VISION 2006 UPDATE
Giving HIM Professionals A New View
By Gretchen Berry
When the American Health Information Management Asso-ciation (AHIMA) crafted its Vision 2006 initiative in 1996, the “2006” was not meant to be a deadline. It was more of a distant focal point, a way of making the esoteric concept of “the future” more tangible and relevant. But that point is no longer so distant, and the future is quickly becoming now. As the world Vision 2006 sought to forecast becomes reality, just how successful has the initiative been?
“Creating an initiative of this magnitude and successfully communicating it to our more than 40,000 members has really been a watershed moment for AHIMA,” said Sandy Fuller, MA, RHIA, vice president of professional development services. “Regardless of our progress on the action items, the whole act of keeping the focus on the future and mapping out a good career path for our members has been beneficial to the organization and its members.”
And the progress on the action items has been admirable. In four years, the organization has managed to mark more than half of its goals accomplished. Among those items completed are:
* Action Item Six: Evaluate names and positioning of current AHIMA credentials. Last year, the House of Delegates (HOD) voted by an overwhelming majority to officially change the credential names to more accurately reflect current and future responsibilities. As of Jan. 1, 2000, registered record administrators (RRAs) are now registered health information administrators (RHIAs) and accredited record technicians (ARTs) are now registered health information technicians (RHITs).
* Action Item Eight: Develop the criteria and guidelines for advanced standing. The 1999 HOD voted to institute a fellowship program. Fellowship requires a minimum of 10 years of work experience related to health information management (HIM), 10 years’ membership in AHIMA, a master’s degree and a portfolio demonstrating a lasting contribution to the field of HIM.
* Action Item Three: Require an associate’s degree to take the RHIT exam. In an effort to “raise the bar” for professional credentialing, the 1998 HOD approved a revision to the Standards for Initial Certification. The revision requires that anyone taking the RHIT credential exam after Sept. 30, 2002, hold an associate’s degree.
* Action Item Four: Design standardized coding curriculum and study roles for coding professionals in the future. The Coding Futures Taskforce was developed to investigate future developments in the coding field and their study results have been submitted to the AHIMA Board of Directors. In addition, the current coding curriculum has been revised according to taskforce recommendations.
* Action Item Five: Investigate allowing current RHITs with baccalaureate or post-baccalaureate degrees to write the RHIA exam. In 1998, the HOD voted to create a five-year window (1999 to 2004) during which qualified RHITs may write the RHIA exam. This window seeks to address the limited availability of four-year HIM academic programs, giving RHITs who obtained their credentials prior to Dec. 31, 1999, and who possess a bachelor’s degree in another subject the opportunity to become RHIAs. In five years, AHIMA hopes to have increased the number of four-year programs, making this provision unnecessary.
The remaining three items are not as easily marked “done,” because they are meant to be ongoing processes. However, important strides have been made. Among them:
* Action Item One: Encourage establishment of HIM “track” programs at the baccalaureate level. The Joint Committee on Education was created to monitor HIM education programs and the association has developed and begun implementing a new strategy for promoting these programs.
* Action Item Two: Encourage establishment of programs and tracks for HIM education at the master’s level. The Assembly on Education has developed a model curriculum and distributed it to all state presidents and HIM educational programs. In addition, a formal approval process for HIM master’s degree programs is being developed by the Council on Accreditation.
* Action Item Seven: Design alternative models for maintenance of certification. A variety of new ways to obtain continuing education credits have been introduced, including several Web-based courses.
Emerging HIM Roles
As impressive as the progress has been, the action items were never intended to serve only as a checklist. Rather, the cumulative effect of these actions is meant to help prepare HIM professionals to take on new responsibilities. Through increased public recognition, heightened certification requirements and easier access to better-quality education, Vision 2006 seeks to prepare AHIMA members for the “emerging roles” that the organization defined as follows:
* Clinical data specialist–performs data management in coding, registries, databases, etc.
* Patient information coordinator–aids consumers in managing their personal health information.
* Data quality manager–does continuous quality improvement for data integrity throughout an enterprise.
* Data resource administrator–manages data, ensures its integrity and monitors access to patient information in new media including computerized patient records and data repositories.
* Research and decision support analyst–supports administration with information for decision making and strategy development.
* Security officer–manages the security of electronic information.
So, have these roles emerged as predicted? “Both in our annual member survey and anecdotally, we have seen that more people are moving into these roles, although they may not carry the exact same titles,” said Fuller. “For example, we don’t see a lot of people mark off on the survey that they are data quality managers. However, if we were to ask them if their primary responsibility was to maintain a master patient index or DRG database, they’d say yes.”
According to Fuller, despite all the progress that has been made, Vision 2006 is far from over. “This is a very big year for us,” she said. “We’re launching the new image campaign to go along with the credential change. The Council on Education is doing a white paper on the state of HIM education–and it’s possible that their research may generate some new action items.”
In addition, the emerging roles are being re-evaluated and fine tuned. “We have a volunteer taskforce that is currently doing a side-by-side analysis of these roles,” Fuller reported. “We’re taking a look at where they overlap and where the gaps are and may make some changes according to their recommendations. We will also likely add some new roles in the near future. There are opportunities out there that we haven’t even thought to imagine yet. We’re especially interested in what opportunities the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) may bring–a chief confidentiality officer, for example.”
Vision 2006 was designed to be a dynamic initiative–a vision that can transform as the HIM environment does, and by doing so encourage AHIMA members to prepare for and excel in a rapidly changing field.
The initiative may get a name-change when 2006 arrives, but its basic tenets (life-long learning, charting a career path, promoting the profession) will continue on.
“We’re never going to go back to having less change,” noted Fuller. “An ability to forecast is an important feature for the association to have. Vision 2006 has helped us work out a process by which we are always asking questions and always looking toward the future.”
* For more information on the Vision 2006 initiative, visit the AHIMA Web site at www.ahima.org. Call (312) 233-1160 or send a Fax to (312) 233-1460. *
Gretchen Berry is an assistant editor at ADVANCE.