Data driven: Health information management careers

January 01, 2013 | By Jason Lee | Tribune Media Services

The growth of electronic medical records combined with technological advances in health care analytics has made health information management (HIM) one of today’s most in-demand health care fields.

Working behind the scenes, HIM experts maintain, collect and analyze the mounds of medical data relied on each day by teams of health care workers. Their duties include managing patients’ medical records, administering computer information systems and coding the diagnosis and procedures for all health care services.

In addition, health information exchanges – which share detailed health data electronically across a region, community or hospital system – are increasingly being used to monitor the health of large populations and help deliver more effective and efficient care.

The explosion of large-scale health data analysis has made the work of HIM professionals even more critical, according to Lorraine Fernandes, a registered health information administrator and global healthcare ambassador for IBM, who spoke at a recent American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) summit in Chicago.

“Healthcare is a data driven industry and business,” said Fernandes, who added that effectively analyzing large amounts of health data could lead to major improvements in areas such as care management, intervention, health economics and patient engagement.

“Big data that is usable and trusted will transform and revolutionize health care,” Fernandes said.

 Behind the scenes, serving a vital role

While they might not be seen on the frontlines of providing care, those who manage patients’ medical records are just as vital to the field as any nurse or physician.

Every time a patient receives care, a record must be maintained of the observations, medical or surgical procedures and treatment outcomes. As such, HIM professionals ensure that medical charts are completed accurately, forms are filled out and signed and all information is digitally stored.

Job growth also is expected in home health care services, outpatient care centers and nursing care facilities due to the nation’s growing elderly population.

On top of strong job prospects, the HIM field offers competitive salaries. More than half of new health information management graduates with a bachelor’s degree start with salaries in the $30,000 to $50,000 range, AHIMA figures show. Five years out, some can earn up to $75,000.

Mobile technologies add new dimension

The advancement of mobile technologies is expected to further revolutionize access to health information and drive demand for HIM professionals.

For example, through smart phone technology a physician can quickly access patients’ medical records from nearly any location. This provides an opportunity for a doctor to interact with patients and provide care beyond a traditional medical office.

Research shows that health care organizations are already providing patients with new ways to manage their medical care through use of mobile devices, according to a study from the Health Information and Management Systems Society, a Chicago-based nonprofit focused on improving the use of IT and management systems in health care.

About half of health IT professionals surveyed by HIMSS predict that mobile technology will “substantially impact” health care delivery in the years ahead, while 16 percent said it would “dramatically change” the future of health care delivery, according to the survey.

“Mobile devices can provide enhanced access to patient information, putting information into the hands of clinicians anytime, anywhere,” said Jennifer Horowitz, senior director of research for HIMSS Analytics. “The availability of this type of data, when used correctly, can enhance patient care, potentially preventing more costly care by identifying potential areas of concern earlier.”

More than one-third (36 percent) of organizations surveyed allow patients to access health information using a mobile device, up from 32 percent last year, according to HIMSS. One-quarter of those surveyed also reported that all data captured via mobile devices is being integrated directly into the organization’s electronic health records, allowing for real-time updates and analysis.