Digital record keeping is now the industry standard for medical practices and healthcare networks. That’s great for patients—who can now access their records quickly and easily online—and physicians—who no longer have to wonder whether a patient has correctly reported all their test results, medications, and procedures performed by other medical practices. It does, however, complicate medical records management. So too do the many new rules and regulations enacted to protect these digital records.
In the past, managing medical records involved alphabetizing relatively simple patient files. The practice admin could do it in their spare moments, or doctors and registered nurses could handle it between periods of patient care. Today, however, healthcare providers are collecting a lot more information, and there’s a growing awareness of how that information could be used by identity thieves and others to cause harm. Healthcare information management has become a full-time career option and a field that, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), is growing at a faster-than-average rate.
Professionals in this space are known as medical records managers, health information administrators, health information managers, medical record technicians, and health information technicians. Many graduate from bachelor’s-level medical records management degree programs, though it’s possible to get started with a two-year associate’s degree or even after graduating from a certificate program. These multi-disciplinary programs cover a lot of ground and can set you up in a career that lasts a lifetime.
In this article about medical records management degree programs, we cover:
Medical records management is a field concerned with the administration of healthcare records. Professionals who work in healthcare information can be found in:
They are usually responsible for overseeing everything that happens to patient health records. Their responsibilities can include:
Medical records management is evolving as technology evolves. Professionals working in the field have to stay up-to-date on laws, tech, and procedures; medical records management degree programs can only teach health information technicians about what medical records keeping looks like in the present. Medical records and health information technicians must also stay abreast of best practices in medical records management and evolving medical records technology.
Professionals in medical records management must understand medicine, health services, medical records keeping, medical billing, information technology, information management, law, and ethics. Most health information managers have either an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree—sometimes in medical records administration, but more often in health information management. Many colleges and universities have added undergraduate medical records management degree programs to their catalogs as records keeping in medicine has become more complicated. Some have even created master’s-level medical records management degree programs, though these are much less common. Few employers will expect you to have an advanced degree.
That said, if you’re launching a career in healthcare information management with the intention of advancing into health informatics, medical office administration, or health services management, getting a Master of Healthcare Administration (MHA) may make more sense than looking at medical records management degrees at the master’s level.
There are many kinds of health information management careers beyond health information technician. Earning a medical records management degree can prepare you to step into the following roles:
Medical records administration degrees go by a few names. The most common degree in the field is the Bachelor of Science in Health Information Management. Some colleges and universities bundle health information management and health informatics or healthcare administration into one major, but be aware that these are two very different disciplines. Health information management is primarily concerned with medical records administration, while health informatics deals with any and all information related to healthcare and is much more technical.
The Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management, or CAHIIM, accredits health information management degree programs. When you choose a CAHIIM-accredited medical records administration degree, you can be sure that the curriculum covers important core competencies and best practices in health information administration. Some strong medical records management degree programs can be found at:
There aren’t many accredited master’s-level medical records management degree programs—possibly because students learn everything they need to know to go into health information administration in most bachelor’s programs. It may also be that students pursuing advanced degrees prefer to study more technical topics (which could be why there are many more CAHIIM-accredited programs in healthcare informatics). Students who want to prioritize information management over informatics have just two options:
CAHIIM also accredits online medical records management degree programs at the bachelor’s degree and master’s degree levels. At this point, there is very little difference between on-campus and online medical records management degree programs when it comes to curriculum. Online programs typically offer students more flexibility, however. You can find CAHIIM-accredited online medical records management degree programs at:
At the master’s degree level, most online programs pair medical records management with health informatics. There are programs at:
Medical records coursework covers a diverse range of subjects, like:
One of the reasons CAHIIM-accredited medical records management degree programs are considered the gold standard is that their curriculum guidelines emphasize on-the-job training. The best medical records management degree programs require students to complete both classwork and multiple internship experiences in a clinical setting.
The time it takes to earn a medical records management degree depends on the type of degree a student pursues. Most associate degree programs require two years of full-time study. Bachelor’s degree programs typically take four years for full-time students, more for part-timers. Master’s degree programs in health information management take two years to complete.
There are, however, accelerated medical records management degree options at all levels. Herzing University – Madison, for example, offers a 20-month online associate’s degree in Health Information Management and a 36-month bachelor’s degree.
How much a medical records management degree costs depends on many factors, like whether you attend a public or private university and whether you’re paying in-state or out-of-state tuition. For example, the median in-state public tuition for an HIM degree is about $7,000, whereas the median out-of-state tuition for an HIM program at a private school is about $25,000. Tuition only makes up part of the price tag of a medical records management degree. There’s also the cost of textbooks and other supplies, technology fees, and other fees levied by most colleges and universities.
Degrees should be looked at as investments, and deciding whether to get a specific degree should always involve a thorough cost-benefit analysis. So, let’s look at the numbers. Medical records management degrees aren’t especially expensive. In fact, it’s possible to find reputable programs that are relatively inexpensive. Plus, you only really need a bachelor’s degree to work in this field, and the average medical records manager salary is at least $50,000. Some sources, such as Glassdoor.com, report that registered health information technicians can earn a lot more ($68,473).
It’s also important to consider that medical records management is a broad field. The American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) tracks HIM salaries by job level, years of experience, credential, job setting, and other criteria. According to the organization’s findings, it’s possible to earn over six figures in medical records management when you:
Having a medical records management degree is definitely a good first step when you’re launching a career in healthcare information administration. If your goal, however, is to earn as much money as possible or to advance as far as possible, you can’t stop there. Getting professional certifications, looking for opportunities to transition into more technical roles, and studying healthcare informatics at the graduate degree level are the natural next steps.
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