“Health Information Technology is an ever-evolving field,” HIT Director Tresa Ryan said. “Some degrees only train you to do one thing, but HIT opens many doors in the health care field.”
Missouri State -West Plains established the HIT degree program in 2014, and Ryan started as director during the fall 2015 semester. “I’ve been in this field for 23 years, and when I began we were using paper charts, which required a lot of physical space to file and maintain, but now all the records are kept on a computer, and where in the past we had to make copies of paper charts, the digital format saves a lot of time,” Ryan said. “People are now able to access and pay their bills online, as well.”
One of the changes Ryan implemented when she overhauled the degree program was create stackable degrees. “This way, students can get a certificate in Medical Billing and Coding, for instance, and then if they decided to come back and get the AAS in HIT, they don’t have to retake any classes they’ve already had,” she said.
Missouri State-West Plains’ HIT program offers Medical Billing and Coding, Medical Administrative Office Assistant and Electronic Health Records Specialist certificates, all of which can be seamlessly integrated into the AAS in HIT degree. From there, students could then potentially transfer into a bachelor’s program at selected four-year institutions.
“There are a lot of in-class activities to help them learn different aspects of Health Information Technology,” Ryan said of the degree. “We also have a virtual lab software system that we can jump into, and students can learn how to schedule appointments, send and code bills. We also do internships; to graduate with a certificate or degree, a student must have 90 hours of internship experience.” She added that an internship is a component of the HIT capstone course.
Where can you work once you have a degree in HIT? Pretty much anywhere that processes patients, Ryan said, including hospitals, doctors’ and chiropractors’ offices, nursing homes or even veterinary clinics.
“You can work in billing and coding or even in an insurance office that deals in medical insurance,” Ryan said. “You can also find work in law practices that process medical claims, because they need people who know how to read and interpret billing and medical reports. You can work in privacy and security and with HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), or you can work in information technology keeping records. And once you develop some coding experience, there are tons of companies looking to hire professional coders through the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA).”
Ryan said the University’s HIT program is still in its infancy, but she hopes it continues to expand and grow. There are currently 50 students in the program, 25 of whom are in the introductory HIT 100 class this semester. “A year ago when I started there were six,” she said.
A Student’s Perspective
Student Lissa Siemers first learned about the degree program from her mother in 2007 when she lived in North Carolina, but she was ultimately discouraged from the suggestion when she was told that the job might become obsolete in 10 years due to advancing technology. Two years ago, she moved to Missouri and started taking general education classes at Missouri State-West Plains, unsure of what degree to pursue. During her second semester, Siemers met a teacher who told her about the AAS in HIT for medical coding and billing and that medical coders are actually in high demand.
“I believe it was fate for me to go to college and receive my degree in health information technology,” she said. “Once I receive my degree, which should be in fall 2017, I will pursue a part-time position to gain experience in the field of medical coding, as well as continue my education for a bachelor’s degree in the same area.”
A bachelor’s degree gives students access to managerial and supervisory positions in HIT, Ryan explained.
Siemers said she is glad fate pointed her in the direction of Missouri State-West Plains and the AAS in HIT. “This program is giving me exactly what I need in order to succeed in the field of medical coding—regulations, compliance, coding skills, processing claims, fixing issues and errors, etc.,” she said. “Everything I need to know to become a successful medical coder or biller, this program provides it.”
For more information on the degree program and required classes, visit http://wp.missouristate.edu/ctp/health-information-technology.htm.