Technology, data, demand drive new approaches to health informatics education

Jan. 4, 2023

This paid piece is sponsored by Dakota State University.

The STEM career opportunities in health informatics and information management are abundant. Practitioners in HIIM can work in coding, analyzing, securing and maintaining patient health information, leading health information governance programs, creating electronic health record dashboards or designing initiatives to protect patient privacy.

“One of the common myths about our profession is that it’s going away,” said Dakota State University’s Dr. Renae Spohn. “It’s not. It looks different after the implementation of electronic health records, but in some ways, there is even more work to do.”

Health records used to be kept through pen and paper, but as technology has evolved, electronic health records have become standard practice. Electronic health records are a patient’s health records collected by health care providers in a digital format. Those in the health information field ensure that the data collected by clinicians and others are complete, accurate, timely, valid and secure.

“Today’s health care is transforming how and where services are provided for patients,” Spohn said. “How the data is collected, analyzed and used for decision-making is changing as well, with the goal of personalization for patients and improved health care outcomes.”

“While all data from the electronic health record can be used in research studies, it can also be abstracted and utilized in disease registries, such as cancer registries to improve cancer treatments, quality of care to patients and patient morality rates,” Spohn added. “Patient diagnosis and procedures are coded by HIIM professionals for billing. The coded data is utilized to identify patterns among individuals, families and communities for population health, public health and genomics.”

The nearly 50-year-old program at DSU has seen changes in the industry that have led to evolving content and degree options. Students can earn a health care coding certificate, health information specialist certificate, associate, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees in health informatics and information management, and a graduate certificate in health care data analytics.

Spohn, the director of HIIM programs and coordinator for the Master of Science in Health Informatics and Information Management program, is a DSU graduate of the programs, earning her associate and bachelor’s degrees here.

DSU’s programming is stackable, meaning those who earn a health care coding certificate can use those credits to count toward an associate degree, which can be applied toward a bachelor’s degree.

“It’s a lifelong learning commitment once you walk into our profession,” she said.

The health care coding certificate prepares students for entry into the industry by teaching the standards for coding and billing. A health care coder is trained to code symptoms, diseases, operations, procedures and therapies by analyzing health records made by clinicians and physicians.

Coding helps organizations produce an accurate bill so that health care providers are reimbursed and patients are billed accurately for the services they receive.

“We’re very detail-oriented people, and we’re all about accuracy,” Spohn said. “Ultimately, we’re patient advocates.”

While the programs are stackable, the master’s degree in HIIM doesn’t require a background in the field.

“Our master’s program is really an interprofessional program, meaning that all disciplines are coming to it,” Spohn said. “It’s all sorts of people, some who have health care experience and some who don’t.”

Health care knowledge courses are available to those coming into the program without a background in the field through classes in statistics, medical terminology and information systems.

DSU’s associate, bachelor’s and master’s degree programs are accredited by the Commission of Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management. This makes DSU one of two schools in the United States to have all three degrees CAHIIM-accredited.

This accreditation highlights that DSU’s program provides an excellent, high-quality education that will prepare students to be successful in the industry. In addition to the accreditation, DSU’s programs have 100 percent placement rates, meaning that all students are employed post-graduation. All HIIM programs are available online. Beginning in the fall of 2023, it also will be available through a face-to-face hybrid delivery model.

DSU’s health care coding certificate and the associate degree in HIIM are eligible for South Dakota’s Workforce and Innovation Opportunity Act program.

According to the South Dakota Department of Labor, WIOA is designed to help job-seekers access employment, education, training and support services. The program is meant to “strengthen and improve our public workforce system and help get Americans, including youth and those with significant barriers to employment, into high-quality jobs and careers and help employers hire and retain skilled workers.”

Additionally, DSU’s HIIM bachelor’s degree has six articulation agreements with other associate degree programs at other schools to facilitate and encourage transfers for students wishing to obtain a bachelor’s degree.

Spohn is also a member of the Health Information Management Accreditation Council for CAHIIM, which helps evaluate health information programs at the associate, baccalaureate and master’s degree levels and offers recommendations on accreditation to the CAHIIM board of directors.

As a member, she is able to see what other programs are doing, ensure DSU’s compliance and incorporate new requirements as they come about.

“It’s an honor to be appointed to a high-level council because there are only a few people across the United States who are appointed to serve in that capacity,” Spohn said.


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