice questions and takes three and a half hours to complete. When you receive a passing score on the exam, you can use the RHIT designation. This credential is active for a two-year period during which you must complete 20 hours of continuing education in order to recertify.
What Employers are Looking for
RHITs can hold different job titles, such as medical coder, manager or technician. Many job postings mention an RHIT credential or the Registered Health Information Administrator (RHIA) credential. This credential is awarded to graduates of bachelor's degree programs who have passed the exam as well as coding-specific certifications for which you can test after completing your associate's program or gaining coding experience. Read these summaries of job postings open in April 2012 to get an idea of what employers are looking for:
- A medical center in Washington was looking to hire an inpatient coder who was a graduate of an AHIMA-approved program with three years of experience in acute care coding and certification as an RHIT, RHIA or Certified Coding Specialist (CCS).
- A health information service company in California was searching for an area manager with the RHIT or RHIA credential and experience in health information management.
- A rehabilitation facility in Texas was looking for a health information management service technician with either three years of experience or the RHIT credential.
How to Stand out in the Field
Get a Specialized Certification
In addition to the RHIT and RHIA credentials, AHIMA offers certifications in coding at various levels and in certain specializations. For instance, you can test for the Certified Coding Associate credential after a recommended six months of experience in coding. They also have certifications in security and data analysis. An additional credential could demonstrate your area of expertise within the health information field.
The American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC) also offers various certifications for health information professionals in the areas of coding, auditing, compliance and practice management. You could take the exam for a specialty coding certification, such as chiropractic, pediatric or internal medicine coding. The AAPC recommends two years of experience in the field before taking the exam, and you must be a current member.
Other Careers to Consider
If you're interested in administrative tasks in healthcare but also want some clinical duties, consider a career as a medical assistant. After a certificate program that takes about a year to complete, you can begin work helping with examinations, scheduling appointments and taking patient histories. Employment for medical assistants is projected to increase by 31% in the decade from 2010-2020, which is much faster than the average for all occupations. The BLS reported in May 2011 that medical assistant made a median annual wage of about $29,000.
If you're interested in health information but want more of a manager or administrator role, consider a bachelor's degree program in health information management after which you could take the test to become an RHIA and work as a medical or health service manager. You would work closely with doctors to manage a hospital department or a group practice. The BLS reported in May 2011 that medical and health service managers made a median annual wage of about $86,000. Employment was expected to grow about 22% in the 2010-2020 decade.