Health information technology (health IT) specialists handle the technical aspects of managing patient health information. Depending on their position, health IT professionals might build, implement, or support electronic health records (EHRs) and other systems that store patient-related data. They know what data is needed, where is it stored, and how the data is used.
Their work affects quality of care tremendously. And, as they move up the ladder, health IT specialists become more involved in collaborating with other healthcare teams to drive improved outcomes, lowered costs, and new developments in patient care. Explore the role of healthcare IT specialists, including where they work, what their responsibilities are, and how to become one.
Where do health information technology specialists work?
Health information technology specialists support clinicians and staff across many healthcare settings, including inpatient rehabilitation facilities, acute care hospitals, long-term care facilities, physician offices, mental health facilities, and outpatient clinics. Others work for organizations that do not provide direct medical care, such as consulting firms, public health and other government agencies, insurance companies, and software vendors.
Graduates of the UW HIMT health IT track work at a wide range of organizations, including:
- Marshfield Clinic Information Systems
- Hospital Sisters Health System
- Aurora Health Care
- Sauk Prairie Hospital
- American Red Cross
Most health IT staff work in a professional office setting. A common misconception is that a health IT or EHR implementation department is the same as an IT department. In healthcare, they are separate entities. Traditional IT staff focus on hardware and do not have expertise in clinical documentation, medical terminology, or caregiver workflows, which is needed to support EHR systems.
What are common job titles for health IT specialists?
Following are some common positions in health IT:
- Systems analyst
- EHR implementation specialist
- Data architect
- Programmer analyst
- Software developer
- Software engineer
- Data quality analyst
- Chief information security officer
- Chief technology officer
- Chief information officer
What are a health IT professional’s primary responsibilities?
Getting the right patient information to the right caregiver at the right time is absolutely critical. It’s a big responsibility handled—in most healthcare facilities—by three departments:
- Health IT: implementation and maintenance of EHRs
- Health information management (HIM): patient data and data quality
- Data analytics: analytics and reporting
While the other departments deal with data directly, health IT specialists build, implement, and support EHR and other systems that capture, manage, and store patient data. These professionals must have a strong understanding of information and technology systems, including programming and data structures, storage structure for data and information, and information and communication technologies. The privacy and security of patient data when it is stored and transmitted is also at the top of their priority list.
Depending on the size of the healthcare organization, health information technology specialists may take on very different roles. In a small facility, a health IT specialist may need diverse technical knowledge and skills to work with several EHR systems or applications. In a larger facility, it’s more likely that a health IT specialist would specialize in a certain EHR application or set of workflows.
At the end of the day, all health IT specialists ensure that electronic health data managed by HIM staff is maintained and exchanged accurately and efficiently. Their work is extremely important; it drives improvements in patient care and reductions in healthcare costs.
With whom do health information technology specialists work?
Health information technology specialists play important roles in projects that impact entire organizations. On a typical day, health IT specialists may interact with clinicians and staff at all levels, from a unit clerk to a CIO. They work with subject matter experts to build and maintain the systems they use daily.
Constant collaboration with stakeholders across an organization requires strong communication skills as well as experience in problem solving, time management, organization, and adaptability.
A health IT specialist might also train physicians, nurses, case managers, chief financial officers, and others how to use EHR software. In fact, there is strong demand for multifaceted individuals who can implement EHR systems, train clinicians and staff, and consider the needs of these end users when maintaining and updating software.
What promotional pathways are available to health IT specialists?
Highly skilled health IT specialists have ample opportunity to move up in position and salary. For specific career pathways in healthcare information technology, see the career map created by the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA).
Emerging, executive-level professionals, such as chief information officers and chief information security officers, are in high demand right now. The required skillset for these positions—healthcare experience, specialized technical knowledge, and leadership skills—is critical yet difficult to find. Employers are forced to recruit from industries outside healthcare, but this presents tremendous opportunity to entry- and mid-level health IT specialists with the right mix of education, experience, and certification.
How can I become a health IT specialist?
Because there are so many EHR regulatory requirements, health technology is constantly changing—and this translates to strong job security for health IT professionals. Combine this with very high demand, and you can rest assured that health IT is a smart career choice.
Some health IT specialists have backgrounds in computer science or medical coding, but some come from other fields such as nursing, radiology, or even dairy science. To get hired today, you must have specialized knowledge of healthcare organizations and an unparalleled understanding of how EHR systems work within these organizations.
You can get this very specific skillset by earning a bachelor’s degree in health information technology. You can also improve your hiring outlook and salary potential by gaining health IT work experience and certifications, such as a CAHIMS or Epic credential, like this UW graduate did.
Interested in starting or advancing your health IT career? University of Wisconsin offers an online Bachelor of Science in Health Information Management and Technology. Start your journey here.
Questions about the University of Wisconsin degree program or HIMT field? Contact an enrollment adviser.