The history of health information management in this country dates back to at least 1928, when the organization now known as the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) was founded to improve the quality of health records kept by the nation’s hospitals and medical institutions.
More recently, of course, the field of health information management has undergone a dramatic evolution since the adoption of the federal HITECH Act of 2009 ushered in a nationwide initiative to move from old-fashioned paper records to electronic health records (EHR).
Now the profession is grappling with its next major transformation, one that was described as a “seismic shift” in a recent HealthITAnalytics.com article (“HIM Pros Must Shift from Coding to Health Informatics, Analytics”).
The forecast calls for fewer jobs in such traditional HIM core specialties as medical coding, records processing and privacy compliance, but expanding opportunities for those who possess or acquire so-called “new” HIM skills, such as information governance, leadership, project management, data analytics and informatics.
Critically, the article also asserted that “as healthcare informatics and big data analytics become increasingly prized skills across the industry,” advanced education will become a necessity for the next generation of HIM professionals.
Taking the Pulse of the Health Information Management Profession
Taking a proactive approach, AHIMA has put together an in-depth examination of the many changes that are on the horizon and already under way — a report that AHIMA CEO Lynne Thomas Gordon calls “a blueprint for transforming the HIM profession.”
“There are enormous opportunities ahead for HIM professionals in emerging areas such as information governance, data analytics, informatics, patient advocacy, entrepreneurship, project management, privacy and security, a range of payment reforms and more,” she said. “These opportunities will give HIM professionals increased chances to not just collect and process data, but analyze and apply it.”
Titled “HIM Reimagined,” the AHIMA report asserts that industry leaders and working HIM professionals must stay ahead of the curve as technology continues to reshape health information management.
The report states that “now is an exciting time for the HIM profession,” citing a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics forecast calling for a 15% increase in jobs for health information professionals between 2014 and 2024.
While acknowledging that such technological advancements as computer assisted coding (CAC) will continue to impact HIM as we know it today, the report details new and emerging opportunities and proposes strategies “to ensure (that HIM) professionals remain at the forefront of governance of information, compliance, data analytics, revenue cycle management, and the integrity of health data in the future.”
The overall outlook presented in HIM Reimagined is decidedly upbeat. However, it also sounds an important cautionary note. “History provides a grim reminder of what happens to industries and professions that fail to maintain relevance in a changing environment,” according to the report, which cites Blockbuster, Borders, Kodak and Polaroid as organizations that failed to recognize or adapt to changes in their industry.
To successfully adapt to the ongoing changes shaping the future of health information management, one of the major recommendations in HIM Reimagined is to increase the number of HIM professionals who hold “relevant graduate degrees,” including the increasingly sought-after master’s in health informatics.
The Role of Health Informatics Education in HIM 2.0
In a report entitled “Teaching the ‘New’ HIM: Educators Integrating Informatics, Data Analytics, and Information Governance into HIM Programs,” Mary Butler, associate editor at the Journal of AHIMA, says many HIM professionals are supplementing their expertise with “specialized knowledge in things like informatics and data analytics in order to stay relevant and versatile.”
For many HIM professionals, “staying on top of their game means investing their time, energy, and money to return to school, because some knowledge can’t be taught on the job or in continuing education classes,” according to an AHIMA report entitled “Back to School: Advanced Degrees High on HIM Professionals’ Education Lists.”
Because more and more employers are listing bachelor’s and master’s degrees as “preferred” or “required” for job candidates, the report concluded that “for many HIM professionals advanced degrees will play a pivotal role in their future.”
AHIMA has also conducted a workforce study confirming that HIM-related careers are moving toward more highly skilled positions, including those that require advanced education obtained through a baccalaureate or master’s degree program.
More HIM Professionals Earning Master’s Degree Online
While advanced educational programs are still catching up to the increased demand for HIM workers with expanded skill sets, one encouraging development is a growing number of opportunities for working professionals to earn a health informatics master’s degree online.
According to HIM Reimagined: “Due to improved access to higher educational offerings through distance-based delivery methods, prospective students have the opportunity to attend programs without the barriers of geographic space, work-related sacrifices, and other commitments that have historically put higher education outside the reach of many Americans.”
A quality online master’s degree program offers HIM professionals who work full time, the flexibility to go to school part time and incorporate their educational workload into their busy schedule.
This can require extra motivation and discipline, but the online degree option also offers considerable opportunity for networking since the best programs are structured to require a deep level of ongoing interaction with both the instructors and with fellow students.
One of the conclusions of HIM Reimagined is that to meet the challenges of an increasingly complex health care system, “the current HIM profession educational level must also increase.” It cited the need to align the expanding range of academic opportunities with the evolving needs of HIM employers, and also emphasized the role of higher education in helping HIM professionals “achieve higher salaries.”
HIM Reimagined concludes with a call to action for health information management professionals and educational institutions to “move forward together to provide the workforce with what they need from HIM professionals of tomorrow.”
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The University of San Diego is helping to train the next generation of HIM and health informatics professionals through its Master of Science in Health Care Informatics program, offered both on-campus in San Diego as well as 100% online. Designated as an Approved Education Partner by the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), the USD program enables students to continue working full time while earning this career-boosting graduate degree. Learn more about earning your master’s in health informatics.