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e-Reports, July 12, 2010
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Graduates from state programs have knowledge and expertise – from data sets to coding, from anatomy and physiology to electronic health records – for improving your office
Programs around Indiana are graduating students with a wide and varied background in health information management. Those graduates, potentially a significant asset to your office, receive education to become certified as Registered Health Information Technologists (RHITs).

“Some physicians may not realize the revenue loss that can occur without a credentialed health information management professional such as an RHIT on staff,” said Margaret Skurka, professor and director of the health information management (HIM) programs at IU Northwest in Gary, where HIM programs have existed since 1973.

Most RHIT students, often nurses and others with some medical background, are seeking a new credential. To become RHITs, the students don’t just learn about electronic health records (EHRs) or coding but gain knowledge of health record documentation – diagnosis, history and physical, coding, HIPAA – and more.

“You can’t hire a good coding professional from Menard’s,” Skurka asserted. “They must understand the language and health care data.”

RHIT students are trained in planning, collecting, aggregating, analyzing and disseminating individual patient and aggregate clinical data.

Kathleen Craig, assistant professor and Health Information Technology (HIT) program chair at Ivy Tech Community College in Bloomington, noted that with incorporation of EHRs into physician practices, well-educated staff will be critical. In fact, it’s estimated the nation will need more than 50,000 trained HIT professionals to support a modernized health system.

Ivy Tech students spend an extensive amount of time learning about EHRs from all angles: how to use, how to create, how to implement. Craig explained, “We cover legal issues with EHRs, data sets, vocabularies, coding, pay-for-performance and qualifying for incentives.”

While most of Craig’s grads go to hospitals, she believes that as physicians become more aware, they will understand having a RHIT is very beneficial. “I’m just starting to get calls from physician offices seeking graduates from our program,” she said.

Ivy Tech has campuses in Bloomington, Indianapolis and Lafayette; the institution offers associate degrees in its RHIT program. Besides Ivy Tech and IU Northwest, other state institutions offering RHIT associate degrees are Vincennes University and ITT Technical Institute in Indianapolis. Graduates take a certification exam, offered by the American Health Information Management Association to validate their credentials for future employers.

Find an RHIT by specifically advertising for one and by posting your job opening on the Indiana Health Information Management Association website.

Do you have a program candidate?
Your staff members interested in additional education to benefit the practice can begin, and in some cases complete, RHIT courses online. The Ivy Tech program, for example, requires 69 credits and 36 can be completed online, allowing students to continue working full- or part-time. Candidates must be high school graduates and complete five prerequisite courses. Cost is about $100 per credit hour.

Skurka offered this advice for choosing a program: “Do your due diligence. Make sure you select a fully accredited program through a U.S. educational body.” She recommended selecting a college-based program and hiring a graduate from an accredited Indiana college/university program.

Search specific RHIT programs available throughout Indiana here.

Here’s an opportunity to advance your own education in health information technology

Physicians are life-long learners. Perhaps you have considered taking your next educational step in the direction of technology. If so, there’s a new path open to you.

Regenstrief Institute and the IU School of Informatics on the IUPUI campus in Indianapolis now offer degreed professionals the opportunity to become trained in health information technology. Candidates must already hold four-year, master’s or doctoral degrees from accredited institutions.

Programs, supported by a grant from the HHS Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), are designed with the busy professional in mind. You can choose from an array of custom designed one- and two-year graduate level programs that combine classroom instruction, distance-accessible learning and on-the-job training. Funding is available for the most qualified; classes begin this fall.

“We anticipate that physicians and others from the medical environment will be eager to learn how to utilize information technology to make patient care better and more efficient,” said John T. Finnell, M.D., the Regenstrief Institute investigator who directs the initiative. Dr. Finnell is an associate professor of emergency medicine at the IU School of Medicine.

“With the support of ONC, we are able to offer a variety of coursework options, provide stipends and also arrange practicums at leading regional health institutions, including several large hospital systems,” Dr. Finnell added. “Those who complete either the one- or two-year programs will be extremely well qualified to work in health IT.”

Find more information on IU-Regenstrief HIT programs here.

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