Students train in critical healthcare information major from a distance
This is Health Information Privacy and Security Week in the United States and many of the professionals managing and safeguarding this country's medical records were trained online through top-flight technology schools like Alfred State College.
The health information technology/medical records major combines training for a career in the healthcare field with the latest advances in information technology. Health information technicians accomplish a variety of tasks on the job - including coding, collecting, maintaining and analyzing patient care data.
As a reaction to falling enrollment numbers in the major, Alfred State applied for a $23,000 labor/management grant in the fall of 1999. With the grant in hand, the college went exclusively to a two-year, online program in the fall of 2000, according to Professor Michelle A. Green. Graduates receive an Associate's in Applied Science degree and they are eligible to take the Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT) certification exam offered by the American Health Information Management Association
"Technology has really caught up with the profession. It was a logical progression to move the program online," Green explained of the distance learning program, which is part of the Physical and Life Sciences Department.
About 75 percent of Alfred State's health information technology graduates seek employment, with the remainder furthering their education, according to Green. She said since the program has transitioned to an online format, the number of men entering the major has increased. The students' average age is 37. The program size itself remains relatively small with a total of 95 students. Fifty students reside in New York state and 45 students reside elsewhere, including outside of the USA. There are slightly more than two dozen students enrolled in each class, according to Green. While all course work is online, students must do some on-site professional practice work at health care facilities where they reside.
Health Information technicians are responsible for almost every type of information associated with medical care. They collect and store patient care plans, case notes, rehabilitation plans, medication records and histories and nursing notes. The job also requires the release of information to other medical facilities and government agencies. According to state and federal law, confidentiality is paramount.
"I love my job because there are a huge variety of things to do," said Laurie M. Stanley, a health information/medical records supervisor with the sprawling Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center in Geenfield, N.H.
Stanley, a 2005 graduate of Alfred State's program, works in the Central Records Department of a complex that includes a traumatic brain injury center, an acute care children's hospital and a school for developmentally challenged children. In addition to the fundamentals of her major, she was required to develop her verbal communication and writing skills at Alfred State. She said that has been crucial to her success at work.
"It's an absolutely fabulous program. They teach you how to write and you have to be able to give a speech," said Stanley, who noted that her job requires her to make presentations to other employees as well as take part in the orientation process for new employees.
Green said medical records jobs have become increasingly available, partly because of the growing number of alternative care facilities. She noted that some of the college's online students have transitioned into jobs that they are able to perform remotely as well.
Health Information Privacy and Security Week is sponsored by the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA). The week is designed to raise awareness among the public about the importance of personal health information privacy and security. For more information about your personal health information privacy rights, visit www.myphr.org.