What Degree Do You Need to Become a Medical Records Manager?
March 16, 2021
There are very few medical record management degree programs. However, there are a lot of bachelor's degrees and master's degrees that will help you launch a career in healthcare information management.
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:
- What is medical records management?
- What education do you need for a medical records management career?
- What kind of job can you get with a degree in medical records management?
- Which colleges offer a major in medical records administration?
- Which schools have online medical records management degree programs?
- What do people in medical records management degree programs study?
- How long does it take to earn a medical records management degree?
- How much do medical records management degree programs usually cost?
- What do medical records and health information technicians earn?
What is medical records management?
Medical records management is a field concerned with the administration of healthcare records. Professionals who work in healthcare information can be found in:
- Doctors' offices
- Government agencies
- Healthcare networks
- Long-term care facilities
- Nursing homes
- Private practices
- State health departments
They are usually responsible for overseeing everything that happens to patient health records. Their responsibilities can include:
- Designing efficient medical records systems
- Maintaining physical information storage systems
- Maintaining electronic health records
- Obtaining and sending outpatient medical records when requested
- Transitioning records from paper to digital formats
- Making sure medical record keeping complies with all relevant laws and regulations
- Protecting patient records and patient data
- Teaching colleagues how to use computerized health information systems
- Developing a practice's health information policies
- Creating workflows for patients and providers who want to access or update records
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.
What education do you need for a medical records management career?
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.
What kind of job can you get with a degree in medical records management?
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:
- Patient Information Coordinator: Sometimes referred to as patient navigators, these professionals help patients manage their medical records and understand their provider and insurance options. It's an entry-level position in healthcare administration, so it's not particularly well-paid, but it can be a good way to launch a career in healthcare support.
- Medical Records Technician: Also called medical coders and coding specialists, these health information professionals are responsible for making sure that patient information is recorded, cataloged, stored, and archived correctly. It may sound like a menial job, but it's not. The codes assigned to diagnoses and procedures are used for patient and practice planning, reimbursement, research, and tracking and monitoring disease patterns for public health purposes. It's not one of the highest-paying medical support roles, but it is one of the best, according to US News and World Report.
- Health Services Manager: These professionals coordinate operations for healthcare facilities like private practices, clinics, and hospitals. Many, but not all, health services managers have clinical experience and/or master's degrees, though it's possible to work your way up to this position—which pays about $100,000 annually—after earning a medical records management degree and amassing a few years of experience in healthcare administration.
- Health Information Management (HIM) Consultant: These medical records managers don't work for one practice or network, but instead move from client to client solving specific record-keeping or business issues. They might, for instance, help a practice implement an electronic medical records system or design a more efficient records-keeping process. Top earners in this role earn more than $160,000.
- Health Information Management Director: Health information technicians at smaller practices and clinics may be the only ones overseeing the organization and security of medical records, but larger healthcare and hospital networks may employ a whole team of HIM professionals. The Health Information Management Director manages all the medical records administrators and works with the top brass to keep records easily accessible and secure. In this role, you can earn as much as $127,000, given the right experience.
Which colleges offer a major in medical records administration?
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:
- Chicago State University, which offers a Bachelor of Science Degree in Health Information Administration
- Coppin State University, which offers a Bachelor of Science in Health Information Management
- Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, which offers a BS in Health Informatics and Information Management
- Indiana University - Northwest, which offers a Bachelor of Science in Health Information Administration
- Missouri Western State University, which offers a BS in Health Information Management
- Ohio State University - Main Campus, which offers a BS in Health Information Management and Systems
- Southern University at New Orleans, which offers a Bachelor of Science in Health Information Management Systems
- Temple University, which offers a Bachelor of Science in Health Information Management
- University of Illinois at Chicago, which offers a Bachelor of Science in Health Information Management
- University of Pittsburgh - Pittsburgh Campus, which offers a Bachelor of Science in Health Information Management
- University of Washington - Seattle Campus, which offers a Bachelor of Science in Health Informatics and Health Information Management
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:
- East Carolina University, which offers a Master of Science in Health Informatics and Information Management
- University of Pittsburgh, which offers a Master of Science degree in Health Informatics with a Registered Health Information Administrator (RHIA) track
Which schools have online medical records management degree programs?
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:
- Dakota State University, which offers an online Bachelor of Science in Health Information Administration
- Indiana University - Bloomington, which offers an online Bachelor of Science in Health Information Management
- Pennsylvania College of Technology, which offers an online Bachelor of Science in Health Information Management
- Rutgers University - Newark, which offers an online Health Information Management bachelor's degree
- Saint Joseph's College of Maine, which offers an online Bachelor of Science in Health Information Management
- Southern New Hampshire University, which offers an online Bachelor of Science in Healthcare Administration with a concentration in Health Information Management
- University of Central Florida, which offers an online Health Informatics & Information BS
- University of Cincinnati - Main Campus, which offers an online Bachelor of Science in Health Information Management
- University of Wisconsin - Madison, which offers an online Bachelor of Science in Health Information Management & Technology
- Western Governors University, which offers an online Bachelor of Science in Health Information Management
At the master's degree level, most online programs pair medical records management with health informatics. There are programs at:
- Davenport University, which offers an online Health Informatics and Information Management MS
- Texas State University, which offers an online Master of Health Information Management (MHIM)
- University of Maryland - Global Campus, which offers an online Master of Science in Health Informatics Administration
- The University of Tennessee - Health Science Center, which offers an online Master of Health Informatics and Information Management
What do people in medical records management degree programs study?
Medical records coursework covers a diverse range of subjects, like:
- Anatomy and physiology
- Automation in health information
- Computer science and IT
- Electronic medical records systems
- Ethics in healthcare information management
- Healthcare reimbursement
- Health data management
- Health information standards
- Health information technology
- Law in healthcare information management
- Medical coding
- Medical terminology
- Personnel management
- Project management
- Quality assurance management
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.
How long does it take to earn a medical records management degree?
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 do medical records management degree programs usually cost?
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.
What do medical records and health information technicians earn?
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:
- Have many years of experience in HIM
- Specialize in healthcare information technology
- Earn four or more professional credentials
- Have the Certified in Healthcare Privacy and Security (CHPS) credential
- Advance into VP or Director roles
- Work in life sciences
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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