Health Information Management Professionals
Thirty years ago, an HIM professional often worked in a windowless basement of a hospital sorting through piles of paper records, filing loose forms, and flipping through a rolodex-style master patient index (MPI). Employers looked for individuals who could alphabetize and organize. The HIM profession was largely unknown within organizations and the healthcare community as a whole.
Fast forward to 2015.
In today’s fast-paced and technologically-advanced facilities, the majority of HIM professionals aren’t pushing papers in a basement but rather they’re behind a computer terminal navigating a complex electronic health record (EHR), running data reports to enhance process improvement, or educating physicians about the importance of documentation to reflect patient severity. EHRs—and the ensuing ‘big data’ revolution—have completely revamped HIM departments, and the changes we’ve seen to date are only just the beginning.
Big Data = Big Questions
As big data and EHRs continue to take center stage, HIM directors must be prepared to answer tough questions. Can current staff members meet the future needs of the department? Will employees want to obtain the additional skills necessary to move into new roles? It is naïve to think that all employees can learn to survive—and thrive—in an electronic environment. This is one of many realities that directors must face with honesty.
Forward-thinking directors and managers will take the time to envision the HIM department of the future so they can set the building blocks in motion to make strategic hiring decisions and other preparations. The goal is to find individuals who are willing—and able—to adapt to change. HIM departments that change with the changing times—regardless of what those times demand—will ultimately be the most successful and serve as a strategic asset for any organization.
Future Roles of HIM Professionals
What can directors and managers do now to prepare for what may lie ahead?
One helpful exercise is to list all existing positions and functions within the department. Next, envision how these positions and functions may change five or even 10 years from now. What new skills will be required? Will the organization provide training so individuals can obtain those skills? Is it realistic to think that current staff members can adapt to new roles? What new positions might emerge? Will the organization cross-train individuals? Consider the following:
- Medical coders: The coding role will evolve to require more auditing and validation. Will organizations perform this task in-house, or will they outsource it?
- Transcriptionists: Today’s transcriptionists have become auditors of voice-translated files. How will this role continue to evolve commensurate with technology implemented within the organization?
- Scanners: As organizations become fully electronic, the scanning function will become obsolete. Can these individuals perform other tasks, such as manage the patient portal and serve as a patient advocate helping patients understand the information in their own records?
- Release of information (ROI) specialists: Patients and others will increasingly request information in an electronic format. What additional skills might be necessary to make ROI specialists successful?
- Denial managers and auditors: Denials are increasingly communicated in an electronic format. What additional skills may be required for those charged with managing and tracking these denials?
- MPI specialists: As health information exchanges continue to grow, organizations will require MPI specialists who can merge records properly and ensure ongoing MPI cleanup and monitoring.
- Data analysts and quality managers: These individuals can abstract information for different purposes, including clinical research, quality assessment, cost estimation, risk assessment, resource management, and reimbursement.
- HIPAA privacy and security auditors: More stringent breach notification requirements under HITECH have resulted in dedication of additional resources to provide ongoing privacy and security audits.
- Physician liaisons: These individuals often serve as the link between hospitals and their affiliated practices, performing ICD-10 education and support as well as data integration from disparate systems.
Other HIM Changes To Expect
In addition to the evolution of certain roles and functions, HIM departments may see these changes as well:
- Greater reliance on outsourcing for various HIM tasks
- Centralization of HIM across various settings due to increased consolidations and acquisitions (e.g., hospital alliances, accountable care organizations, and hospital-owned physician practices)
- Greater alignment of coding and CDI with finance, cancer registry with oncology, and ROI with information services
Our best advice is to start envisioning the future now—today. Don’t wait until these changes become a reality because it will be too late. Start having conversations with staff members, and develop a long-term vision for success.
What is your organization doing to prepare for the future of HIM? Please share your thoughts below.