Job Outlook

Significant Points

  • Employment is expected to grow much faster than the average
  • Job prospects should be very good, particularly for technicians with strong computer software skills
  • Entrants usually have an associate degree
  • This is one of the few health-related occupations in which there is no direct hands-on patient care

Nature of the Work
Medical records and health information technicians assemble patients' health information including medical history, symptoms, examination results, diagnostic tests, treatment methods, and all other healthcare provider services. Technicians organize and manage health information data by ensuring its quality, accuracy, accessibility, and security. They regularly communicate with physicians and other healthcare professionals to clarify diagnoses or to obtain additional information.

The increasing use of electronic health records (EHR) will continue to broaden and alter the job responsibilities of health information technicians. For example, with the use of EHRs, technicians must be familiar with EHR computer software, maintaining EHR security, and analyzing electronic data to improve healthcare information. Health information technicians use EHR software to maintain data on patient safety, patterns of disease, and disease treatment and outcome. Technicians also may assist with improving EHR software usability and may contribute to the development and maintenance of health information networks.

Medical records and health information technicians' duties vary with the size of the facility where they work. Technicians can specialize in many aspects of health information. For example, medical records and health information technicians may specialize in cancer registry. Cancer (or tumor) registrars maintain facility, regional, and national databases of cancer patients. Registrars review patient records and pathology reports, and assign codes for the diagnosis and treatment of different cancers and selected benign tumors. Registrars conduct annual follow-ups to track treatment, survival, and recovery. This information is used to calculate survivor rates and success rates of various types of treatment, to locate geographic areas with high incidences of certain cancers, and to identify potential participants for clinical drug trials.

Work environment
Medical records and health information technicians work in pleasant and comfortable offices. This is one of the few health-related occupations in which there is no direct hands-on patient care.

Medical records and health information technicians usually work a typical 40-hour week. Some overtime may be required. In health facilities that are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, technicians may work day, evening, and night shifts. About 14 percent of technicians worked part-time in 2008.

Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

Education and training
Medical records and health information technicians generally have an associate’s degree or a relevant certificate attesting to their training and competence. Typical coursework in health information technology includes medical terminology, anatomy and physiology, health data requirements and standards, clinical classification and coding systems, data analysis, healthcare reimbursement methods, database security and management, and quality improvement methods. Applicants can improve their chances of admission into a postsecondary program by taking biology, math, chemistry, health, and computer science courses in high school.

Certification and other qualifications
Most employers prefer to hire credentialed medical record and health information technicians. A number of organizations offer credentials typically based on passing a credentialing exam. Most credentialing programs require regular recertification and continuing education to maintain the credential. Many coding credentials require an amount of time in coding experience in the work setting.

The American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) offers credentialing as a Registered Health Information Technicians (RHIT) for those with an Associate’s degree. The National Healthcareer Association offers the CEHRS credential for those who complete a certificate program and pass a rigorous examination. The American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC) offers coding credentials. The Board of Medical Specialty Coding (BMSC) and Professional Association of Health care Coding Specialists (PAHCS) both offer credentialing in specialty coding. The National Cancer Registrars Association (NCRA) offers a credential as a Certified Tumor Registrar (CTR). To learn more about the credentials available and their specific requirements, contact the credentialing organization.

Health information technicians and coders should possess good oral and written communication skills as they often serve as liaisons between healthcare facilities, insurance companies, and other establishments. Candidates proficient with computer software and technology will be appealing to employers as healthcare facilities continue to adopt electronic health records. Medical records and health information technicians should enjoy learning, as continuing education is important in the occupation.

Advancement
Experienced medical records and health information technicians usually advance their careers by obtaining a bachelor’s or master’s degree or by seeking an advanced specialty certification. Technicians with a bachelor’s or master’s degree can advance and become a health information manager. (See the statement on medical and health services managers for more information on health information managers.) Technicians can also obtain advanced specialty certification. Advanced specialty certification is typically experience-based, but may require additional formal education depending on the certifying organization.

Employment
Medical records and health information technicians held about 172,500 jobs in 2008. About 39 percent of jobs were in hospitals. Health information technicians work at a number of healthcare providers such as offices of physicians, nursing care facilities, outpatient care centers, and home healthcare services. Technicians also may be employed outside of healthcare facilities, such as in Federal Government agencies.

Job Outlook
Employment is expected to grow much faster than the average. Job prospects should be very good; technicians with a strong understanding of technology and computer software will be in particularly high demand.

Employment change
Employment of medical records and health information technicians is expected to increase by 20 percent, much faster than the average for all occupations through 2018. Employment growth will result from the increase in the number of medical tests, treatments, and procedures that will be performed. As the population continues to age, the occurrence of health-related problems will increase. Cancer registrars should experience job growth as the incidence of cancer increases from an aging population.

In addition, with the increasing use of electronic health records, more technicians will be needed to complete the new responsibilities associated with electronic data management.

Job prospects
Job prospects should be very good. In addition to job growth, numerous openings will result from the need to replace medical record and health information technicians who retire or leave the occupation permanently. Technicians that demonstrate a strong understanding of technology and computer software will be in particularly high demand.

Projections Data

Projections data from the National Employment Matrix
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2008 Projected
Employment, 2018
Change,
2008-18
Detailed Statistics
Number Percent
Medical records and health information technicians 29-2071 172,500 207,600 35,100 20 [PDF] [XLS]
NOTE: Data in this table are rounded.

Earnings
The median annual wage of medical records and health information technicians was $30,610 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $24,290 and $39,490. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $20,440, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $50,060. Median annual wages in the industries employing the largest numbers of medical records and health information technicians in May 2008 were:

Federal Executive Branch $42,760
General medical and surgical hospitals 32,600
Nursing care facilities 30,660
Outpatient care centers 29,160
Offices of physicians 26,210

For the latest wage information:
The above wage data are from the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) survey program.