Health information technology degree to fill growing need

Photo by Avan Clark

Photo by Avan Clark

ALBANY, Ga. -- With the federal government mandating all Americans' medical records to be stored electronically by 2014, Albany Technical College officials believe they will supply a valued associate's degree by offering a health information technology program.

Albany Tech unveiled its new virtual lab/classroom Thursday in its Nathaniel Cross Health Building. Sponsored by the American Health Information Management Association, the classroom features virtual lab software, Practice Fusion's electronic health record system, 3M coding software and seats for 30 students.

Victoria Mills will teach the first health information technology class when it begins July 8. Mills moved from Atlanta three months ago and is the program's chair.

"This helps the community to understand another side of health care and provides an opportunity for the community to be educated in a new and exciting field," Mills said.

Dorothy Garner, dean of Academic Affairs for Healthcare Technology at Albany Tech, said regional hospitals are happy about the new program.

"They are enthused because doctors can now pull up the patients' medical records right there in the exam room, they can do their charting there and write prescriptions," said Garner, who has worked 30 years for Albany Tech.

The health information technology students will also be taught medical coding through the program, which Mills said is still open for enrollment.

"Medical coding is assigning a diagnosis code to a diagnosis that has been made by a clinician or health care professional," Mills said. "That's how bills are paid. They don't take verbal or words, just diagnosis code."

Officials from both Palmyra Medical Center and Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital were present at Thursday's ribbon cutting ceremony and dedication.

"It's a welcome addition to Albany Tech," said Ed Farr, Palmyra's director of health information management. "There's a great need for health information technology professionals, not only in our area, but our country as a whole. The thing about this degree, the health information technology degree, is you can not only use it in hospitals, but in physicians' offices, community health departments, as well as billing services and insurance (companies) because there's so many things you can do with this degree."

Mary Barwick, Phoebe's director of clinical operations, believed the degree would help future Southwest Georgia health care workers.

"It's a wonderful avenue for us to mentor our up and coming stars in the health care industry," said Barwick, who has worked with Phoebe for 18 years. "It's definitely a good, strong foundation for the people we want to mentor to take over those positions in the future."