Data roles help keep our medical system healthy


“The reality is there’s still really only one hospital in Australia that’s fully electronic. There’s still a lot of paper shuffling going on,” Lee says.

Regardless of whether they oversee digital or paper-based health data, health information managers have an important role to play as the “custodians” of health data within hospitals.

“We provide the standards [for medical records and] we manage the access in terms of freedom of information and patient privacy,” Lee says.

Government bodies like the (federal) Independent Hospital Pricing Authority rely on the coded data provided by health information managers and their colleagues, clinical coders (the roles overlap somewhat, although the former is the higher-paid role) to make financial decisions impacting hospitals. Private health insurers also depend on this information.

“Given the cost of health care and Australia’s ageing population, we are [all] trying to operate as efficiently as possible. To do that you need the best data possible, which is why health information management and clinical coders are important,” Lee says.

Core skills can vary greatly depending on the role, but jobs in the field usually combine a mix of information technology skills, health management knowledge and clinical coding abilities.

Clinical coders focus primarily on “abstracting” medical records’ information and speaking to clinicians to clarify its documentation.
“They need good interpersonal skills and high levels of attention to detail; I think there are about 14,000 codes they need to navigate through,” says Lee.

For roles focusing more strongly on health information management, the tasks change slightly.

“They are still dealing with data, but also reporting on some of that data to various health requirements, providing freedom of information requests, providing advice on how medical forms should look and advising on best practice on how those forms should be maintained,” Lee says.

Demand for either role means graduates often have one or more job offers in hand before they finish study.

“It’s common to work for a couple of years as a clinical coder, then move into a role as a coding educator. There are also roles for auditors – there are errors with anything, so auditors go in to make sure things are done properly,” he says.

Part-time and flexible work is common, particularly for jobs involving high levels of clinical coding.

“Scanned records have enabled many people to work remotely,” Lee says.

Study:
La Trobe University in Victoria offers a bachelor of health information management while the University of Western Sydney has a bachelor of information and communications technology (health information management). Graduates are in demand and generally find jobs with ease upon graduation.

Skills:

The skills of  qualified health information managers transfer easily to other parts of the health system.
“It’s a really good foundation for other roles. There are C level executives in the health system who have a health information management background because they understand the politics and complexity of hospitals,” says Lee.

Tips:

Many employees enter health information management after working in another clinical role, like nursing or allied health.

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