Image Marketing: Putting a Face on HIM

A new fall television season has begun, and it's filled with the usual fearless crime investigators, efficient emergency room doctors, and gritty defense lawyers. But HIM flies under the public's radar and in many respects is harder to define than "finds the bad guys," "saves lives" or "defends the innocent."

One of AHIMA's important functions is to tackle that problem and give a face to our profession. We try to make people aware of the HIM profession and to shape how they think about us. This concept is called image marketing.

The importance of image marketing has dramatically increased in light of the technology trends pressing upon our industry. We want to create greater awareness about the value of the HIM profession and the important role we play in healthcare, especially in the new electronic environment. We want to highlight the contributions we can make to the quality of care, the electronic health record (EHR), and to regional health information organizations (RHIOs), which will form the national health information network (NHIN). We also need to attract more students to the profession since there is a shortage of qualified HIM professionals.

Image marketing is like filling a piggy bank with pennies. You do it slowly and consistently, and before you know it the bank is full. There are three components of image marketing: defining what we want people to know about us, identifying our audience(s), and determining how to reach them.

Image and Audience

HIM's evolution from the paper world to an electronic one needs to be highlighted. HIM is playing an increasingly broader, more visible role in healthcare organizations and the outdated image of us as people who manage paper records is incongruent with the reality of the profession today. A new AHIMA brochure "Embracing the Future" is being disseminated throughout the healthcare industry, including to 7,000 executives who subscribe to Healthcare Informatics, to draw attention to the valuable role of HIM professionals in the electronic environment.

Other professions are competing for our jobs, and many other organizations share our key words, such as "health" and "information," which creates confusion, says Pam Yokubaitis, MPH, RHIA, FAHIMA, president of OrHIMA, Oregon's CSA. "We must continue to elevate our profession above our competition to ensure HIM remains the recognized leader in the industry," she says.

At the beginning of every year AHIMA's Board of Directors establishes strategic goals for the entire organization. The specific messages for our image marketing campaigns are derived from these and always support the strategic initiatives and business goals of the organization. Many of the messages promote our members' abilities, such as our coding expertise or our ability to teach patients how to assemble personal health records (PHRs).

Image marketing efforts can also support policies. For example, we are actively supporting the adoption of ICD-10-CM and ICD-10-PCS, a sorely needed upgrade of the ICD-9 standardized code sets. The association's policy and government relations staff advocates for change from the department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and other parts of the federal government. One tool that was developed to aid the effort was a new section on our Web site devoted to ICD-10, A print ad-making the point that the grocery industry has a more effective coding system than the healthcare industry-was also created and inserted into trade publications to attract attention to the issue and the Web site.

In addition to the healthcare industry and the federal government, AHIMA's audiences include employers. As the EHR gets rolling in many healthcare organizations, we want to be recognized for our expertise and invited to the decision-making table right from the start. HIM professionals need to be involved in selecting the right technologies, working across departments to facilitate smooth implementation process, and ensuring long-term compatibility. To help employers understand the value of hiring credentialed HIM professionals, AHIMA launched a print ad and direct-mail campaign. A series of ads ran in healthcare trade publications. They featured seniorlevel administrators at health organizations explaining why they chose to hire AHIMA credentialed professionals. The ads were also collected in a brochure, "Experts Speak out about the Value of AHIMA Certification," and mailed to thousands of healthcare executives. To view the ads, visit [web page no longer available]

Prospective students are a key audience, too. More high school students need to enroll in accredited HIM educational programs and pursue HIM as their first career choice. In 2006 an upcoming brochure and a larger campaign will help promote HIM to students.

Finally, the public at large is an important, albeit elusive, audience for HIM professionals, and one that is receiving a lot of attention this year. AHIMA is working hard to create greater awareness of the HIM role through the "My PHR" community education campaign, funded in part by the Foundation of Research and Education (FORE), which supports many of AHIMA's image marketing activities.

Connecting with the Public

AHIMA's PHR Community Education Campaign is a public service initiative that draws upon the unique expertise of AHIMA and its 50,000 members. This campaign allows HIM professionals to share their knowledge of health information and medical records directly with the public-at the community level-in order to help them better understand how to access, manage, and protect their personal health information.

As part of the campaign, AHIMA is providing training and materials to members in order to create a uniform national campaign that can be delivered at the local level and extend the association's mission to providing effective management of personal health information needed to deliver quality healthcare to the public.

As part of this public education campaign, AHIMA has also created a free public Web site,, where the public can find a wide range of helpful information and resources including:

  • information regarding your health information rights
  • a step-by-step guide for creating a PHR
  • a guided tour to help you learn more about how your health information is collected, where it goes, and how it's used
  • an online form to request a local health information management professional to come out and deliver a free public education seminar to your group or organization

This campaign works on several levels. First, AHIMA members are positioned within their workplace as people who can communicate with patients about some of the challenging issues around personal health information. Second, the campaign raises the profile of the profession in the mainstream media with a consumer-friendly concept to discuss. We've received media coverage in publications such as The New York Times, Newsweek and Fitness Magazine. Finally, as members talk to community-based organizations, such as Lions Clubs and church groups, the message is reaching people who likely have never heard of our profession before. As more people attend these talks, HIM's visibility will increase and hopefully attract new professionals to HIM.

In addition to decreased healthcare costs over time, Marsha Dolan, MBA, RHIA, president of the Missouri CSA and associate professor and HIT program coordinator at Missouri Western State University, hopes the PHR program will build greater awareness of the profession. "As we're out there talking about personal health information, what it means and how to access it, people will learn that we're the keeper of health information and the patient advocate" she says. Dolan, and Julie Wolter, MA, RHIA, are co-CECs for their state. They have trained more than 33 MHIMA members who have pledged to give at least two talks about the PHR to community organizations this year.

AHIMA provides brochures, press release templates, and other tools for CSAs and individual members to use to get the word out about the PHR campaign. These programs help AHIMA members save time by not having to create materials themselves. They also help everyone present a consistent and unified message.

Many Voices-One Vision

Throughout the year, AHIMA provides press release templates and assembles media contact lists to help members promote elections of new CSA officers, scholarships, awards, and certifications. Many CSAs appoint a public relations coordinator or have outreach committees that can help with these efforts, too.

Many CSAs set up booths at hospital health fairs to get face-to-face time with the public. Dolan's organization buys a silver sponsorship at the Missouri Hospital Association's annual meeting. Members of the MHIMA board stand at the booth, greet everyone who comes by, and offer giveaways and brochures.

Two of the best image marketing opportunities for members are Health Information Privacy and Security Week in April and Health Information and Technology (HI&T) Week every November. This year's HI&T Week is November 6-12 and its theme is "Information for a Healthy Nation." AHIMA members are encouraged to educate colleagues, family, friends, and the public about the important work HIM professionals are doing. AHIMA provides a presentation, a logo and a list of suggested activities to spread the word. Find the full list of available resources at

AHIMA also sends out press releases to all local newspapers around the country. During past recognition weeks, newspapers have featured articles that highlighted AHIMA members' hospitals, gave recognition to individual HIM professionals (sometimes along with photos) and explained HIM's contributions to patient health and safety. While HIM professionals are rarely portrayed on primetime television shows, consider becoming the star of your own news segment, article, or community lecture series on HI&T Week or the PHR. It's a great opportunity for the public to learn who you are, what you do and what it means to them.

"If the general public only identifies us as the people who take care of their health records, that's simplistic, but it's OK," says Yokubaitis."

Putting Your Ears to the Ground: Environmental Scanning

Image marketing on the CSA level often requires guerrilla tactics. The Missouri HIMA is using a technique called environmental scanning to detect important happenings in their state so they can promote their profession. Marsha Dolan, MBA, RHIA, president of the Missouri HIMA and associate professor and HIT program coordinator at Missouri Western State University, described the concept.

"There are things going on every day in the areas of privacy, security, education, and long-term care, that if we as a board know about, we could send a letter, we could make a phone call, we could try to get our name out there," she says.

The MHIMA board developed a list of 11 areas they wanted to follow. The board also made a list of potential scanners, HIM professionals across their state who are considered leaders in those areas. Dolan contacted each of them to ask them if they would become an environmental scanning liaison to the board.

"If someone working in a hospital in southwest Missouri hears that doctors there are talking about sharing data with the public health department, and they are using terms like 'electronic exchange of data' or 'RHIO' or something similar, then that person would get hold of the MHIMA board immediately and we can take action," Dolan says.

Source: AHIMA Advantage 9:7 (October 2005)