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HIM Pros Must Shift from Coding to Health Informatics, Analytics

Health information management professionals must prepare for a future of informatics and big data analytics by acquiring new skills sets, AHIMA says.

HIM and health informatics

Source: Thinkstock

By Jennifer Bresnick

- The health information management (HIM) profession is in the middle of a seismic shift as healthcare informatics and big data analytics become increasingly prized skills across the industry. Traditional coding competencies are likely to take a back seat to data science expertise, warns AHIMA in a new roadmap for the profession, as computer assisted coding (CAC) tools become more sophisticated and widely adopted.

To prepare for these radical changes, HIM professionals should start to develop the analytics, EHR optimization, IT security, and data science abilities that will be critical for organizations to succeed with population health management, accountable care, and value-based reimbursements.

To help new and experienced HIM workers make the transition to a challenging set of job requirements, the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) has laid out a ten-year plan to keep HIM pros in high demand in a white paper called HIM Reimagined.

“This is a blueprint for transforming the HIM profession,” said AHIMA CEO Lynne Thomas Gordon, MBA, RHIA, CAE, FACHE, FAHIMA in a press release. “HIM Reimagined outlines the way HIM professionals and HIM education must evolve and transform over the next decade to meet future challenges and develop the new and expanded skills that will be most in demand.”

“There are enormous opportunities ahead for HIM professionals in emerging areas such as information governance (IG), data analytics, informatics, patient advocacy, entrepreneurship, project management, privacy and security, a range of payment reforms and more,” Thomas Gordon added. “These opportunities will give HIM professionals increased chances, to not just collect and process data, but analyze and apply it.”

READ MORE: Health Information Management Pros Need Security, EHR Data Skills

Turning coding and compliance experts into informaticists and data analysts is unlikely to be an easy or speedy task, the organization acknowledges. And not everyone in the health information management profession needs to undertake a major career overhaul. 

Coding is still likely to be an important part of the HIM toolkit – some think the need for coding professionals will not significantly diminish in importance over the next decade at all, and may even rise by as much as 15 percent by 2024.

But in order for the growing and expanding profession to fully support itself in the future, HIM workers should consider branching out to fill new niches, AHIMA says.

“One need not look too far in our past to see how history provides a grim reminder of what happens to industries and professions that fail to maintain relevance in a changing environment,” the white paper says, citing companies such as Blockbuster and Borders that did not respond quickly enough to new trends in their marketplaces.

"Disruptive technologies act as catalysts in evolving industries, moving those willing to adapt forward and leaving others behind.”

READ MORE: Why Health Information Exchange Needs HIM, IT Collaboration

In healthcare, electronic health records and a subsequent tsunami of big data have already drastically disrupted the industry. Instead of playing catch-up, AHIMA urges its members to engage in education and training that will prepare them for the new data-driven environment.

As part of AHIMA’s ongoing effort to educate its members about new opportunities in health information management, the organization has unveiled four recommendations for achieving its transformative goals.

At least 20 percent of AHIMA members should have graduate degrees in HIM, informatics, business, or public health

Masters degrees and doctorates in data science, business, public health, and education are in high demand as healthcare organizations try to attract top talent to their HIM departments. 

AHIMA is aiming to equip providers with the qualified staff they need by encouraging its members to attain these higher degrees.

READ MORE: Healthcare Analytics, Information Governance Will Build a Future for HIM

In order to do so, AHIMA is planning to increase opportunities for academic scholarships, encourage academic institutions to hire more faculty in HIM-related disciplines to teach new students, and implement graduate-level health informatics curriculum that will enhance the value of and demand for HIM training.

AHIMA should collaborate with other stakeholders to ensure the availability of research that supports informatics and HIM

Competitive research grants and dissertation scholarships for health information management professionals and academics could help to expand the scope and availability of best practices and research on crucial HIM topics, AHIMA says. 

Research may also support the value of HIM skills and outline the role that HIM professionals can play in healthcare business intelligence, population health management, and other strategic initiatives.

HIM professionals should explore specialization opportunities to position themselves as experts in high-demand segments of the industry

Specialization should start to happen at the associate degree level, AHIMA suggests, so that HIM professionals can gain experience in new and interesting areas of the industry as quickly as possible.  A condensed HIM core curriculum could support more opportunities for specialization for two-year degree students, providing a launch pad for developing new skills.

AHIMA advises HIM educators to “focus effort on creating tracks at two-year program level based on emerging specialties as indicated by employer need. Each school determines an appropriate specialty track or the appropriate number of tracks for their program and their regional market needs.”

Credentialing bodies should realign HIM certifications to reflect the growing importance of specialty skills and higher education

The Registered Health Information Administrator (RHIA) and Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT) credentials are widely recognized as the hallmarks of a well-trained HIM worker, and AHIMA would likely to ensure that the designations continue to reflect a high degree of training and readiness among those who hold the certifications.

The organizations goals include transitioning the RHIT to a specialty-focused associate level credential over the next four to five years, providing additional support for RHITs who wish to add or transition to an RHIA role, and ensuring that clear pathways exist between associate and baccalaureate HIM programs to encourage HIM workers to attain higher achievements.

By 2026, AHIMA would like to transition the RHIT credential to the RHIT+ credential, which includes a specialty designation.  The overall goal is to maintain alignment between certifications and industry needs so that HIM professionals and their employers are confident in the training and education provided by these recognitions.

“The education community is central to the success of this plan,” the report states. “More baccalaureate and master’s programs are needed to transition the profession from the predominant current workforce of associate-educated professionals.”

“Associate-level education will remain strong for programs already in existence as they focus on specialization options and on preparing students for more seamless transitions to baccalaureate level programs,” the paper continues. “An emphasis needs to be placed on program growth at the baccalaureate and graduate level to move the profession to a higher level of education rapidly.”

As the healthcare industry continues its march towards data-driven care, the health information management profession must keep step by pursuing additional education and a range of new skills that will keep data clean, complete, accurate, and accessible to care providers.

HIM Reimagined provides a framework for how HIM curriculum can be revised to support emerging specialties as indicated by employer needs, align HIM accredited academic specialties with future HIM-related credentials, encourage more HIM professionals to pursue graduate degrees and increase the number of faculty qualified to teach related graduate education” said Desla Mancilla, DHA, RHIA, Vice President of Academic Affairs & Certification at AHIMA.

“Instead of learning skills that may be performed by computers, an enhanced HIM curricula can be focused on teaching HIM students the skills that will be most in demand.”

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