By Lisa A. Eramo, MA
As a health information management (HIM) professional, you know just how difficult it is to explain your profession to others. So many acronyms, so little time. How can you capture all of the nuances of HIM in a way that others will understand while also keeping their attention?
As an HIM freelance writer, I know the struggle. Friends and family members don’t quite get it. They know I write about healthcare, but they probably couldn’t articulate the types of topics I cover on a daily basis—medical coding, release of information, electronic health records, etc. Could your friends and family members describe the important work you perform within your organization? I’m guessing the answer is no.
In many ways, HIM seems to be the best kept secret in healthcare. That’s because very few professionals know how—and when—to educate others about HIM’s role within the healthcare ecosystem. Yet doing so can potentially accomplish these important goals:
- Open doors to career advancement
- Maintain a strong presence in compliance, privacy, security, and CDI (areas that are increasingly managed by nurses, attorneys, and IT professionals)
- Justify higher salaries
- Foster greater collaboration
- Become the ‘go-to resource’ for information governance, privacy, and security
- Earn a seat at decision-making tables
Stepping into the spotlight: Five tips
Following are five tips that you can use to raise awareness of your profession and advocate for yourself.
1. Don’t oversimplify
HIM is no longer synonymous with medical coding and paper records. “Because the business of medicine has evolved, the role of HIM has exploded into many non-traditional roles,” says LisaRae Roper, MHA, MS, CCS-P, CPC, CPC-I, PCS, FAHIMA, co–chair of the Workforce Workgroup, which is part of the Council for Excellence in Education (CEE).
Focus on the diverse set of skills that you possess (e.g., change management, project management, research, technical writing, data management, data analytics, and more), says Roper. Also promote your education (especially your biomedical training), work experience, and the rigorous continuing education requirements that you must fulfill, she adds.
2. Craft an ‘elevator speech’
An ‘elevator speech’ is a clear and concise message that communicates who you are, what you do, and how you benefit an organization. The speech is typically 30 seconds in duration—the time it takes to ride in an elevator from the top floor of a building to the bottom floor.
Use this speech developed by the CEE as a starting point:
Health information management (HIM) professionals, an allied health profession, lead efforts to ensure the availability, accuracy, integrity, and security of all data related to patient healthcare encounters that result in better clinical and business decisions to enhance healthcare quality.
However, tailor the speech to your own unique position and responsibilities, says Julie Shay, RHIA, co-chair of the CEE Workforce Workgroup. “It’s up to HIM professionals themselves to really educate and articulate the value that they bring to any setting,” she adds.
Why are your skills necessary and relevant in today’s healthcare organizations? Focus on data management and information governance, says Shay. “One of the biggest values we bring is our understanding of the data,” she says.
Roper suggests crafting at least two spinoffs of your elevator speech catered to these audiences:
- Administrators and key decision-makers. Using a business acumen, focus on how HIM-managed data drives value-based care, contract negotiation, accountable care organizations, population health management, data analytics, information governance, privacy/security, EHR management, and health information exchange, says Roper. Articulate why your involvement can make—or break—the success of a large-scale project or initiative. Physicians should hear this same message, as many of them are also board members charged with strategic decisions, says Roper.
- Patients, family members, and friends. Focus on your role as a patient advocate and health system navigator, helping individuals understand insurance benefits, healthcare costs, portals, HIPAA regulations, and more. Explain that HIM professionals are the ones who ensure that each patient’s story is accurate, private, and secure, says Becky Buegel, RHIA, CHP, CDIP, CHC, member of AHIMA’s Consumer Engagement Task Force.
3. Identify opportunities to spread the word
Any opportunity to talk about HIM is a good one. Consider sharing the elevator speech at networking events, job fairs, conferences, committee meetings, and all internal trainings, says Roper.
Ask others if they have questions or assumptions about HIM. “We shouldn’t be in defense mode. If anything, we should be in offense mode to show everyone what we can do,” says Shay.
Offer to speak about HIM at various conferences for human resource associations or other medical associations such as the Healthcare Financial Management Association (HFMA), the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA), or the Healthcare Information Management and Systems Society (HIMSS), says Buegel.
4. Have confidence in yourself
People perceive you the way in which you perceive yourself. Promoting yourself isn’t just about WHAT you say—it’s about HOW you say it. “We have not been trained to stand up for ourselves,” says Buegel. “We need to get people to understand that we are a highly evolved and highly educated profession.” Speak with confidence and passion—and others will respond positively, she adds.
5. Use your resources
The CEE has already developed many tools, flyers, white papers, webinars, brochures, and other educational materials that HIM professionals can use to raise awareness.
“The CEE has developed a phenomenally deep toolkit specifically for this purpose, and we are now working very closely with the CSAs to get this message out at a state level,” says Roper.
Lisa Eramo (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a freelance writer and editor in Cranston, RI who specializes in healthcare regulatory topics, health information management, and medical coding.