Medical records and information professionals, often called technicians, play a vital and changing role in the healthcare industry. These professionals are responsible for maintaining up-to-date medical records for millions of patients and digitalizing paper, microfiche, and other analog records.

Many technicians are medical coders, specialized in assigning procedural insurance codes for insurance companies, Medicare, and Medicaid.

As the healthcare industry struggles to control rising costs, they are working to create effective computer networks of digitalized records that can discourage unnecessary or redundant tests and office visits. This colossal and vitally important task falls to formally trained and certified medical records and information technicians.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2008:

  • 36% of medical records and information technicians worked for hospitals
  • 26% worked for physician's offices
  • 8% worked in nursing care facilities
  • 4% worked in outpatient care facilities
  • 3% worked for the federal executive branch (including Medicare and Medicaid offices)
  • The remaining 23% worked in other industries, including health insurance.
Where do Medical IT Technicians Work?Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Medical Information Technology Career Opportunities

Related Careers: Medical Records and Health Information Technicians, Medical Coding Specialists

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 172,500 medical records and information technicians in 2008. Because the healthcare industry is expanding to meet the needs of an aging population, the BLS predicts that there will be 207,600 jobs by 2018. That's a 20% increase of 35,100 new positions, much faster than the 8.2% expected expansion of the civilian workforce.

Medical Information Technology is a massive and quickly-growing field.Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Even that robust growth rate does not take into account all positions open to medical records and information professionals. According to the Occupational Information Network (O*NET), a project of the Department of Labor's Employment and Training Administration, there will be a need for 70,300 qualified medical information professionals from 2008 to 2018. That figure includes the 35,100 new positions added as the industry expands, AND positions vacated by retirement, career change, promotion, early termination, etc.

As medical records move into the digital, computerized format, those technicians with strong computer skills will have the best job opportunities.

Medical Information Technology Earnings

The BLS reports that in 2008 the median annual wages of medical records and health information technicians were $30,610. The middle 50% of the field made between $24,290 and $39,490, while the bottom 10% of the field made less than $20,440, and the top 10% of the field made more than $50,060.

Medical Records and IT Technicians make median wages that are slightly less than the national median for all jobs. Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Earnings vary depending on education, experience, and work setting. According to the BLS:

  • Federal Executive Branch technicians made a median of $42,760
  • General medical and surgical hospital technicians made a median of $32,600
  • Nursing care facility technicians made a median of $30,660
  • Outpatient care center technicians made a median of $29,160
  • Physician's Office technicians made a median of $26,210

According to Salary.com, a consulting leader in salary research, medical records coding technicians make a median base salary of $43,828. When benefits like healthcare and pensions are included, coding technician make a yearly median of $63,040.

Medical Information Technology Educational Benefits

An associate's degree in medical information technology or medical billing and coding is generally required for entry-level positions, though a combination of other information technology experience and healthcare-specific certificates or diplomas will sometimes be sufficient.

According to the Occupational Information Network, 51% of medical records and health information technicians aged 25-44 reported some college education, including completion certificate and associate's degree programs. 37% reported high school education or less, and the remaining 12% reported a bachelor's degree or higher.

63% of Medical IT Technicians have some college education.Source: Occupational Information Network

The BLS notes that many employers prefer to hire certified technicians, though certification is voluntary. Certification is offered by the American Health Information Management Association, and confers the title of Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT). Medical coding certification is offered by the American Academy of Professional Coders, the Board of Medical Specialty Coding, and the Professional Association of Healthcare Coding Specialists. Requirements for certification vary, but generally require an associate's degree in medical information technology or coding and the satisfactory completion of standardized written tests.

Medical Information Technology and Coding Programs Online

Degrees Possible: Diploma, Associate's and Bachelor's Degree Programs

There are a growing number of certificate, associate's and bachelor's degree-awarding medical information technology and medical billing and coding programs offered online. The best of these programs will offer training comparable to local ground school programs, but in a flexible format better suited to working students.

As with any serious educational decision, do your research when picking an online medical and health service management program: is the school accredited? Will credits transfer? What is the school's job placement rate? What are people saying about this school in general and this program specifically? You'll be able to find the answers to many of these questions on the University Bound Network of Web sites, but don't be afraid to ask your admissions counselor the tough questions.

Medical Information Technology Skills and Abilities

Medical records and health information technicians should be detail-oriented and responsible, due to the importance of the information they work with. Because they must work closely with the physicians and other healthcare professionals they support, they should be good communicators and active listeners.

As the medical information field becomes increasingly digital, those prospective technicians with strong computer skills will have the best opportunities.

Medical Information Technology Qualification and Advancement

Completion of a medical information technology associate's degree, or a combination of work experience and healthcare-specific diplomas and certificates, qualifies the graduate for entry-level positions as Medical Records and Information Technicians or Medical Coding Specialists.

Completion of bachelor's-level programs and work experience can qualify working technicians and coding specialists for advanced positions with higher earnings and better job stability, like Health Information Managers.

Additional Information

The American Health Information Management Association maintains a Web site at http://www.ahima.org.

The American Academy of Professional Coders maintains a Web site at http://www.aapc.org.