Electronic Health Records

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HIM pros must sink or swim in new era of EHRs, AHIMA says

By Jennifer Bresnick

- Health information management professionals have a big decision to make: cling on to the paper and pencil and go the way of the dinosaurs or embrace electronic health records, data analytics, and ICD-10 so that HIM wranglers can flourish in the new era of health IT.

“The healthcare landscape is changing so dramatically and so quickly that a sense of urgency has hastened HIM leaders to examine ways to keep the profession from dipping below the horizon,” writes Mary Butler in an article for the Journal of AHIMA. “The rapid adoption of EHRs, the transition to the ICD-10-CM/PCS code set, and intense focus on information and data governance all demand an upgrade of skills across the HIM spectrum.  But a failure to adapt, HIM leaders warn, could lead to obsolescence, or at least provide an opportunity for non-HIM professionals to move into traditional and emerging HIM roles and take their place.”

In order to stay in competition with the top minds in the field, including nurses with informatics degrees and physicians with clinical informatics specialty certifications, HIM professionals need to invest in their own education if they want to hold their ground.  “I think that there’s a little bit of loss of respect there from those others in the allied health professions and medical fields,” says Ellen Shakespeare Karl, MBA, RHIA, CHDA, FAHIMA, academic director at the City University of New York’s HIM program. “If [HIM professionals] are not up there on the same educational footing, we might be left behind.”

Shakespeare Karl is chair of AHIMA’s Council for Excellence in Education (CEE), which has developed the Reality 2016 program to promote higher education for professional coders, documentation specialists, and other HIM workers.  The program encourages professionals to obtain master’s degrees, or even doctorate degrees, and create more pathways for HIM staff ranging from associate’s degree holders to graduate students.

The organization is hoping to become an industry leader in data governance, preparing workers for the new realities of data-driven healthcare, which is starting to rely heavily on clinical, financial, and operational data not just from within a single organization, but from business partners and population health sources and even from data generated by patients themselves.

“We are no longer just put in as coders or health information people, we’re being put in as the business arm for data management, data governance, Big Data repository,” says Lisa Rae Roper, MS, MHA, CCS-P, CPC-I, a CEE member. “So the skill set needs to match what we’re being asked to do in those hospital systems. And it needs to change now because the business of medicine is changing now.”

“The HIM department that we used to know in a hospital is going away. It’s becoming the HIM department without walls,” Shakespeare Karl adds. “So I just think if we can be at the forefront of information governance, that would be a great place for us to be.”



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