Few, if any, documents contain information more private or sensitive than medical records. For your doctor to be able to treat you effectively, you need to be able to tell them everything, and everything you tell them can wind up in your medical records. That's just one reason why the proper handling and safeguarding of medical records is so crucial. If you wanted that information made public, there'd be no need for doctor-patient confidentiality.
Medical records managers oversee the process by which medical records are kept and protected. It's an important role that serves many stakeholders:
Like many essential roles in healthcare, medical records management pays well, but unlike most others, it doesn't require an advanced degree. If you're looking to get into a lucrative profession that you can enter with just a bachelor's degree, consider becoming a medical records manager. In this article, we'll cover:
Medical records managers—sometimes called "health information managers"—organize, supervise, and protect notes and data pertaining to patients' medical and health services. These records include:
Medical records managers are responsible for ensuring that these sensitive documents are secure, accurate, and accessible to essential stakeholders, including medical personnel, insurers, and patients.
In the course of their regular duties, medical records managers fulfill the following responsibilities:
As a manager, a medical records manager typically supervises a staff that includes assistants and medical billing and coding specialists. An effective medical records manager's skills typically include:
The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not disaggregate income data for medical records managers. It does, however, gather data for two categories that partially apply to the position. The agency reports that medical records and health information technicians earn an average annual income of $40,350. These employees handle medical records at a sub-management level and thus earn less than medical record managers earn. The BLS also reports that medical and health services managers earn $99,730 per year. This category refers to all health services managers, however, not just those who specialize in medical records. Based on the BLS' descriptions of the two roles, medical record managers fall closer to the second category than the first.
Popular job listing websites provide more specific—albeit likely less thorough—data on medical record manager income. Payscale.com reports that medical records managers make $56,758 in salary, plus another approximate $1,500 in incentive pay. LinkedIn reports that health information managers earn approximately $51,000 per year. Glassdoor approximates health information manager salaries at $68,473, with opportunities for an additional $20,000 in incentive payments. If you're going into this profession, you've got to hope Glassdoor has the most accurate data.
The American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) offers the most detailed deep dive into medical records management salaries, breaking out income by sub-role within the function. According to AHIMA, in 2019 the following health information management professionals earned the following salaries:
The association reports that medical records professionals at the manager or supervisor level earned an average salary of $79,690 in 2019.
AHIMA also breaks its data down by years of experience, by region, and, perhaps most tellingly, by AHIMA credential:
The organization reports that the highest-paying sectors for medical records managers are:
The lowest-paying sectors are:
Nearly all employers require at least a bachelor's degree from prospective medical records managers. It is technically possible to ascend to this job without one—the most likely path would be to start at an entry-level record-keeping position and work your way up to a management role—but your journey will be a lot easier with an undergraduate degree in tow.
Some undergraduate schools offer majors in health information management. That will undoubtedly prepare you for a career as a medical records manager, but it's hardly the only major that will do so. The job combines multiple skills, some or all of which are covered by the following undergraduate majors:
You likely do not need a master's degree to build a successful career in medical records management, but it wouldn't hurt. More significantly, a master's degree could qualify you for better-paying, higher-responsibility jobs in healthcare. Consider pursuing a Master of Healthcare Administration (MHA), a degree that trains you for all sorts of management and executive roles in medical practices, insurance companies, healthcare equipment companies, government agencies, and policy organizations.
Or you might choose to earn one or more certifications in the field of medical records management. AHIMA offers quite a few that, as indicated above, can significantly improve your earning potential. They include:
Most medical records managers begin their careers in a subordinate role, typically as medical coders. Some may start elsewhere in the medical office—at the reception desk, perhaps—but at some point, a job in medical coding is a likely prerequisite to medical records management. As a manager, you will be overseeing the work of coders, so it's useful to experience their job. You'll gain knowledge and, hopefully, empathy, both of which should make you a better manager.
If you aspire to a management role, you should pursue the appropriate certifications, especially the RHIA. Not only will this certification prepare you for the role of medical records manager, but it will also signal to your employers—and to other potential employers—that you are serious about advancing your career, and that you have chosen a career objective.
To advance beyond this management role, you will probably need to develop further specializations. The opportunities available to you will depend on the specializations you pursue. You could get your geek on, learn computer science, and become a cyber security whiz, or you could get a Master of Health Administration or an MBA in healthcare administration to climb the administration and executive ladder. Because healthcare is growing and profitable, there should be lots of opportunities available to you no matter which direction you choose.
The healthcare industry is growing at a steady clip. Digitization has made medical record handling more efficient but also more complicated. This means more professionals with higher levels of expertise will be needed to ensure health information remains accurate, accessible, and secure. All this bodes well for the future of medical records management; this is as stable a profession as you're likely to find in this rapid-change work environment. And, it's a well-paying job in healthcare that doesn't require an advanced degree. If you find the intersection of medicine, business, and record-keeping a compelling space, a career in medical records management may be right for you.
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