The healthcare sector is the single largest component of the American economy. Its size and purchasing power affect the life of every person in the nation:
- Healthcare expenditures accounted for nearly 18 percent of the country’s GDP in 2015, according to the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).
- Total medical spending that year exceeded $3 trillion, at a rate of $9,990 per person. Its overall share of the national economy also jumped 0.4 percent year-over-year in 2015.
- CMS estimates that healthcare spending will surpass 19 percent of U.S. GDP by 2022, which would make it nearly the size of the entire German economy in 2016 terms.
Despite its enormity and centrality to economic affairs, the U.S. healthcare sector is not a fully mature industry yet: Its growth continues to outpace general economic expansion, and major changes could be on the horizon. A few to consider include:
An Aging Population
There were 46.2 million people 65 or older in the U.S. in 2014, accounting for 14.5 percent of the population, according to the U.S. Administration for Community Living. By 2060, their number could approach 100 million. An older population means more demand for healthcare.
Legislative and Regulatory Shifts
The evolution of Medicare, Medicaid, and subsidized private plans under the Affordable Care Act has boosted health care spending in recent years. Additional legislation, as well as shifts in how these programs are administered, could dramatically change the contours of the healthcare economy.
Innovations in Medical Technology
In the last 20 years, the implementation of laws such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act have also revolutionized medical recordkeeping. Medical workers must now maintain electronic health records (EHRs) and deal with the ongoing surge in data from newer health devices and applications.
Health Information Management Careers in the Current Environment
For health information management students, the current healthcare environment offers many opportunities. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimated that the number of positions for such medical and health service managers would grow 17 percent between 2014 and 2024.
Job seekers in the HIM realm should keep a few points in mind as they navigate this rapidly expanding and competitive field:
1. Degree level
While an associate or bachelor’s degree is the common prerequisite for an HIM career, master’s degrees are also common among industry professionals. Educational attainment is important for gaining vital background in relevant scientific and humanistic knowledge, along with clinical expertise.
2. Administrative and clinical experience
An HIM professional should be able to excel at several fundamental tasks, including:
- Capture relevant health information.
- Store it properly and compliantly.
- Be able to access it electronically.
Experience in administrative and clinical roles, via a practicum within an HIM program, helps build these critical capabilities. HIM workers often need to synthesize information from a variety of sources such as physical therapy notes, x-rays, and lab results.
3. Technical skills and Certifications
Certain subsets of HIM, such as health informatics, require skill in managing the technical infrastructures that underpin everyday electronic recordkeeping. For other sectors of HIM, becoming a registered health information technician (RHIT) or registered health information administrator (RHIA) is likewise essential in demonstrating professional competency.
Many Options Available to HIM Graduates
Armed with these skills, students with HIM degrees can pursue many career paths. The possibilities include but are not limited to:
Health information manager
Ensures ethical and legal storage of health records. A health information manager may work in a variety of capacities at a large hospital system, small private practice, or other healthcare organization. Although it is an entry-level position in the field, the health information manager role has an upper salary bound of more than $76,000 according to PayScale.
A health information manager supervises the release of medical data, assists with fiscal operations, and ensures compliance with numerous rules and regulations. RHIT/RHIA certification and experience in medical billing are important to this career track.
Oversees the coding and medical records departments. More broadly, an HIM director ensures that providers have straightforward access to accurate and complete information about patients. He or she occupies a more senior role than a health information manager.
PayScale data indicates that an HIM director has a salary range up to $117,435, well ahead of the median of approximately $70,000. An HIM director may work in any setting in which medical services are provided – e.g., hospital, inpatient rehabilitation center, outpatient clinic, etc. – and will regularly interact with transcriptionists, medical coders, and administrative staff.
Clinical research analyst
Assists with database queries and medical coding. A clinical research analyst is expected to have expertise in scientific research, data analysis, and bookkeeping tasks such as basic accounting and budgeting for research projects. He or she will assist with the design, testing, and implementation of reporting systems and data collection applications.
Demand for this position is high. The BLS projects 16 percent growth in all medical and clinical laboratory technologist jobs from 2014 to 2024, along with a robust median salary of more than $60,000. Clinical research analysts should have some educational background in sciences such as chemistry and biology.
Provides assistance with HIM system design and administration. This position is particularly good for HIM workers who prefer flexible contract employment. The American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) estimates that HIM consultants have an average salary of $81,561, well above the number for the industry at-large.
As a consultant, an HIM professional can provide expertise in medical coding and billing to multiple healthcare organizations. Local and remote positions may be available.
An HIM education opens many doors. A combination of extensive conceptual knowledge, practical experience, and technical skills goes a long way in setting students up for productive careers. The positive outlook for healthcare industry growth should also provide ample opportunity for long-term career development.