How to Become a Medical Records Technician

Training and Education Jobs and Salaries

Medical records and health information technicians entering the field usually have an associate degree from a community or junior college. Many employers favor technicians who have become Registered Health Information Technicians (RHIT). Medical records and health information technicians generally obtain an associate degree from a community or junior college. Typically, community and junior colleges offer flexible course scheduling or online distance learning courses.

In addition to general education, coursework includes medical terminology, anatomy and physiology, legal aspects of health information, health data standards, coding and abstraction of data, statistics, database management, quality improvement methods, and computer science. Applicants can improve their chances of admission into a program by taking biology, math, chemistry, health, and computer science courses in high school.

Most employers prefer to hire Registered Health Information Technicians (RHIT), who must pass a written examination offered by the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA). To take the examination, a person must graduate from a two-year associate degree program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education (CAHIIM). Technicians trained in non-CAHIIM-accredited programs or trained on the job are not eligible to take the examination.

In 2007, there were about 245 CAHIIM accredited programs in Health Informantics and Information Management Education. Some employers prefer candidates with experience in a health care setting. Experience is valuable in demonstrating certain skills or desirable qualities. It is beneficial for health information technicians to possess good communication skills, as they often serve as a liaison between health care facilities, insurance companies, and other establishments. Accuracy is also essential to technicians because they must pay close attention to detail.

A candidate who exhibits proficiency with computers will become more valuable as health care facilities continue to adopt electronic medical records. Experienced medical records and health information technicians usually advance in one of two ways - by specializing or by moving into a management position. Many senior technicians specialize in coding, in cancer registry, or in privacy and security and most coding and registry skills are learned on the job.

A number of schools offer certificate programs in coding or include coding as part of the associate degree program for health information technicians, although there are no formal degree programs in coding. For cancer registry, there are a few formal two-year certificate programs approved by the National Cancer Registrars Association (NCRA). Some schools and employers offer intensive one to two week training programs in either coding or cancer registry. Certification in coding is available from several organizations. Coding certification within specific medical specialty areas is available from the Board of Medical Specialty Coding and the Professional Association of Healthcare Coding Specialist (PAHCS).

The American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC) offers three distinct certification programs in coding. The AHIMA also offers certification for Certified Healthcare Privacy and Security because of growing concerns for the security of electronic medical records. Certification in cancer registry is available from the NCRA. Continuing education units are typically required to renew credentials. In large medical records and health information departments, experienced technicians may advance to section supervisor, overseeing the work of the coding, correspondence, or discharge sections, for example.

Senior technicians with RHIT credentials may become director or assistant director of a medical records and health information department in a small facility however, in larger institutions, the director usually is an administrator with a bachelor degree in medical records and health information administration. Hospitals sometimes advance promising health information clerks to jobs as medical records and health information technicians, although this practice may be less common in the future. Advancement usually requires two to four years of job experience and completion of a hospital in-house training program. Advancement opportunities for medical record and health information technicians are typically achieved by specialization or promotion to a management position.