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What is health information technology?

At a glance

  • Health information technology centers on the systems that make patient care possible, including systems that store information and those that enable communication between staff and patients.
  • Health information technology encompasses many careers, such as medical coding, health informatics specialists and health information technology analysts.
  • University of Phoenix offers an Undergraduate Health Information Systems Certificate and a Graduate Health Care Informatics Certificate that help provide a foundation for IT in the health environment.

Health information technology (HIT) focuses on the systems that maintain patient data and enhance patient care. Specialists who work in the field of HIT develop and maintain systems that store information, analyze data and allow for secure communication between healthcare professionals, doctors and patients.

HIT often focuses on electronic health records (EHR). While accessible EHRs that meet Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) privacy regulations are an essential part of modern healthcare, health information technology includes a diverse range of tools, from virtual appointment systems to wearable heart monitors.

Here’s a look at the career paths available in health information technology.

What does a health information technologist do?

HIT is a broad field that encompasses different specialties. For example, a healthcare information technologist focuses on maintaining accurate patient records that meet medical privacy regulations. In this position, you ensure the accuracy of medical codes and enter patient data and physician notes.

Meanwhile, HIT analysts work on the systems and databases where this information is stored. In addition to ensuring security, HIT analysts manage workflow and create the systems that allow healthcare providers to securely access relevant information for each patient.

Analysts work with clinical applications specialists, who create, customize and deploy tools that healthcare providers use to access and record patient data.

Finally, health informatics specialists, who are often licensed healthcare professionals (such as registered nurses), analyze data and find ways to improve patient treatment and outcomes based on their findings. 

Where do health information technologists work?

Health information technologists work in various medical settings, such as clinics, hospitals and medical centers.

Though some health IT specialists, such as informatics nurses, are licensed healthcare providers, most HIT professionals do not work directly with patients. However, analysts, application developers and technologists do have to communicate with patient-facing medical staff to answer questions, gain insight into current clinical needs or provide computer or data collection training.

Since they may not need to be on-site during regular workdays, health IT professionals can work remotely or in an office away from a medical facility.

Skills needed for health information technology

While all HIT professionals need soft skills, the required technical skills depend on your career path and area of focus. Examples of relevant technical expertise and soft skills include the following:

  • Medical coding: Health IT technologists working in medical coding need to know the appropriate diagnosis and treatment codes, including the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10), Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System (HCPCS) and diagnostic related group (DRG) codes.
  • EHR programs: Clinical IT analysts and application specialists need to be familiar with programs and systems used to collect and organize patient data. Depending on their duties, these IT professionals may also need to know computer languages like SQL and Python.
  • Cybersecurity: Because of privacy regulations, every health IT professional needs to know cybersecurity best practices. Technical staff members need to monitor the security of their databases and systems and ensure that firewalls and antivirus software are always up to date.
  • Data analysis: Health informatics professionals need to be able to look at large amounts of data and extract the necessary information for accurate analysis.
  • Attention to detail: Since mistakes can affect the chances of a positive outcome for patients, HIT professionals need to pay close attention to detail regardless of their area of specialization.
  • Communication: All HIT specialties require the ability to communicate with healthcare staff. Medical coders often need to confirm treatment details with physicians, and analysts and programmers need to effectively train non-technical personnel to use systems.

You can start learning the technical skills necessary for HIT careers in associate or bachelor’s degree programs at an accredited college or university. Internships and entry-level jobs can help you hone these technical abilities and develop the soft skills to complement them.

Healthcare careers require their own skill set. Learn which skills are in demand on our blog!

How to become a health information technologist

Because each specialty under the umbrella of health information technology requires specific knowledge and technical abilities, a degree is necessary. Furthermore, even though these specialties don’t require direct patient care, most HIT jobs require some form of licensure or certification.

Education

Most HIT professionals need to pursue a healthcare information technology degree. Some have degrees in related healthcare fields. Health information technologists, for example, need an associate degree in health information technology or medical coding and billing.

Clinical IT analysts, programmers and systems administrators may have an information technology or information systems degree. They could also have IT skills and may have obtained a degree in healthcare administration.

HIT professionals who want to serve as a chief information officer or health IT manager for a hospital or clinic network should obtain a master’s in health administration.

Certifications and licensure

Licensing requirements can vary by state. Although some states do not require professional certification, employers may make it a hiring requirement. Here are professional accreditation options for healthcare information technology careers.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), experience in a healthcare setting may be enough to qualify for a position. As a result, some healthcare organizations may prefer to hire registered nurses for healthcare informatics positions.

Health information technologist salary

According to BLS, healthcare technologists and technicians earn between $29,130 and $105,690 per year.

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 technologist job outlook

Over the next decade, BLS projects that demand across all occupations will rise by 8% between 2020 and 2030. The need for qualified health information technologists will increase by 9% to 11% during this decade.

Meanwhile, the need for administrative personnel, including HIT administrators, will grow by 32% between 2020 and 2030. This increase in demand is due to the shift to more tech-oriented healthcare services.

Is becoming a health information technologist right for you?

Health information technologist careers are ideal for people who want to be involved in medical care without having direct contact with patients. Though they do not provide direct care, health information technologists are an integral part of the healthcare process.

You might choose this career path if you are interested in a career that requires technical knowledge, such as medical coding or computer programming.

Clinical application analysts and other IT professionals who work in medical settings need technical skills, but they also have to be able to communicate with healthcare providers, both to learn about their IT support needs and to show them how to use computer systems and applications.

Finally, all health IT careers require postsecondary education, so it’s important to choose the degree program that’s right for you.

If you’re ready to explore degree offerings in the field of health information technology, University of Phoenix can help. The University offers an Undergraduate Health Information Systems Certificate and a Graduate Health Care Informatics Certificate. These certificates are designed for people who want to work in information technology within the healthcare industry. Visit phoenix.edu to learn more.