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What is health information management? Definitions and examples

At a glance

Whether a patient is seeking emergency or routine medical care, it’s crucial to keep track of information related to that care. And it’s not just about keeping names straight. Data on everything from names to medical histories to test results can provide insights into prognoses, treatment options and emerging health conditions.

All this information related to patient healthcare is generally called health information. In the years preceding digitization, such information was mainly kept as hard copies of patient records; i.e., on paper. Records were usually stored in filing cabinets and sent over physically when requested by another physician, all of which made sharing patient information a slow, arduous process.

Storing, processing and sharing crucial health information in an efficient, secure manner eventually led to the development of health information management (HIM) as a discipline. Here are some goals of HIM:

  1. Attain patient information in a consensual, efficient manner.
  2. Secure that information from potential theft or alteration.
  3. Make electronic health records available to authorized patients and doctors.
  4. Use that health information to make informed decisions about patient healthcare.
  5. Perform this work within regulatory requirements, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

HIM definition

A more specific definition of health information management is provided by the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA): “Health information management (HIM) is the practice of acquiring, analyzing and protecting digital and traditional medical information vital to providing quality patient care. It is a combination of business, science and information technology.”

Nowadays, the bulk of this medical information is handled digitally with the benefit of the internet, server power and information technology support.

Why pursue a career in health information management?

HIM contains aspects of a wide variety of disciplines. It can be a great career choice for someone looking to work in the medical space in a technical capacity but without the pressure of direct patient care.

If you are someone with a business mindset, HIM can help organizations (particularly those associated with healthcare) make better business decisions. Take for example an insurance company looking to optimize its health insurance plans. The HIM professional it hires may be tasked with analyzing thousands of anonymized patient records for potential health trends. That data allows the insurance company to adjust its insurance packages to be more in line with up-to-date trends. This can ultimately make this company more profitable.

It’s not just about the numbers, however. It’s no exaggeration that HIM can help save lives. Through coordinated data collection and analysis, HIM professionals lay the groundwork for safe medical trials, the monitoring of disease outbreaks, and more. This work would not be nearly as efficient without the data collection and processing methods developed in the health information management discipline.

Where do HIM professionals work?

Healthcare organizations must handle patient health information within the boundaries of government regulations and, in many ways, they rely on HIM professionals to ensure this is accomplished.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg, though, when it comes to the kind of work HIM professionals can find.  

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the majority of HIM professionals work in general medical and surgical hospitals.

HIM professionals can also find work in doctors’ offices and educational services and with the federal government.

Interested in working on the financial side of a healthcare organization? Read about what medical billing and coding is on our blog.

HIM professionals perform a number of critical roles in healthcare organizations. Health information management roles and responsibilities might include:

  • Managing and ensuring the accuracy of patient records
  • Updating clinical databases with health information
  • Organizing and classifying information for insurance and data analysis purposes
  • Ensuring patient records are kept confidentially and according to regulatory guidelines

It may not be immediately clear how this work translates to better patient outcomes, yet patient-facing physicians and nurses depend on the work done by HIM professionals every day.

For example, an HIM professional known as a cancer registrar works to keep state and national cancer databases with patients’ records up to date and complete. They track the treatment progress and recovery over lifetimes, compiling information that is useful to physicians. Furthermore, cancer registrars can process these health informatics to provide research insights.

How can I prepare for a career in HIM?

According to BLS, one of the best ways to prepare for a career in HIM is to pursue postsecondary education in a related field of study, such as an online health management degree.

This type of degree should cover many of the baseline skills and knowledge necessary to pursue a career in HIM. These might include the legal history of patient rights, as well as the regulations that govern how patient health information is processed and stored. Pursuing this degree is also a great way to become acclimated to the technology relevant to a career in HIM.

A health management degree will also address the medical terminology and classification systems common to the field. If you’re interested in a career in HIM but are intimidated by the technical details of medicine, pursuing a degree can help fill in those gaps.

Besides possessing a degree, some companies or job roles working with patient health information require that you earn certain certifications. Here are some common ones:

This background covers the technical, medical and legal knowledge essential to an HIM career. Pursuing your education beyond a bachelor’s degree can help prepare you for more specialized positions, such as a medical or health services manager. A master’s in health administration with a concentration in health informatics, for example, prepares students for the intricacies of managing clinical information and patient records.

HIM careers

The following are a few common career paths in health information management. All information related to the following positions is sourced from BLS.

Salary ranges are not specific to students or graduates of University of Phoenix. Actual outcomes vary based on multiple factors, including prior work experience, geographic location and other factors specific to the individual. University of Phoenix does not guarantee employment, salary level or career advancement. BLS data is geographically based. Information for a specific state/city can be researched on the BLS website.

Health information specialist

Overview: A health information specialist is responsible for the general management of patient health information. This role relies on classification and organization systems and ensures compliance with regulatory standards.

National salary range: Health information specialists earned between $29,130 and $105,690 in May 2020.

Education requirements: Some positions require a bachelor’s degree or certificate in health information technology or a related field.

Job outlook: Overall employment of medical records and health information specialists is projected to grow 9% from 2020 to 2030, which is about as fast as the average for all occupations.

Health information technologist

Overview: Health information technologists are responsible for how patient health information is recorded and cataloged. They are generally tasked with ensuring secure storage (such as servers) for this information, as well as analyzing the efficiency of this storage to save on costs.

National salary range: Health information technologists earned between $29,130 and $105,690 in May 2020, according to BLS.

Education requirements: An associate degree in a health information management program, as well as a successful Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT®) exam, according to AHIMA.

Job outlook: Health information technologist jobs are projected to grow 9% from 2020 to 2030.  

Health services manager

Overview: Healthcare providers rely on health services managers to coordinate business activities and oversee the efficiency of the organization.

National salary range: Health services managers earned between $59,980 and $195,630 in May 2020, according to BLS.

Education requirements: A bachelor’s degree in healthcare administration, nursing or public policy is typically required, and a master’s degree is sometimes preferred for this role. An employer also might require supervised experience in a healthcare setting.

Job outlook: Health services manager employment is projected to grow 32% from 2020 to 2030, according to BLS. About 51,800 openings for medical and health services managers are projected each year, on average, over the decade.

If you’re looking to make a difference in the lives of patients while putting your administrative and technical skills to use, a career in health information management may be a great choice for you!