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What is health information technology?

A laptop with a stethoscope on the screen to represent health information technology

This article has been vetted by University of Phoenix's editorial advisory committee. 
Read more about our editorial process.

Mark Johannsson

This article was reviewed by Mark Jóhannsson, DHSc, MPH, Dean, College of Health Professions

This article was updated on 03/29/2024.

Health information technology (HIT) focuses on 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 comprises a diverse range of tools, from virtual appointment systems to wearable heart monitors. Examples are telemedicine platforms, medical coding software and digital imaging systems.

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Health information technology vs. health information management 

HIT and health information management (HIM) are two distinct but interconnected fields within the healthcare industry.

HIM differs from HIT in that it’s a discipline that involves managing and using patient health information. This includes ensuring the accuracy, accessibility, privacy and security of patient records across different healthcare settings. HIM professionals are often a bridge between clinicians and administrators, as well as technology designers and IT professionals.

While HIT workers design the systems, HIM professionals use those systems to code and classify the data within patient records. They’re also responsible for ensuring compliance with regulations and medical information management.

In short: HIT focuses on the technology used to manage the information, and HIM focuses on the actual management and governance of the information itself.

Examples of health information technology 

Health information technology encompasses a broad range of technologies that are designed to manage and exchange health information. Some examples can include, but aren’t limited to, the following:

  • E-prescribing software: Technology that allows healthcare providers to send prescriptions directly to pharmacies. This can make the process faster and more accurate.
  • Patient portals: Secure online websites that offer patients 24-hour access to personal health information.
  • Remote patient monitoring systems: Digital technologies that collect medical and health data from patients in one place and transmit it to their provider, often in a different location.
  • Telemedicine systems: Technology that includes live videoconferencing, mobile health apps, asynchronous electronic transmission and remote patient monitoring. Telehealth systems let patients receive care and consultation remotely, improving their access to care.
  • Health information systems: EHRs and medical practice management systems that providers can use to store, retrieve and manage patient information.

Health information technology careers 

One of the most appealing things about health information technology and careers within the industry is the potential for growth. A wide variety of roles are available, from entry-level or early-career ones, such as help desk and support center positions, to hardware and infrastructure roles that help develop these products.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects healthcare employment to grow faster than other sectors over the next decade, making it an exciting time to pursue a career in healthcare technology. What’s more, skills that you develop in healthcare technology may even be transferable to or from other tech sectors, helping you prepare for new opportunities.

Potential roles available for health information technology professionals include the following:

  • Health information management director
  • Practice manager
  • Program manager
  • Medical records technician
  • Medical records coordinator

What does someone in health information technology do?

Health information technology careers typically involve designing and building the tools that health providers use to manage and organize patient health data. That means creating technologies to secure and manage that information to protect patient privacy. Typical job duties for someone in this role can include:

  • Building out software for the management of patient health data
  • Designing tools to help improve interoperability between health technology systems
  • Troubleshooting and maintenance of health information systems
  • Securing patient data by implementing security measures against unauthorized access
  • Integrating healthcare systems to ensure data flows between departments and facilities.

One thing to remember is that specific duties will vary widely, depending on your role within the HIT field. For example, health IT consultants might focus more on advising organizations on how to improve their use of technology, while health informatics specialists work specifically on data analysis and reporting.

Where does someone in health information technology work? 

HIT professionals can work in many different settings. Because their skills are necessary wherever health data is collected, stored, processed and used, they have flexibility in choosing their workplace. Common places of employment for health information technology workers include:

  • Hospitals and clinics
  • Healthcare IT companies
  • Insurance companies
  • Government agencies
  • Consulting firms
  • Research institutions
  • Educational institutions

Skills needed for health information technology 

A career in health information technology requires a unique combination of technical ability and interpersonal skills. To do the job well, you’ll need to be able to understand the design processes and inner workings of the technology. You’ll also need to be able to capably and clearly explain how these things work to people who might not share that same technical skill set.

Hard skills 

The hard skills involved in HIT roles primarily revolve around cybersecurity, medical coding, and building and using EHR programs, but those aren’t the only skills. Consider the following technical abilities you’ll need to thrive in the role:

  • Medical coding: Health 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 network  security of their databases and systems and ensure that firewalls and antivirus software are up to date.
  • Data analysis: Health informatics professionals need to be able to look at large amounts of data and extract 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.

Soft skills

Some of the key soft skills that you can use or that professionals often find valuable include the following:

  • Communication: HIT professionals act as a bridge between healthcare providers and IT. That means explaining complex technical concepts in simple language.
  • Problem-solving: As with any tech-related field, problems can and will arise. Having the ability to think on your feet and solve problems is crucial.
  • Adaptability: Health information technology constantly evolves, whether it’s regulations, systems or practices. You need to be willing to learn new things.
  • Teamwork: HIT professionals are a valued part of a team, which means collaborating with other healthcare stakeholders.
  • Ethics and confidentiality: Because of the sensitive nature of health information, HIT professionals must adhere to ethical guidelines and protect patient confidentiality.
  • Organization skills: Working in HIT means handling large volumes of data and multiple tasks at once. Staying organized and prioritizing projects are vital.
  • Customer service: You’ll often interact with patients, healthcare providers or other stakeholders. Strong customer service skills help ensure positive interactions.

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

How to enhance a career in health information technology 

Whether you’re coming to the field from another tech sector or are brand new to health information technology, building your career typically starts with earning requisite degrees and certificates. That’s because you need specific knowledge and technical abilities. In addition, even though most HIT roles don’t require direct patient care, many do require some form of licensure or certification.

Health information technology education 

The types of jobs a health information technology education can prepare you for can vary widely, from help desk roles  to oversight of the entire technology department. Some of the specific career tracks that University of Phoenix’s online healthcare information technology certificates can prepare you for include the following:

  • Information systems director
  • Information systems manager
  • Health information management director
  • Applications analyst

Health information technology certifications and licenses 

For those who want to bring existing technology skills into the healthcare sector, health information systems certification can help open those doors. Whether you have an undergraduate degree or a graduate one, it’s possible to enhance your career and improve patient care with an understanding of informatics.

Licensing requirements for health information technology roles can vary by state. Although some states do not require professional certification, some employers may make it a hiring requirement. Professional accreditation options for healthcare information technology careers can include the following:

Health information technology salaries 

Health information technology salaries vary widely according to many factors, including the specific role, level of experience, organization size and location. These figures are from BLS and reflect annual earning ranges as of May 2022:

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. 

Health information technology job outlooks 

Over the next decade, BLS projects that demand across all healthcare occupations will grow much faster than the average for all occupations. That translates to an average of roughly 1.8 million openings projected per year. What does that look like for workers with careers that can stem from a health informatics certificate or a health information systems certificate?

For an information systems manager, the projected job growth between 2022 and 2032 is 15%. For applications analysts, experts predict job growth of 10% for the same period. Health information management director roles — a subset of information systems managers — meanwhile, are projected to also see 15% growth during that same span.

Is a career in health information technology right for you? 

Health information technology 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 technology professionals are integral to 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.

Applications analysts and other information systems managers who work in medical settings need technical skills, but they also must 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 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. 

Health information technology frequently asked questions 

How difficult is it to get a health information technology degree?

A degree’s difficulty is subjective, so the focus should be, what are the requirements and do you think they would work for you? Adult learning takes time, focus and energy. For many students who commit to their degree track, the time it takes to obtain a health information technology degree can vary. Those who want to pursue the Health Information Systems Certificate at UOPX must complete 24 credits, including eight core courses. The Graduate Healthcare Informatics Certificate at UOPX requires students to take four core courses.

What does a professional in health information technology do?

Health information technology involves the technological aspects of processing, storing, organizing and exchanging healthcare data. Professionals need to know how to work within the patient database software applications in which the data is stored in.

How much does a professional in health information technology make?

The salary range for professionals in this field can vary, but data from BLS shows that HIT professionals earned from $31,710 to $75,460 per year in May 2022. Those who pursue management or analyst positions may have the opportunity to make more.

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