HIT an evening option for SMC’s adult learners

DOWAGIAC — Southwestern Michigan College’s Health Information Technology program is featured as an evening program this fall for adult learners such as Gina Hamilton-Wood of Niles.

Hamilton-Wood is pursuing RHIT certification while working fulltime for Beacon Health System as team leader for Memorial Health Information Management Processing and Analysis. She transitioned into the health care industry more than 15 years ago.

“My initial interest was coding,” Hamilton-Wood said. “I was able to take short courses that allowed me to sit for the [Certified Coding Associate] exam. I began working in medical records while I finished my last classes. I transferred into coding and stayed there for 12 years.”

Then Hamilton-Wood was presented the opportunity for an opening in the HIM department as lead processing and analysis at the point in time coding became part of the finance area at Beacon. She was qualified for the position partly due to her knowledge of original beginnings in medical records and management experience obtained during years of owning her own repair center for consumer electronics.

Hamilton-Wood said RHIT will “open opportunities I would not have otherwise without it.” From her vantage point she can see how this field has changed, with “so many new specialties created, all geared towards specificity.”

Saxophonist Connie Kutschbach of South Bend came to SMC for music education from Edwardsburg in 2013, graduating with a general studies associate’s degree.

“I wanted something I could complete quickly, get a decent job right away and that would have opportunities for advancement,” Kutschbach said. “Having the RHIT credential is important and I plan to get a bachelor’s degree and my RHIA. I wanted to do something in the medical field, but not a clinical setting.”

Kutschbach is the enterprise master patient index coordinator for Beacon Health System.

“My team and I manage the EMPI for most of Beacon, which consists of three hospitals and over 70 physician offices. Soon, other Beacon entities will be brought on to the systems we manage,” Kutschbach said. “The most important thing is just getting your foot in the door somewhere to break into this field.”

Hers came through a 2017 internship.

“In my experience there are opportunities to move up and/or laterally within a larger organization as long as you have the right attitude, good working relationships and are willing to learn new skills,” Kutschbach said. “Networking is important. You must be able to work with people outside the organization, too, because everything is integrated. Multiple organizations work together to create the best patient experience. It is a fairly new area I think will grow due to integration of master patient indexes, like if a nation- or worldwide health information exchange was created.”

Kutschbach said she likes everything about her job as she does a lot of investigating and merging duplicate charts and gets to fix errors.

Andrea Henry is a release of information specialist for Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center in Mishawaka. She said she was not initially attracted to HIT.

“I didn’t even know it was a thing, to be honest,” she said. “I came to SMC, met with an advisor and told her I wanted something in health care, but knew I didn’t want to be clinically involved in patient care. Prior to graduating in May 2018, I sat for my RHIT exam in April and passed. I have two years and some change holding my credentials.”

Henry, who resides in southwest Michigan, started in April 2018 as a HIM tech at an outpatient clinic, gaining her current position in January.

“It’s most definitely a step up from a tech,” Henry said. “What I like most about my job is that I deal with patients and facilities directly, but also work behind the scenes. I am busy all day with many different tasks, and I love it. Many people think this career path means we are just billers and coders. They are sadly mistaken. Most people don’t have a clue what a RHIT is, let alone what health information management entails, but I am proud to tell them we are very much the backbone of health care.

“We need our nurses, absolutely, but they would not be able to perform the administrative side without us processing records for payment and chart accuracy. We deserve far more credit than we receive. Opportunities for me to excel are virtually endless with health care changing and advancing all the time. I highly recommend this program to anyone looking to be involved in non-clinical health care.”

For more, see swmich.edu/hit.

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