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What Certifications Do I Need to Work in Health Informatics?

Find out which certifications are available and why experts think they’re a smart move.

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The field of health informatics encompasses many different careers that require varying levels of education. No state requires that any health informatics professionals hold a certification, but many employers require them and agree that earning them is a smart move.

Certifications in health informatics aren’t specific to job titles or specialties. Instead, the right certification for you is determined by your level of education and experience. There are certifications available for professionals at every level, meaning it’s never too early in your career to consider certification.

Certifications are available at every degree level.

“Certified professionals are leading healthcare organizations through meaningful innovation,” says John Richey, MBA, RHIA, FAHIMA, director of academic education services for the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA), the oldest and largest association offering certifications for health informatics professionals. “In an industry that values education and experience, AHIMA credentials and certifications are proof of a robust education and an ongoing commitment to staying relevant in a complex and evolving space.” AHIMA certifications are still the most recognized and required certificates by employers. However, they’re not the only option. Newer certifications are also available and might be a better fit for your informatics career.

Why Is Getting Certified Important?

Earning certification is a great way to stand out in the field. It shows that you’ve mastered the knowledge and skills you need to be successful in a health informatics career.

“Certification signifies experience and knowledge, and validates professional competency for employers, consumers, and yourself,” Richey says.

Many employers prefer or require that health informatics professionals they hire hold a certification. Another bonus? It may increase your earning potential.

“Seventy-five percent of AHIMA certified professionals earn $50,000 or more, many without a four-year baccalaureate,” Richey says.

Other benefits of certification, according to Richey, include:

  • Demonstrated commitment to your professional area of expertise
  • Proof to yourself and your employer that you will be able to contribute at a high level
  • Education that gives you an edge over non-certified professionals

Available Certifications

AHIMA and the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) offer the primary certifications in health informatics. These aren’t the only certifications in the field, but they are the most popular. Each of the four most common certifications has different education requirements and is intended for a different level of your career.

AHIMA Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT)


What It Is: The RHIT is an entry-level certification for health informatics professionals.

Who It’s For: Health information technicians or specialists who’ve earned at least an associate degree in health information

Prerequisites: You’ll need an associate degree or higher in health information from a school that is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education (CAHIIM). The exam to earn this credential is also open to students in their last semester of a CAHIIM-accredited program.

Exam Prep: The exam is computer-based and around three and a half hours long. There are between 130 and 160 questions on the exam, and they cover all the topics in an accredited associate program.

Your school might have study sessions and study groups to help you prepare for the exam. Preparation materials and practice exams are also available online.

AHIMA Registered Health Information Administrator (RHIA)


What It Is: The RHIA is an advanced certification for information professionals in leadership and management.

Who It’s For: Health informatics professionals in roles such as health information manager or healthcare IT project manager

Prerequisites: You’ll need a bachelor’s degree or higher in health information from a school that is accredited by CAHIIM. The RHIA is also open to health information students in their last semester of an accredited bachelor’s, master’s, or certificate program.

Exam Prep: The RHIA exam is timed. You’ll have four and a half hours to take this computer-based exam. There are between 170 and 200 questions that cover coursework in an accredited bachelor-level or higher program. You can look for online practice tests and study guides. Your school might also offer study groups and tests preparation assistance.

HIMSS Certified Associate in Healthcare Information and Management Systems (CAHIMS)


What It Is: The CAHIMS is an entry-level certification for anyone who works in health information.

Who It’s For: Health informatics professionals, including medical records specialists and coders who’ve earned at least a high school degree

Prerequisites: The only current requirement is a high school diploma. Previously, 45 hours of continuing education related to health information also were required, but this requirement is currently suspended.

Exam Prep: HIMSS offers a candidate handbook to help you prepare for this 115-question, computer-based exam. The CAHIMS exam covers health information, technology, and data analysis skills and knowledge.

HIMSS Certified Professional in Healthcare Information and Management Systems (CPHIMS)


What It Is: The CPHIMS is an advanced certification for people with experience in health information.

Who It’s For: Health informatics professionals with a combination of education and experience that allows them to advance to management roles

Prerequisites: The prerequisites depend on your level of education:

  • If you don’t have at least a bachelor’s degree, you’ll need at least 10 years of experience in information management with at least eight of them in healthcare.
  • If you have a bachelor’s degree, you’ll need five years of experience in information management with at least three of them in healthcare.
  • If you have a master’s degree, you’ll need three years of experience in information management with at least one of them in healthcare.

Exam Prep: HIMSS offers a candidate handbook to help you prepare for this 115-question, computer-based exam. The CPHIMS exam covers information management, data analysis, systems implementation, and health information.

Health Informatics Certifications vs Certificates: What’s the Difference?


“Certifications” and “certificates” sound similar, but they actually refer to very different credentials. You earn a certificate by completing a specific educational program, such as a post-master’s certificate program. The certificate shows your academic achievement.

A certification shows you that you’ve met defined educational and experience requirements in your field. It’s a professional credential and it isn’t tied to a specific school or academic program. You’ll need to meet specific requirements and pass an exam demonstrating knowledge to earn certification.

What Certifications Are Most in Demand?

AHIMA has been offering certifications for health informatics professionals since the 1970s. These certifications have long been established as the industry standard, and employers around the country are more likely to require them than any other health informatics certification.

By contrast, HIMSS was founded in 2002 and has been only offering certifications for around 15 years. Since HIMSS certifications are much newer, they don’t have the recognition value associated with AHIMA certifications. However, demand for HIMSS certifications has increased over the past decade, and these certifications have the potential to become increasingly popular for the future of health informatics.

Which Certification Is Right for Me?

The right certification for you is the one that matches your education and experience level. Informatics professionals who are new in the field and don’t have at least a bachelor’s degree can consider the RHIT or CAHIMS certification. Informatics professionals with more education and experience can consider the RHIA or CPHIMS.

“It really depends upon where you’re at and where you want to go,” says Richey. “Many health information careers begin with a coding certification, then progress to one of the academic credentials.”

Keep in mind that the educational requirements for certifications vary. For the AHIMA certifications, you’ll need a degree in health informatics from a school that is accredited by CAHIIM. However, you can earn either HIMSS certification based on experience, even if your degree is in another field, or if you don’t have a degree at all.

This makes HIMSS certifications an appealing choice for healthcare professionals who’ve entered health informatics from another healthcare field. They allow you to earn certification without formal informatics education. For instance, registered nurses who transition to information management or informatics work would be able to pursue HIMSS certification without additional education.

Should I Earn Multiple Certifications?

In some cases, you might have the option of multiple certifications. For example, earning an associate degree in health information from a CAHIIM school would make you eligible for both the AHIMA RHIT and the HIMSS CAHIMS certifications. The right choice in this situation would be up to you, but there are a few factors to consider.

As mentioned above, AHIMA certifications have been around much longer and are more likely to be required by employers. There’s also a price difference between the exams. You’ll pay $299 to take the RHIT certification exam and $359 to take the CAHIMS certification exam.

Although it isn’t necessary to earn multiple certifications, if you meet the requirements and are willing to pay the fees, it might be a smart move. Earning certifications from both AHIMA and HIMSS will allow you to apply to the broadest range of employers.

stephanie behring

Written and reported by:
Stephanie Behring
Contributing Writer

john richey

With professional insight from:
John Richey, MBA, RHIA, FAHIMA
Director of Academic Education Services, American Health Information Management Association