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One of the more often overlooked—and underrated—health care specialties, health information management is a great field for those with a passion for helping others through their impressive organizational fields. It’s also a great path if you’re for more responsibilities and leadership roles. That’s what drew Lou Ann Wiedemann, M.S., R.H.I.A., F.A.H.I.M.A., C.P.E.H.R., to HIM. She is the Director of Professional Practice Resources with the field’s professional association, AHIMA (American Health Information Management Association), and she shared her insights for pursuing this career with us.
What led you to the work?
I knew I wanted a job in health care so I headed down to the hospital administration program and literally made a wrong turn and ended up in the HIM Advisors office. She would not tell me how to get back to the right room; instead she pulled me and talked with me for about an hour. She had so much passion and enthusiasm that I was hooked. I never looked back.
What education did it require?
I always knew that I wanted a senior leadership position at some point in my career. So my career path was definitely planned in that direction. I took the jobs that kept me on that path. I knew that an advance degree would be needed; however, I did not go back for my master’s degree for 10 years. Looking back, I should not have waited. I should have stayed in school and obtained my master’s degree immediately after my bachelor’s and then kept my same career path. But education is not always about school; I took a variety of positions or accepted additional responsibilities so that I could learn more. I was always asking for more knowledge, even if it meant sitting on a committee. If someone was willing to share their knowledge with me or give me a new task, I always jumped at it. I love to learn new things!
What does the work, such as a typical day, entail?
For me currently, a workday is surrounded by conference calls and content reviews. Health care is constantly changing, and keeping up with all of the rules and regulations can be tedious. However, it is very important to read what you can each day. In addition to weekly industry newsletters, I subscribe to a variety of e-mail alerts that I can scan and delete, or move to a folder for reading later. Since my job is to provide AHIMA members with timely and quality content, I am constantly reviewing presentations, publications, articles, etc. to ensure that our members have the most up-to-date information. My typical day includes reading e-mails, facilitating at least one volunteer group, reviewing AHIMA content, and developing AHIMA content.
As an HIM director (in my past job) my typical day included reading e-mails, attending leadership meetings, reviewing the department backlogs (e.g., bill alert, transcription), managing staff, and managing my departmental budget. In both roles, communication is a key skill that I use every day.
What kinds of students might be drawn to this job?
Those interested in information management, data analysis, privacy and security, and medical coding. If you are drawn to a career in health care, but maybe not focused on the clinical side, HIM could be for you. If you like to work with statistics and numbers, coding and data analysis are great opportunities. If you are interested in information technology, there are opportunities related to privacy and security. As more and more information is generated and maintained electronically, the profession needs students with a wide range of technology skills such as access control, firewall protections, etc. that keep a patient’s health information private and secure.
What are your favorite and least favorite things about the work?
My favorite thing about this work is that no day is the same. Both as an HIM director and working at AHIMA, every day is different. I might be working on privacy and security today, and records retention tomorrow. I may be working on acute care settings one day and long-term care the next day. The possibilities are endless, as long as you are willing to continue to learn. Health care is not standing still. You must change, and learn every day. If you don’t, you will be left behind.
My least favorite thing . . . wow. I don’t really have a least favorite thing! I love everything about this profession. It has something for everyone: you can specialize if you want, or you can be a generalist. I love being a detective, and sometime I even get to do that. Where is the regulation for that question? Where is the resource for that member? How can we make things better? So no, I really don’t have a least favorite thing.
What advice can you offer high school students considering the health sciences? Considering your specialty in particular?
Use the skills you like and turn them into a career. Health care, in some capacity, is never going away. It will always be there. It may not be in the model we see today, such as in-patient hospitals. Maybe the future is in medical homes? Regardless of where the industry goes, information management is always needed. Clinical care providers must be able to focus on patient care; it is our job in HIM to ensure they have the right information, on the right patient, on time. Even if you feel your skill set is towards technology, a career in health care security could be in your future. If you love to review statistics, think about quality data. Every hospital reports quality data, and they need someone to assist them in interpreting it. Think of long-term health information storage. Who will manage that? We need students who understand data repositories and storage, but also the information management side. How long should we keep the health information? How can it be reproduced?
I tell students, it is a great time to be in health information management because the possibilities are endless. If you are willing to work hard, learn as much as you can, there is no greater profession. And the time for health information management is now. To pave the way to electronic health records (EHRs), information exchange, ICD-10 conversion, and privacy and security, the health care industry needs our knowledge and skills.