CareerFocus: Health Information Technology Career

Career FocusBy Sylvia Blair

Two trends shaping health care delivery have become apparent. First, an aging population is leading to more crowded waiting rooms. Second, doctors' offices are increasingly turning to technology to handle the growing load of record- keeping.

"Most definitely, there is a growing industry trend towards moving the manual process of handling medical records to a technological process, through electronic billing and reimbursement," said Kate Demarest, chair of Business Information and Technology at Carroll Community College. "Hospitals and doctors' offices, as well as insurance companies, are seeking to reduce costs and become more efficient."

In order to provide a pipeline of trained professionals with current skills in the Health Information Technology (H.I.T) field, Carroll Community College is offering several options for students.

New Health Information Technology (H.I.T) A.A.S. Degree at Carroll

The college will offer an Associate in Applied Science (A.A.S.) degree in H.I.T.  beginning in fall, 2009. "H.I.T. is one of the fastest-growing allied health fields. It includes medical records coding for insurance reimbursement for hospitals and physicians," said Lynne Smith, assistant professor, Business and Information Technology at Carroll.

"Earning an associate degree prepares students for a career in the H.I.T. field," said Smith. "If they plan to get a bachelor's degree later, earning an associate degree is a good way to fulfill general education requirements. Students with associate degrees are highly sought after by employers in the field."

The new degree is designed to prepare students for employment as health information technicians in hospitals, nursing homes, ambulatory care facilities, physician offices, home health agencies, and other facilities which create and/or evaluate health records.

This program of study combines general education and specialized courses to meet employment requirements in H.I.T. Students complete a core of general education requirements in addition to program requirements.

Core and Advanced Core Certificates

The H.I.T. Core Certificate program  prepares students for entry-level employment as health information technicians. Upon successful completion of this program, students will be able to interpret health record documentation using their knowledge of anatomy, physiology, clinical disease processes, pharmacology, and medical terminology. They will also be eligible to sit for coding certification examinations offered by the American Health Information Management Association. A new H.I.T. Advanced Certificate Program prepares students to use automated encoding tools, learn reimbursement methods, and study the delivery of health care in the United States.

Medical Transcription

In addition, Carroll continues to offer education for students seeking to become transcriptionists. They are employed in office settings or in home-based businesses. Carroll's Medical Transcription Letter of Recognition  provides students with instruction in the process of converting the spoken word to a written, digital format. Many doctors and medical professionals make oral notations about patients and depend upon medical transcriptionists to convert these oral notes into a format which may be included in patients' files.

The H.I.T. Career Ladder

The programs build upon each other like a ladder to provide many options for students to choose from and achieve the level of education in H.I.T that a student desires. After completing the Core Certificate program, students may decide to continue with the Advanced Certificate program or the A.A.S. degree. These three programs-Core Certificate Program, Advanced Certificate Program, and the Associate of Applied Science-build upon each other to offer many options to choose from to achieve the chosen level of H.I.T. education.

"Although career changers and adult learners who want to enter the workforce are attracted to studying H.I.T., the college is seeking to interest more traditional age students with the knowledge that jobs are readily available," said Demarest. "With two-year degrees, graduates can get jobs at competitive salaries. Many of these jobs offer predictable, routine hours, and secure careers."

"The H.I.T. program started more than 10 years ago with interest from the employment community," said Demarest. "There is clearly a demand for people with this type of training. The Maryland Higher Education Commission has identified this field as having a manpower shortage in Maryland. In-county tuition applies to students who attend from outside of our county, providing a cost-savings to them."

Experienced H.I.T. Faculty

"We are very lucky to have an experienced professional and teacher coordinating our new H.I.T. program. Anne Marani, MA, RHIT, CCS, will provide our students with exceptional preparation as well as strong professional guidance in terms of entering and advancing in the expanding H.I.T. field," said Dr. James Ball, vice president of Academic and Student Affairs.

"The health information field will experience several challenges in the U.S. over the next several years, including an increase in electronic health record usage and implementation of a new coding classification system, ICD-10," said Marani. "The new and expanded course offerings in the degree and H.I.T. certificate programs are designed to give students the academic base, H.I.T. skills, and practical experience today so they are prepared to meet tomorrow's challenges in the changing workplace. I am happy to be part of the educational team at Carroll that is preparing the next generation of health information professionals."

Connie Hay, 40, is a graduate of Carroll who thinks highly of the program. She now works as an inpatient coder at Harbor Hospital Center in Baltimore. Hay completed three courses in the program in the spring of 2007 and received a Letter of Recognition. "I received a good foundation at Carroll. I am a career-changer who was a teacher and I moved to the medical field. Carroll prepared me well."

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