Study Health Information Systems: Bachelors, Associates & Online

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What kind of job can you get with a degree in health information systems? Find out degree requirements, online options and info on courses and health information systems programs.
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Health Information Systems Bachelors and Associates: Degrees at a Glance

With a degree in health information systems, you can work in hospitals, nonprofits, insurance companies, managed health care organizations and private doctor's offices. Your degree program may also be called health informatics. Positions suitable for graduates with an associate's degree in health care information technology require ensuring that patient records are correct for diagnostics and reimbursement. Sometimes those roles also include administrative tasks. Advanced positions in health care informatics require that you have a big-picture idea of health care information processes and how to use technology to improve the business of health care. You will likely be in charge of managing systems and/or people. With a bachelor's degree, you will manage the flow of information as well as overall ways to improve accuracy and efficiency.

Associate's Bachelor's
Who is this Degree for? Individuals interested in electronic health records management -Individuals with associate's degrees in the medical field
-Individuals seeking management positions in health care information technology (IT)
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) - Health Information Technician ($55,000 **
- Medical Office Assistant ($31,000)*
- Health Information Administrator ($68,000)**
- Systems Software Developer ($97,000)*
Time to Completion 1-2 years full-time 2-5 years
Prerequisites High school diploma or equivalent High school diploma or associate's degree in related field
Online Availability Yes Yes

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures), **American Health Information Management Association statistics, 2010.

Associate's Degree in Health Information Systems

With an associate's degree program in health care information technology, or health care informatics, you learn to properly and effectively manage health care records according to health care legislation and privacy laws. Your role will be to properly acquire, record and store information from patients, doctors and other medical staff. Some roles, such as medical office manager, may require patient records management as well as some administrative duties; some roles may require that you focus specifically on records management. While some organizations may still use paper files, you can expect to manage the electronic files of patients.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • The demand for medical records and health information technicians was expected to grow by 21% from 2010-2020, a rate faster than the average for all careers.*
  • Relative to other positions in health care, health care technology positions has limited patient contact. This may be a benefit for customers who don't want to deal with patients.
  • The demand for medical secretaries (including office managers) was expected to grow by 40% from 2010-2020.*

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

Cons

  • Both associate's degree and certificate programs are offered in health care information technology and medical administration. For some entry-level positions, you will be competing with individuals who do not have an associate's degree.
  • Technology changes, and health care changes may occur faster than the culture of your organization adapts. You may face challenges as you attempt to persuade decision-makers to invest in new technology.
  • The business of health care occurs 24 hours a day, seven days per week. You may be required to work unorthodox and unpredictable scheduling.

Courses and Requirements

Required coursework for this program includes classes on health care law and ethics. You can expect to take courses that give you medical background in addition to courses in computer technology, such as:

  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Medical terminology
  • Pharmacology
  • Health care reimbursement
  • Medical coding

Some programs may focus on computer science areas and you may then have the opportunity to take courses in computer languages and software development. The coursework for your associate's degree program often counts as credit toward a bachelor's degree.

Online Degree Options

You will be able to find online degrees in health care information technology and health care information systems. Your program may or may not require an internship or clinical practicum. These programs tend to focus on managing patient records and prepare you for an administrative position in a medical office. You can find programs that prepare you to take the exam to earn the Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT) credential.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

Joining a group or club could expand the resources available to you for networking and peer interaction as well as helping you prepare for certification. Take advantage of coursework that provides you a competitive edge.

  • The American Health Information Management Association and the American Academy of Professional Coders are some organizations that offer certification. Some certifications require you pass an exam. Eligibility to take the exam is based on education and experience.
  • Join organizations to network and interact with peers. Your school may have a Health Information Technology club, or your school may be affiliated with professional organizations that offer benefits for students.
  • Take electives that help you understand principles of health care including human resource management and marketing. Understanding your role in the health care process helps you identify ways to become an asset to your organization by solving problems in your daily work.

Bachelor's Degree in Health Information Systems

With a bachelor's degree in health information technology, you learn how to coordinate various technological systems within a health care facility, to optimize efficiency between patient services, quality of care and reimbursement. For example, you may be required to develop or implement software used throughout the medical organization to reduce costs. Many positions in health care management require a minimum of a bachelor's degree. Whether you have a high school diploma or an associate's in the health care field (i.e. health care technology or nursing), you will find bachelor's degree programs suitable for your career aspirations. In addition to becoming a health care IT manager, you can pursue a position as a system software developer or project manager.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • The rate of employment for medical and health services managers was expected to increase by 22% from 2010-2020, faster than the average, partially due to an increasing demand for health information managers in the offices of health practitioners and in practice management. *
  • The rate of employment for software developers is expected to grow by 32% from 2010-2020, primarily due to a demand for software, including medical software.*
  • Due to the aging of the baby boom population, the demand for health care services was expected to increase, particularly in nursing care facilities.*

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

Cons

  • Information technology professionals in health care must stay privy to new technologies requiring constant professional development, yet be astute enough to identify passing trends.
  • The changing landscape of health care policy requires that you stay up-to-date on health care law.
  • In the 24-hour cycle of health care, you may be called upon in unusual hours to manage information technology breakdowns.

Courses and Requirements

Your coursework will help you take a holistic approach to patient records management and how it relates to other areas of health care. You can develop software, create networks or troubleshoot technology to improve the overall efficiency of the organization. You can expect to take courses in health care laws and ethics. In addition, you can expect to take courses in:

  • Data management
  • Medical terminology
  • Statistics
  • Project management

Your program will also include coursework in health care administration, including courses in finance. You may find that you can choose a study program based on your experience, so students with backgrounds in IT can take more medical courses and students with a medical background can take more computer courses.

Online Degree Options

You can find online bachelor's degree programs designed to prepare you to take the RHIT exam. However, there may be special prerequisites. Some schools require that you already have an associate's degree or work experience, which may be more suitable for individuals with work experience. You can expect to take computer courses in information systems, records management and database management. In addition, you take introductory courses in anatomy and physiology as well as medical terminology and coding.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

Joining a professional organization helps provide you with tools to help you get ahead with this degree. In addition, courses in communication and public speaking may help you improve skills required for the position.

  • Find a mentor. In addition to advisors and professors look for professionals to help you navigate the field. You can find these individuals when participating in an internship or by joining a professional organization.
  • Work on your communications skills. Although some schools will express lack of patient communication as an advantage in the field, you may have to explain technology to your coworkers or senior management. As you reach higher levels of management, you may have to convey technology issues to board members and decision makers.
  • Stay aware of health care and technology changes. You can use a multitude of tools to stay aware of both legislative and technology changes that effect your field, including reading technology and health care news in newspapers and journals. Joining a professional organization can help you keep track of pertinent changes in your field through newsletters, journals or conferences.

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