Statement on the Health Information Management Workforce

Approved by AHIMA Board of Directors – July 18, 2002

American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA)
Statement on the Health Information Management Workforce

AHIMA’s Position

The US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 49 percent growth in the number of health information management (HIM) workers by 2010, making this occupation one of the fastest-growing health occupations.¹ Approximately 6,000 new HIM workers are needed each year to fill new positions and replace those who retire or leave the field. Today, 2,000 new graduates enter the HIM field each year.

The shortage of nurses and other caregivers has understandably received great media attention and swift support from government and private sponsors. But HIM faces acute shortages now and in the future and the solutions are not simple or easy.²

AHIMA believes that a national healthcare information infrastructure is an imperative for the US.³ AHIMA actively supports full transition to electronic health records and adoption of nationwide standards for managing patient information. But upgrading the information infrastructure for health is not just a matter of deploying technology. Qualified HIM professionals are as essential to managing electronically stored patient information as they are to paper-based health records. HIM functions including record, data, and database management; protecting and securing confidential information; managing data integrity; and compliance with information regulations and laws do not disappear when healthcare moves into the information age. In fact, they become more critical.

AHIMA calls upon industry, government, and academic leaders to acknowledge the essential contribution of HIM and workforce shortages by:

  • Spotlighting this important occupation
  • Supporting the continuing education of current HIM practitioners as they prepare to manage in the electronic environment
  • Hiring trained and certified HIM professionals
  • Ensuring a sufficient number of accessible academic training programs
  • Providing loans and scholarships to students entering the field and current HIM practitioners wanting to further their education
  • Supporting the continuing education of HIM faculty at academic programs

Current Situation

AHIMA’s Foundation for Research and Education (FORE) has undertaken major workforce research to improve the information available about the HIM shortage. This research will enable AHIMA to:

  • Provide more complete and accurate information on the current employment situation
  • More fully describe future roles, competencies, and workforce needs
  • Support and strengthen the network of academic programs in HIM at the associate’s, baccalaureate, and master’s degree levels
  • Set direction for professional education curriculum and accreditation policies
  • Support efforts to recruit students into educational programs.

AHIMA offers tools to recruit prospective students and has launched a national effort to engage its network of component associations and its members in recruitment to the colleges and universities that offer HIM education. FORE has stepped up its scholarship and loan programs to the fullest extent of its financial capacity. But even if all programs were filled to capacity, there would still not be enough graduates to meet the projected need, and AHIMA-led initiatives alone will not be sufficient to quadruple the number of new professionals who enter the field each year. More academic programs are needed, particularly at the baccalaureate and master’s levels. Additional qualified faculty is needed to teach in these programs. Programs need support to advance distance education as a way to virtually expand the educational network. Federal, state, and private grants and loans are urgently needed to help students succeed.

The healthcare industry faces extraordinary challenges relating to financing, new regulation, compliance, becoming more transparent, and strengthening its workforce. It is now recognized that bringing healthcare into the information age is the only way the industry can deal with these and other challenges. Faced with making major investments in communication and information technology, industry leaders must recognize that a strong information management workforce will be critical to achieving return on the technology investment. HIM is the only health information occupation of academically prepared and credentialed knowledge workers. Credentialed registered health information administrators (RHIAs) and health information technicians (RHITs) have knowledge and skills that supersede the paper medical record. Employers need the unique perspective of RHIAs and RHITs in planning and implementing technology. They must support efforts to address HIM workforce shortages and support the professional development of HIM practitioners as a key element in transitioning to the electronic infrastructure.

HIM Workforce Issues Will Be Addressed When:

  • Healthcare and academic leaders acknowledge the unique contribution and essential skills of HIM professionals and their criticality to the healthcare information infrastructure.
  • HIM professionals are in leadership roles in managing electronic health record systems.
  • The capacity of academic programs at the master’s, baccalaureate, and associate’s degree levels meets the forecasted demand for HIM workers.
  • The academic programs are fully enrolled with the "best and brightest" students.
  • Accessible and flexible baccalaureate and master’s level education is available to those professionals wishing to progress.
  • There are adequate numbers of qualified faculty to teach in HIM programs and programs for ongoing faculty development.
  • Resources are adequate to support high quality HIM functions at all healthcare provider organizations and health plans.
  • The HIM workforce is well prepared to be effective in an electronic environment.
  • Adequate grants, scholarships, and other student aid are available to qualified students.

References:

  1. Daniel Hecker, “Occupational Employment Projections to 2010, Monthly Labor Review 124, no.11 (2001) http://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2001/11/art4exc.htm.
  2. AHA Commission on Workforce for Hospitals and Health Systems. "In Our Hands: How Hospital Leaders Can Build a Thriving Workforce." American Hospital Association. April 2002. Available at http://www.hospitalconnect.com/aha/key_issues/workforce/commission/ InOurHands.html
  3. "The Official Position of AHIMA: National Healthcare Information Infrastructure, Journal of AHIMA 73, no. 8 (2002). Available at www.ahima.org
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