Allied Health
January 11, 2024

How to Become a Medical Records Technician: Training and Certification

A detailed primer on becoming a medical records technician. In this article, we explore the education requirements and certification options available.

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How to Become a Medical Records Technician: Training and Certification

Did you know that the United States spends $1.1 trillion each year on health care administration? One crucial aspect of this field is managing medical records. Accurate medical records are essential for patient care, billing, and insurance, making medical records technicians instrumental in maintaining the efficiency and quality of health care services. These professionals are responsible for organizing, ensuring accuracy and security of patient medical records and guaranteeing that health care providers have access to vital information when needed.

If you're interested in becoming a medical records technician, this article can guide you through the necessary steps. You'll discover the educational requirements, certifications, and practical experience needed to excel in this field.

What is a Medical Records Technician?

Medical records technicians can work in a variety of health care settings, such as hospitals, physician's offices, nursing homes, and insurance companies. They often spend long hours in front of computers, inputting patient information and managing databases. Although they often work in a secure office, they may also work with health care providers or patients in other environments, such as patient rooms and medical labs.

The hours of a medical records technician vary depending on the type of organization and shift assignment. Most full-time positions involve working typical weekday hours, while part-time schedules may include evenings and weekends.

What Does a Medical Records Technician Do?

The role of a medical records technician is to provide accurate and organized patient records to health care providers promptly. They are responsible for gathering and managing information relating to patient care, such as diagnoses, treatments, and procedures, and ensuring that the data is up-to-date and easily accessible. Medical records technicians are also responsible for coding and classifying patient information in accordance with established standards, such as the International Classification of Diseases (ICD). Additionally, they must adhere to all legal and ethical guidelines pertaining to the handling of confidential and protected health information (PHI).

How to Become a Medical Records Technician

Educational Requirements

To embark on your journey to become a medical records technician, you will first need to have a high school diploma or GED. Beyond this foundational education, it is highly recommended to seek postsecondary education in health information technology. This can be accomplished through various avenues, such as a certificate or associate degree programs offered by vocational schools, community colleges, or online institutions.

A certificate program typically takes about 9-12 months to complete, while an associate degree program can take up to two years. Both options will provide you with a strong foundation in health information management, medical coding, and other essential skills for a medical records technician.

The coursework for medical records technician programs covers various topics designed to prepare you for your future career. You will encounter classes in medical terminology, which will help you understand and interpret the language used by health care professionals. Anatomy and physiology courses will provide an overview of the human body and its systems, allowing you to better comprehend the relationship between diagnoses, procedures, and treatment plans.

Health information management courses will teach you the principles of organizing, analyzing, and maintaining patient records in a variety of health care settings. As medical records technicians often work with medical coding systems such as ICD-10 and CPT, you will take classes that focus on mastering these systems to ensure accurate documentation and billing.

A vital aspect of your education will involve health care law and ethics, which will provide you with an understanding of the legal and ethical issues related to the handling of sensitive patient information. You will also learn how to use electronic health records (EHR) software, which has become the industry standard for maintaining patient records across health care facilities.

Certification and Licensing

After completing your education, obtaining certification is a crucial step in establishing yourself as a medical records technician. Many employers prefer to hire certified professionals, as it demonstrates their commitment to quality and adherence to industry standards.

There are several certifications available, with the Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT) and Certified Coding Specialist (CCS) credentials being among the most sought-after. The RHIT certification is administered by the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) and requires the completion of an accredited associate degree program. The exam covers various aspects of health information management, such as data analysis, coding, and compliance.

The CCS certification, also offered by AHIMA, is designed specifically for medical coding specialists. It requires a combination of education and professional coding experience, as well as passing a comprehensive exam that assesses your coding knowledge and skills. Both of these certifications require ongoing continuing education to maintain your credentials and stay up-to-date with industry changes.

In addition to these certifications, some states may have specific licensing requirements for medical records technicians. It is essential to research the regulations in your state to ensure that you comply with local laws.

Gaining Experience

To prepare yourself for a successful career as a medical records technician, it is important to gain practical, hands-on experience in the field. Many educational programs offer internships or practicum opportunities, allowing you to work in health care settings while you are still in school. These experiences not only provide valuable insights into the day-to-day operations of a medical records technician, but also help you develop professional connections that can be beneficial when searching for employment.

Upon completing your education, you can begin seeking entry-level positions in various health care settings, such as hospitals, clinics, or private practices. Common job titles include medical records clerk, health information technician, and medical coding specialist. As you gain experience and demonstrate your aptitude for the profession, you may find opportunities for advancement and increased responsibility.

Joining professional organizations can further your career development by offering networking opportunities, access to industry resources, and continuing education programs. The American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA), the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC), and the Health Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) are prominent organizations that cater to the needs of medical records technicians and other health information management professionals.

Advancing Your Career

As your career progresses, you may decide to further your education and credentials to advance your role in health information management. Pursuing a bachelor's degree in health information management can deepen your understanding of the field and provide you with new opportunities for career growth.

Additional certifications can also enhance your professional standing and widen your job prospects. The Certified Health Data Analyst (CHDA), Certified Documentation Improvement Practitioner (CDIP), and Certified in Healthcare Privacy and Security (CHPS) are examples of advanced certifications that showcase your expertise in specialized areas.

Beyond the traditional roles of medical records technicians, you might also explore job opportunities in specialized fields like cancer registry, medical research, or health care consulting. Each of these fields requires a unique skill set and provides exciting avenues for professional growth.

Tips for Success

To succeed as a medical records technician, it is essential to stay informed about industry trends and changes. As medical coding systems, health care regulations, and technology update regularly, it is crucial to stay ahead of these developments to enhance your productivity and efficiency in the workplace.

Developing strong communication and interpersonal skills is vital for interacting with health care professionals, patients, and fellow colleagues. As you will often serve as a liaison between different departments within a health care facility, the ability to communicate effectively and professionally will be of utmost importance.

Embracing advancements in technology and software is another key to success, as the health care industry increasingly relies on digital tools to streamline operations and improve patient care. Familiarize yourself with the latest electronic health records systems, and seek out training opportunities to keep your skills current.

Lastly, participating in continuing education opportunities is essential for maintaining your certifications and expanding your knowledge base. This commitment to lifelong learning will not only ensure your competence in the field but also demonstrate your dedication to providing high-quality health care services.

Job Outlook and Pay

The job outlook for medical records technicians is positive, as health care organizations continue to require efficient and accurate record-keeping to provide the best patient care. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of health information technicians is projected to grow 7% from 2021 to 2031, which is faster than the average for all other occupations.

The median annual wage for health information technicians was $46,660 in May 2021, according to the BLS. Experienced medical records technicians may receive higher salaries, depending on their educational credentials and job responsibilities.

Organizations across health care settings, from hospitals to long-term care facilities, will increasingly rely on medical records technicians to manage the data associated with patient care. As technological advancement and an aging population contribute to the growth in health care services, the demand for experienced medical records technicians will remain high, creating numerous job opportunities in this field.

Conclusion

In summary, becoming a medical records technician involves completing an educational program in health information technology, obtaining relevant certifications, and gaining practical experience in the field. By pursuing professional development opportunities and cultivating essential skills, you can establish yourself as a valuable asset within the health care industry. As the demand for skilled medical records technicians continues to grow, following these steps can lead you to a rewarding and fulfilling career, where your contributions to health care make a meaningful impact on both patients and providers.

 

FAQs

Can Medical Records Technicians Work from Home?

Most medical records technicians work in an office setting, but there are some remote positions available that can be done from home.

Is Being a Medical Records Technician a Stressful job?

Any job can be stressful, and medical records technician positions are no exception. However, medical records technicians generally experience lower stress levels and have a good balance of work and personal time.

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