Electronic medical records, or EMR, is one of the most significant and innovative applications of information technology to date, and its prevalence is radically altering not just the medical community, but the U.S. economy as well. With the January, 2014, enforcement date of the federal EMR mandate fast-approaching, EMR-certified IT professionals are in high demand as all healthcare providers must prepare to demonstrate what the government terms “meaningful use” of electronic medical or health records in order to maintain existing rates of Medicare/Medicaid reimbursement.
The healthcare industry has been slow to embrace EMR in the past, and the resultant last-minute surge in demand for EMR-certified workers could therefore be unlikely to lag, even after the mandate becomes a reality. Employment prospects are typically strong for healthcare or IT professionals with knowledge of both healthcare and information technology, as well as the ability to satisfy the organizational challenges EMR adoption presents.
EMR certification is a requirement for a number of positions in the field of health informatics, the specialized discipline that applies modern technology and research methods to the healthcare industry. Electronic medical records contain provider-specific patient histories, while their more advanced permutation, electronic health records (EHR), detail patients’ entire health and medical histories. As such, both systems promise a higher level of clinical care by facilitating communication and accountability between patients and providers. The federal mandate is a means of stimulating the economy while optimizing the quality of healthcare in the U.S.
While a background in healthcare may prove helpful in EMR careers, it’s not strictly necessary. EMR jobs run a wide gamut and consist of duties as various as data conversion; product development; information analytics; staff instruction and training; technical writing; sales; IT support; and design or implementation of information and computer systems.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has yet to produce authoritative data on EMR careers, but it does project a 21% rate of growth in employment opportunities for medical records and health information technicians from 2010 to 2020. This is a much higher rate of growth than the national average of 14% across all occupations, as is the predicted 22% growth in computer occupations over the same time period.
The salary of EMR careers will vary based on a number of factors such as physical location, education, the type of healthcare facility and the exact scope of the job, for example. As this is an emerging field, the U.S. Department of Labor has not yet published salary data for this profession.
BLS reports a median annual wage of just over $32,000 for medical records and health information technicians as of May 2010. (Readers may want to note that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, from which the EMR mandate derives, was passed just over one year prior to that date.)
In addition to this BLS data, according to Health Information Careers, an American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) website, the 2010 biennial AHIMA salary study listed the annual median salary of a Health Informatics Clerical professional at $31,502. The survey was given to nearly 11,000 health information professionals by AHIMA, the foremost professional organization for the field of medical record management.
Careers on information technology and systems side are uniformly more lucrative, according to BLS. For instance, the bureau reports that computer information systems managers who work in the health care and social assistance sectors earned a median annual wage of just under $102,000 in 2010; computer support specialists earned a median annual wage of $46,260 that year.
In cases like this, personal research in your local market for the most accurate, up-to-date and complete information should be done. While national salary and employment data can offer valuable insight into market conditions, they do not necessarily correlate directly with local or regional data.
EMR workers possess as broad a range of degrees, training, and professional experience as their various salaries indicate. Many are experienced healthcare providers with associate’s, bachelor’s, or advanced degrees in nursing or health informatics; many others hold bachelor’s or master’s degrees in information technology.
Today’s medical or IT professionals interested in joining the ranks of EMR professionals may want to consider enrolling in one of the graduate level EMR-certificate courses or health informatics degree programs now available at colleges and universities across the country. While numerous excellent programs exist, the University of South Florida is the only true medical school offering a graduate-level health informatics certificate program, which includes EMR training, in a 100% online environment.
Prospective students seeking EMR education should ensure that their programs of choice include coursework in leadership and communication skills; data entry and conversion; medical terminology and ethics; compliance monitoring; and IT/computer systems technology and applications. Interpersonal intelligence, patience, and a solid understanding of the U.S. healthcare infrastructure will also serve EMR professionals well in the years to come, as they enter the workforce and usher in ever-higher standards of clinical care.