Donna Wilde has spent more than 35 years in the health-care industry without ever touching blood, body parts or a hospital bed. As a health-information manager, she can help doctors...

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Donna Wilde has spent more than 35 years in the health-care industry without ever touching blood, body parts or a hospital bed.


As a health-information manager, she can help doctors find better ways to treat patients or track a person’s medical history.


Looking at medical records all day and compiling data may sound tedious. But for people like Wilde, the career is as attention-grabbing as an action movie.


“It’s really looking at the content: What are doctors saying about our patients? What do the labs say? What are the nurses documenting and what are they relating?” she said. “It’s fascinating, it’s almost like being a detective seeing connections between information.”


Wilde has worked at hospitals, cancer registries and in education during her career and is now director of health-care-information programs at Shoreline Community College.


The field is growing thanks to increasing technology that allows for more information to be stored and analyzed. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the field will need to add 97,000 workers by 2010 to keep up with demand.


Health information involves a variety of jobs — transcriptionists, research coordinators, data processors, managers and software technicians.
















Info on health-care information careers


Training: University of Washington: www.washington.edu


Shoreline Community College: www.shoreline.ctc.edu




Demand:
Strong


Pay:
Technicians make about $29,000 to $35,000 a year; transcriptionists, $30,000 to $36,000; and directors, $75,000 to $96,000, according to figures compiled by Salary.com for the Seattle area.



— Blanca Torres



Some of the more technical jobs require “coding” medical records, which involves taking information from patients’ files and assigning codes to different procedures and details. The codes are used to make records easier to analyze and to bill insurance companies.


Transcribing records is another intricate line of work. It requires listening to doctors dictate what procedures they used on patients and their diagnosis. It can mean listening to a recording or revising notes taken by voice-recognition software.


“It’s not for everybody, but those who do it really seem to enjoy it,” Wilde said.


Some people like performing skilled tasks, while others are more interested in research and management.


Julie King, administrative director of clinical systems at Virginia Mason Medical Center, said she was drawn to the career because it combined health care and management, and she was not interested in providing direct care for patients.


“The health-care environment is an exciting one to work in and it’s ever changing,” she said.


Health-information researchers spend a lot of time compiling data and analyzing statistics.


They look at individuals or groups of people with the same diseases or injuries.

KEN LAMBERT / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Tish Corpuz, a registered health-information administrator, goes over patient data at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle. Corpuz has the eye of a detective when she must pull together patient data for billing purposes. Technology has caused strong growth in health-information careers.

Their findings can help doctors decide which treatments work best, what injuries are the most life-threatening or what procedures can extend a terminally ill patient’s life.


“The medical record of each individual is really inseparable from the person and it represents patients in a very unique way,” said Gretchen Murphy, director of the health-information-administration program at the University of Washington.


“Over time, that record may represent the patient’s health status over their lifetime, and in large hospitals that’s a complex undertaking.”


To succeed in health management, people should have skills such as being able to analyze and report data, work with statistics and present information in written or oral form.


In Washington, there are only two accredited programs in the field: Shoreline Community College and the University of Washington.


Shoreline offers a two-year degree and UW has bachelor’s and graduate programs.


Both programs report a high job-placement rate after graduation.


Wilde said most of her Shoreline students find work within a few months of finishing the program, and many who start out in entry-level positions advance quickly.


Work environments vary greatly. Almost every type of health-care facility has a records or research department ranging in size from one person to a couple hundred, such as at a large hospital.


“We have a lot of our graduates that work in places such as nursing homes, home-health care, where they are the whole department and they get to do a little bit of everything,” Wilde said.




Blanca Torres: 206-515-5066 or btorres@seattletimes.com




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