Health information management is a vital part of quality patient care. Health information managers gather patient medical data, analyze that data, and ensure that it’s secure to protect patient privacy.
Health information management has been around for decades and has evolved along with the healthcare industry. From the metal drawers and filing cabinets of yesterday to the sophisticated electronic health records (EHR) of today, health information management has always had a role to play in quality patient care.
In This Article
Patient records aren’t the only documents health information managers deal with. Everything from scheduling to processing insurance claims happens electronically and creates a record. That’s a lot of systems and a lot of data. It all needs to be organized, managed, shared, and analyzed.
That’s where health information managers come in. They’re the professionals who integrate a facility’s data, records, and information. They make sure that data is used effectively for communication between departments and outside health organizations.
Health information managers work with patients’ electronic data and ensure patient privacy.
“The health information manager is focused on the information lifecycle,” says Julie A. Pursley, MSHI, RHIA, CHDA, FAHIMA, director of health information thought leadership for the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA). “We know that data goes everywhere today.”
As an overseer of sensitive data, a great deal of trust is placed upon a health information manager. They are expected to use guiding principles to manage that data and ensure that it is accurate, compliant, and safeguarded.
Roles and Responsibilities
Your roles and as a health information manager will depend on your job title and place of work. Some common tasks that health information managers often tackle include:
New roles and responsibilities for data managers are emerging on the tails of new trends in technology and healthcare. There is more data sharing today than ever before, and health information managers will be needed to oversee and manage that function. One example? A recent provision of the federal 21st Century Cures Act that allows patients to request their health information be sent to an app of their choice.
“If you want your data to go to your Apple Health app or another app you designate, you can do that and they have to comply,” says Pursley. Our professionals are already starting and have planned for this, and we’ll continue planning. It will take the health data to new places.”
So, as technology and data sharing continue to evolve, the role of health information managers will evolve too. Health information managers need to be prepared for these challenges. The duties you have in your first health management role might look different than ones you’ll see 10 years into your career, but you’ll still be overseeing, organizing, and managing data.
What Degree Do I Need?
There are several pathways to a job as a health information manager. You can get a health information management role with an associate degree in a related field plus several years of on-the-job experience. However, if you know health information management is what you want to do, you should probably consider earning at least a bachelor’s degree. Earning a bachelor’s in health information management will allow you to take on health information management roles without years of prior experience.
If you’re looking beyond entry-level roles, consider a master’s degree. Not only will this degree allow you to apply for advanced roles that might offer more responsibilities and a higher salary, but it will also prepare you to stay in the field for years to come. Plus, you have options when it comes to a master’s degree. If your bachelor’s degree is in health information management, you can choose a master’s in a related area, such as public health.
Pursley recommends getting your knowledge base from a bachelor’s in health information management and then adding the optional Registered Health Information Administrator certification offered through AHIMA. This, Pursley says, is “the best path to open up the best variety of opportunities.”
“I would couple that with a master’s degree in health information management or health informatics,” especially if you want to take on leadership roles, says Pursley, who herself holds a master’s degree in health informatics. Many top professionals in health information management have earned a master’s degree, she says.
Bachelor’s Degree Overview
Your health information management bachelor’s program will focus on data systems and electronic health information. You’ll learn how to manage and evaluate these systems and how to create and implement your own systems. You’ll also hone the critical thinking, problem solving, and decision-making skills you’ll need to succeed in health information management. You’ll take classes in areas such as:
Most bachelor’s degree programs will take four years to complete. You might be able to fast-track your degree, especially if you have credits or work experience to transfer. You’ll need a high school diploma before you apply. Many programs will want to see that you took advanced math and science courses in high school and did well in them.
Master’s Degree Overview
Your master’s degree will build on the skills you learned in your bachelor’s program. You’ll focus on leadership and systems implementation. You’ll gain a more in-depth knowledge of health information and healthcare operations. You’ll learn how to create new information management systems and how to help your healthcare organization strategize for the future.
It will take two years to complete most master’s programs. You’ll need a solid GPA from your undergraduate coursework, and you might need to take the GRE. If your bachelor’s degree isn’t in health information management, you’ll need to take prerequisite courses before you can begin most master’s programs.
Jobs You Can Hold as a Health Information Manager
You might run into several job titles in your search for health information management roles. It’s wise to familiarize yourself with these roles before deciding on a job.
“I would highly encourage (graduates) to really look widely for opportunities,” advises Pursley, who stresses that jobs can be found not only in hospitals and healthcare facilities, but also in social service agencies and community-based organizations. “While the comfortable thing to do would be to come out of school and try to find a position in coding or in release of information, there are so many other opportunities. So, don’t limit your investigation. The beauty of being a health information manager is that there are so many different opportunities.”
Licensing and Certification
There are no official licensing requirements for health information managers in any state, but earning an optional certification is considered a smart career move. Many employers will look for applicants who have earned certification.
Even if an employer doesn’t require their employees to be certified, earning one can help you stand out. Certification is a great way to show you’re dedicated to health information management and have the knowledge, skills, and experience you need to take on any health information management role.
Health information managers can earn certification through AHIMA.
Some popular certification options include:
Registered Health Information Administrator (RHIA):
- The RHIA is the certification most often required by employers, and it’s a popular choice for health information managers who are experts in every aspect of data management. You’ll need at least a bachelor’s degree to take the certification exam and earn your RHIA certification.
Certified Health Data Analyst (CHDA):
- CHDA certification is ideal for health information managers who are experts in data analysis. It’s also a good fit for health information technicians who have the experience to advance their career but not a degree, since technicians who’ve earned a Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT) designation and have at least three years of healthcare data experience can take the exam. Applicants with a bachelor’s degree need three years of experience as well, while applications with a master’s degree only need one year of experience before they can take the exam.
Certified in Healthcare Privacy and Security (CHPS):
- If you want to show your dedication to data security and patient privacy, the CHPS certification is a good choice. You’ll need at least an associate degree to take the exam for certification. The more education you have, the fewer years of experience you’ll need to be eligible; associate degree holders need six years, bachelor’s degree holders need four, and master’s degree holders need two.
Certified Documentation Improvement Practitioner (CDIP):
- The CDIP certification is a great choice for health information managers who are focused on using data to improve patient care. There are multiple pathways to this certification, including coding certification, RN licensure, or an associate degree or higher.
Health Information Management and Nursing Informatics: What’s the Difference?
Health information management and nursing informatics roles sound similar. It’s true that professionals in these roles often work closely in healthcare facilities, but there are significant differences between them.
“It’s definitely very intertwined,” says Pursley. Nursing informatics is focused on nursing science and how related information is used to enhance clinical care, while the focus of health information managers is much broader. “(Health information managers) interact with many different stakeholders, including those in nursing, including providers, labs, radiology, case management, compliance, and the list goes on. Health Information managers need to bridge the gaps. And that’s exactly what we do.”
At a glance:
Health Information Managers:
What About Medical Billing and Coding?
Medical billing and coding is an important part of health information. However, professionals in this group aren’t health information managers. They enter important data from medical records and assign the correct medical codes so that the information can be quickly read by insurance companies and other healthcare professionals. So, medical billers and coders work to create some of the data that health information managers oversee and manage.
Another big difference? Education. Medical billing and coding requires the completion of a certification program, while many health information managers have master’s degrees. This difference in education and level of responsibility is reflected in their salaries. Medical billing and coding professionals earn a median annual salary of $42,630 per year, while health information managers earn more than twice that, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
The BLS classifies health information managers under the broader umbrella of medical and health services managers. According to the BLS, professionals in this group earned a median salary of $104,280 in 2020. Your salary can be affected by:
Growing your Career
There’s room for advancement in health information management. As with most careers, more education or certifications can help you advance in the field. Being curious and seeking out new information and opportunities can also help.
“The health information managers I see that are most successful really learn about a multitude of different areas and then put that practice to work,” Pursley says. “First, it’s an education base, and then it’s experience, and then it’s networking, it’s joining (your) state AHIMA associations, it’s volunteering. There are lots of volunteer opportunities at the state and local levels of these different organizations. Often, you will find a mentor there who would love to have you volunteer and would love to share their expertise with you.”
Health information management is a fast-growing career. The BLS predicts a staggering 32% growth in medical and health services manager roles by 2029. While not all medical and health services managers are health information managers, there’s plenty of reason to think that health information managers will see a large portion of that growth.
Pursley expects that more roles for health information managers will open up in community and social service organizations due to their growing relationships with healthcare facilities.
“We’ve got this evolving area now where data is going to new places and being shared,” says Pursley. “We’re going to be seeing more data being shared out to the social service agencies and to the community partners. And eventually, we will have a feedback loop from our systems into healthcare organizations. So that’s a whole new set of data governance standards that will need to be applied.
“It really is an evolving landscape right now.”
You’ll need to stay on top of new technology and developments in data management to succeed in health information management. One great way to do this by familiarizing yourself with organizations that cater to health information management professionals. AHIMA is one organization that provides certification, industry news, and career resources. Local AHIMA chapters can help you network or find a mentor. Other great resources include:
American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA):
- If you’re looking to stay on top of industry news, AMIA is a great place to start. They also hold conferences for health information professionals.
Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS):
- You’ll find certification opportunities, industry news, and career resources through HIMSS.