Keeping HIM Education Relevant to Workforce Needs

By Betty Rockendorf, MS, RHIA, CHPS, CHTS-IM

The primary focus of health information management (HIM) educators is preparing a modern workforce through the delivery of curricula content to meet the needs of the healthcare industry. From the inception of the accreditation of educational programs in HIM (formerly medical records) in the 1930s, AHIMA has established standards and competencies for accredited programs in HIM to achieve this goal.

September 1, 2021, marked the date all Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education (CAHIIIM)-accredited HIM programs must comply with the 2018 HIM Curricula Competencies. These competencies, developed by AHIMA’s Council for Excellence in Education (CEE) Curricula Workgroup and two HIM Reimagined (HIMR) workgroups, aim to “align HIM education with the skills and knowledge required to meet long-term future HIM workforce needs.”1

Implementing the 2018 HIM Curricula Competencies is one more milestone of the AHIMA’s nine-decade commitment to deliver high quality and relevant curriculum to meet industry needs.

Today’s Needs of the HIM Workforce

The HIM profession has evolved from its early days of filing medical records, maintaining indices of diseases and procedures, and transcribing medical reports to a much broader scope. To fulfill the range of responsibilities, today’s employers are seeking staff who have completed the academic requirements for a degree from a HIM program accredited by CAHIIM and who qualify for AHIMA professional credentials.

Julie Hable, MBA, RHIA, operations manager at Mayo Clinic Health Information Management Services, says, “Mayo Clinic HIMS is committed to hiring a workforce of HIM-credentialed staff. Students in their final semester are qualified to apply for our entry-level HIMS specialist positions.”

Wil Limp, MS, RHIA, CHTS-TR, HIM manager at the University of Wisconsin’s University Health Services, cites the need for education beyond high school, including entry-level skills in Microsoft Excel (advanced techniques such as pivot tables), Microsoft Word, email communication and courtesy, project management basics, process improvement ideas, as well as soft skills in communication, critical thinking, following directions or process, teamwork, and familiarity with external sources (policies, rules, regulations, and compliance documents). Limp also recommends applying knowledge and skills to various areas in healthcare. Some traditional HIM jobs may be stepping stones to positions in information technology, revenue cycle, and compliance.

The new curriculum is right on track—developing student skills in managing data. Jennifer Mueller, MBA, RHIA, FACHE, FAHIMA, president-elect of AHIMA and vice president and privacy officer at the Wisconsin Hospital Association Information Center, states the need for skills around data. “Data is the new health care currency, and it’s how we are going to be able to help provide information and knowledge,” she says. The advanced skill requirements she sees as essential include creating databases and data visualizations to analyze and report data and turn it into information for all levels of healthcare decision-making. “It is more important than ever to make this information as succinct and meaningful as possible,” Mueller says.

Employers view information technology as key in healthcare today. Educational programs that keep pace with new technology produce graduates ready to enter the ever-changing HIM landscape. Julie Seiler, HIM manager at Gundersen Health System, mentions human-centered design, digital technology, and artificial intelligence as examples.

While knowledge of and expertise in using technology are essential for HIM professionals, technology is only a tool. Julie Larsen, RHIA CCS, CDIP, specialty coding educator at Advocate Aurora Health, cautions that the human, analytical mind, remains important while utilizing technology such as computer assisted coding. Human coding professionals possessing knowledge of basic anatomy and the ability to use traditional coding books still have a place in today’s coding world. Educational programs must recognize this and build their curriculum accordingly.

Telecommuting, or working from home, has increased tremendously since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Managing a remote workforce can be challenging. Managers, employees, instructors, and students alike have had to adapt very quickly to using technology to support this. A whole new learning curve appeared for those not familiar with virtual private networking (VPN) connections for computer privacy and security, virtual meeting platforms such as Microsoft Teams, WebEx, and Zoom, and a host of other technology and software. Employers and educational institutions had to provide learning materials for staff and students to adapt.

Beyond obtaining employer input, researchers analyzed data from the AHIMA salary survey and current job postings to identify current professional skills and industry demand. The results of that research were published in the Winter 2021 issue of Perspectives in Health Information Management in the paper “Health Information Management Reimagined: Assessing Current Professional Skills and Industry Demand.” The findings indicated that “demand for HIM professionals capable of modeling and performing predictive analytics is growing exponentially.” The report emphasized that “new roles and competencies related to informatics, data analytics, information governance, clinical documentation improvement, and big data” are increasingly in demand. HIM careers are evolving for roles such as “interface analyst, business intelligence analyst, informatics specialist, data architect, and clinical taxonomy roles.” All of these roles require upgrading traditional skills, knowledge, and abilities.

2018 Curriculum Competencies Meeting Today’s Needs

The updated competencies, revising the 2014 curriculum competencies, consist of seven domains, as before, (with minor revisions in the titles):

Domain I. Data Structure, Content, and Information Governance

Domain II. Information Protection: Access, Use, Disclosure, Privacy, and Security

Domain III. Informatics, Analytics, and Data Use

Domain IV. Revenue Cycle Management

Domain V. Health Law & Compliance

Domain VI. Organization Management & Leadership

The 2018 HIM Curricula Competencies are intentionally broader than previous iterations to allow academic programs more flexibility while also allowing for easy adaptability as the needs of the HIM industry evolve and change. Educational programs have more freedom and flexibility to teach what is most needed in the industry in their particular region.2 “The most notable change is at the associate degree level, where programs are required to select either a Revenue Management or Data Management specialty track, or both.”3

To meet long-term future HIM workforce needs, the curriculum is designed to build pathways for current HIM practitioners to evolve into areas such as data analytics, auditing, and information governance. In this way, educational programs using the revised curriculum can assist HIM practitioners in developing skills in managing data and integrating business, clinical, and information systems.4

Curriculum guidance is provided to educators as a resource to describe the competencies’ scope rather than prescribing what must be included in a curriculum. Suggested learning topics are provided. For example, the 2018 HIM Baccalaureate Degree Curriculum Guidance for Domain III. Informatics, Analytics, and Data Use, Competency III.2. Analyze technologies for health information management, defines data analysis as “the task of transforming, summarizing, or modeling data to allow the user to make meaningful conclusions. Further, data analysis can be used to identify trends, assist with decision support, disaster and recovery planning, and support organizational strategies and objectives.”

While providing pathways for HIM professionals, the revised curricula were also designed to support progression and laddering. The foundational education is provided at the associate degree level, ramping up in a learning hierarchy across all academic levels. This is what is referred to as educational progression. Students can build upon their education by advancing their knowledge and skill level.

The development group modified the taxonomy levels of the 2018 Curricula Competencies to support educational progression. For example, a concept taught at the associate degree level is geared toward having the student remember, understand, and apply it. Advancing the same concept to the bachelor’s degree, the student hones skills to analyze and evaluate the concept. At the master’s degree level, the student creates, designs, or builds a solution.

Laddering is related to progression in education and also in industry. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that “Each level of education you complete may help you develop more skills, give you access to higher paying occupations, and signal that you’re able to follow through on important tasks, such as planning ahead and meeting deadlines, that employers value.”5 Education allows an HIM practitioner to move up the career ladder. AHIMA’s Career Map is an excellent resource illustrating promotion and transition pathways for HIM practitioners from entry-level to master’s degree level.

Continuing the Mission of a Prepared Workforce

“The health and well being of our health information management academic programs is essential to the growth, vitality, and viability of the profession,” as stated by the Joint Committee on Education for AHIMA in their report, “The Health and Well-Being of Professional Education in the Health Information Management Discipline.” The Joint Committee coined the acronym FACE-IT to describe “what appears to be needed most now from academic HIA and HIT programs and faculty is flexibility, adaptability, cross-boundary collaborations, education of faculty, and integration of information and educational technology.” The report recommended strategies for education and curriculum reform to include developing a culture of innovation within HIM education. The substance of the new 2018 Curricula Competencies continues the mission of a prepared HIM workforce and, indeed, “faces it” by promoting flexibility and innovation in educational programming relevant to current and future workforce needs.

Betty Rockendorf ([email protected]) is the program director for Health Information Management & Technology at the University of Wisconsin Parkside and an incoming member of AHIMA’s Council for Excellence in Education (CEE)

Notes
  1. Richey, J. June, 2018. “Draft 2018 HIM Curricula Competencies Released June 25 for Public Comment.” AHIMA Engage, Assembly on Education.
  2. Lower, C. May, 2019. “Teaching Tune-Up.” Journal of AHIMA 90, no. 5: 12-15 http://bok.ahima.org/doc?oid=302722#.YSVJNY5Kjcs
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Career Outlook. May 2020. “Learn more, earn more: Education leads to higher wages, lower unemployment.” https://www.bls.gov/careeroutlook/2020/data-on-display/education-pays.htm
References

2018 AHIMA Bloom’s Taxonomy. http://ahimaorg-558299850.us-east-1.elb.amazonaws.com/downloads/ed/2018AHIMABloomsTaxonomyFINAL032019.pdf

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