Health Information Technology School and College Degree Programs
Health information technologists work with patient information, health care data, health statistics and information systems. Program curriculum blends information technology, medicine terminology, finance and law. An associate's degree is generally required for entry-level positions in medical billing and coding and medical record transcription, but students may also earn a bachelor's, master's or Ph.D. in the field.
Associate of Applied Science in Health Information Technology
A 2-year college degree program prepares graduates for entry-level careers as health information technicians. Program curriculum trains students to use technology and information systems to maintain, evaluate and secure the information stored in health records. Additionally, students learn about classification and reimbursement systems and diagnostic codes. Career options available to graduates are medical coder, medical records technician, medical transcriptionist and health data analyst.
A high school diploma or a GED is generally required for admissions into a health information technology program offered at a college or university. Standardized test scores, such as SAT or ACT, may be required for admissions into the school. Some entry-level training programs have less stringent education prerequisites.
Students participate in a curriculum that blends information technology and the health sciences. A strong foundation in data management and information systems is beneficial. Sample courses follow:
- Health care statistics & data
- Health data structure & content
- Systems of coding & classification
- Medical terminology
- Human anatomy & physiology
- Medical billing processes
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a promising outlook for health information technicians from 2010-2020. The health care industry is depending more on computer databases to store medical information, increasing the need for health information technicians. The bureau lists a middle range of annual earnings for health information technicians as $26,920 to $44,360 in May 2012.
Continuing Education and Certification Information
Individuals with a 2-year degree in health information technology may qualify to take the Registered Health Information Technician exam. The American Health Information Management Association administers this certification. Those interested in earning a bachelor's degree may consider enrolling in a health care information management or health information administration program.
Bachelor of Science in Health Information Management
College programs culminating in a bachelor's degree in health information management train students in health information systems, coding, classification and management principles. Students participate in didactic learning and receive practical experience through internships with health care facilities. Program curriculum focuses on policies, organization, systems management and problem solving.
Many programs require students to complete general education or specified prerequisite courses before applying. This can generally be accomplished by taking a 2-year associate degree at a community college and transferring to the 4-year institution. Students may then be required to submit transcripts, a list of courses taken, letter(s) of recommendation and an application fee.
A 4-year degree program incorporates general education requirements and courses in the field of specialization like health information management. The curriculum is designed to develop leadership and analytical skills along with increasing a student's knowledge of information systems. Some courses may include:
- Health information analysis
- Health care data analysis
- Coding and reimbursement process
- Clinical classifications
- Fiscal management
- Health informatics
A graduate with a bachelor's degree in health information management may find a position in a variety of settings managing, analyzing and gathering health care information. They may work in:
- Law firms
- Government agencies
Continuing Education and Certification Information
Those holding a bachelor's degree or higher may pursue certification as Registered Health Information Administrators through the American Health Information Management Association. Individuals seeking a graduate-level college degree may consider enrolling in a master's in health information technology program.
Master of Science in Health Information Technology
Master's degree programs are designed for those seeking careers as health informatics executives. Skills gained include strategic resource planning, data analysis, leadership, decision making and personnel management. The curriculum for this college degree expands into management, information technology systems, applied health informatics and health care privacy laws.
Applying to graduate school is often more competitive than applying to an undergraduate degree program. Schools generally require submission of standardized test scores, such as the GRE, and college transcripts as part of an application packet. Recommendation letters and an essay may also be required.
Graduate students hone their leadership skills as they deepen their understanding of data management and analysis. Curriculum sharpens practical workplace skills and practical application of health informatics. Courses may include:
- Database management
- Data analysis
- Information systems security
- Operational management
- Health information management
Popular Career Options
Employment opportunities in both the private and public and sectors expand for individuals holding a master's degree. Knowledge of information technology is a valuable skill within the health industry and beyond. Some positions available include:
- Corporate health information director
- Medical claims analyst
- Clinical research trials associate
- Data quality manager
- Health informatics researcher
- Document imaging manager
- Public health information officer
Ph.D. in Health Information Technology
Doctoral candidates study how health information can be analyzed, stored and accessed using efficient and secure systems in order to aid research studies and provide higher quality care to the patient. Candidates study research informatics, data integrity, data standards and information security. A Ph.D. program prepares graduates for roles of leadership in the medicine, research and academia, evaluating, implementing and developing applications for use in clinical informatics.
Ph.D. programs are very competitive and requirements vary extensively by school. Typical requirement includes acceptable scores on the GRE or MCAT for a clinical program. College transcripts may be reviewed for a minimum GPA. Letters of recommendation may also be requested.
Doctoral-level curriculum builds upon an individual's foundational knowledge in health information technology. Students are expected to take this knowledge one step further into research, analysis and theory. A list of possible courses follows:
- Methods in biostatistics
- Clinical research
- Database management systems
- Information security
- Life cycle of information systems
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