BMCC Students Get Boost up Career Ladder—and Edge in Fast-Growing Hospital Info Tech Field

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In New York City, only the Borough of Manhattan Community College offers an accredited associate-degree program in Health Information Technology that leads to real careers.

HIT Class at Borough of Manhattan Community College

There are certificate coding schools out there but this is the only program in NYC that awards an associate degree—making you eligible to take the RHIT exam. The only one.

Graduates of the Borough of Manhattan Community College’s Health Information Technology (HIT) program are eligible to sit for the Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT) exam—a necessary step if they want to take full career advantage of the medical industry’s shift to electronic medical records, or EMRs.

“There are certificate coding schools out there,” says BMCC professor Rawle Chichester, who teaches Intro to Electronic Medical Records, “but this is the only program in New York City accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Informational Management Education [CAHIIM], that awards an associate degree—making you eligible to take the RHIT exam. The only one.”

With unemployment hitting 10.6% in New York City, money spent on education and training must be wisely placed. Students who earn an associate degree in BMCC’s HIT program are investing their education dollars to enter a field that is not only growing, but backed by the Obama administration—which set aside $46 billion to help doctors and hospitals ‘go electronic’, by 2014.

From ethics to coding: hands-on, well rounded training
At BMCC, students experience first hand, the type of medical data experience they’ll encounter as EMR professionals. “We have practice software we get directly from AHIMA--the American Health Information Management Association,” says Chichester, “which students can access from home or in class.”

Entering a field that’s breaking new ground in information sharing, they also need awareness of ethical issues unique to the HIT and EMR workplace. “We teach the legal aspects,” says Chichester. “Confidentiality issues. We teach management. We teach quality assurance.”

And of course, medical coding is part of the training—and requires a lot more than being data-savvy. According to HIT Program Director Linda Carlson, anatomy and physiology courses “are the cornerstone of understanding coding.” In short, students have to know the difference between a disease and its symptoms, and she gives an example: appendicitis. “For coding purposes, you would not code ‘abdominal pain’.”

Once coding is in place, billing can happen. “Coding is where the money is,” says Professor Rawle Chichester. “Whatever procedure the doctor performs, it’s assigned a code by the Internal Classification of Diseases. There is no other way to get reimbursed.”

Eventually, students apply their EMR skills through practicums in 25 hospitals and medical facilities throughout New York City. A preceptor—a hospital director or supervisor—mentors them and ensures they are exposed to an array of work areas utilizing EMRs.

“Cancer registry is one department where students spend time,” says Chichester. “Then they move on to billing and coding. They spend six weeks there, altogether.”

Starting a new career, or jump starting an existing one
According to Chichester, about half of the 24 people in his class already work in the medical field, such as hospital employee J. Carrasco.

“I came back to school because I want to apply for management positions,” she says, “and it’s important to have the HIT degree. We’re a ‘hybrid’ at my hospital—we have both electronic and paper files, but we’re trying to go electronic completely. It’s good for the patient. Cardio cases, you need information right away, and electronically, it’s much faster.”

“Access is the big difference with EMRs,” Chichester says. “Before, if a doctor needed information, you had to search and search manually—now with EMRs, you just press a few computer keys.”

“Or let’s say the doctor tells you, ‘I need information on all the Cesarean sections I’ve done over the last five years.’ That would take weeks to find, but now, it takes a few seconds. Another example – the doctor ordered tests for a patient, but the results can’t be found. Now, results are immediately entered into the system—they’re right there on the computer.”

BMCC enrolls over 21,000 degree-seeking and 10,000 Continuing Education students a year. The largest community college in The City of New York (CUNY) system, BMCC has students from more than 155 countries, and awards Associate in Science (AS), Associate in Arts (AA), and Associate in Applied Science (AAS) degrees in over 25 fields.

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