An RHIA, or registered health information administrator, is a certified professional who oversees the creation and use of patient health information, including analyzing that data. RHIAs work in healthcare and related settings, such as health IT vendors and insurance carriers. The acronym is pronounced by its letters: "R-H-I-A."
Holding an RHIA certification can potentially advance one's career in health information management through greater responsibilities and higher salaries. RHIA is among 10 credentials issued by the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA), a nonprofit organization that represents health information management professionals.
RHIA responsibilities and job description
AHIMA describes RHIAs as important links between providers, patients and payers in terms of managing and analyzing electronic health records (EHRs) and administering some of the technology involved.
As such, RHIAs commonly talk and collaborate with a variety of colleagues who interact with health data, such as clinicians, finance reps, administrative workers and IT professionals. Managing certain people and budgets may also fall to RHIAs.
Professionals who hold an RHIA certification "focus on data governance, HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) privacy and security, and data analytics," according to an explanation of the certification's responsibilities by the University of Wisconsin, which offers a health information management and technology degree program.
Necessary skills and qualifications
Based on information published by AHIMA, RHIA candidates should have the following skills and qualifications:
- Expertise in handling patient records and analyzing the data within those documents;
- Knowledge about medical, administrative, legal and ethical standards related to the delivery of healthcare and safeguarding protected health information (PHI), which includes HIPAA requirements;
- Ability to manage departments and people, prepare budgets and collaborate with administrative teams within healthcare systems; and
- Prowess in working with decision-makers in patient data activities.
RHIT vs. RHIA
Although new patient information and EHRs can be updated by RHITs, it is an RHIA's job to manage the health information system's database.
In short, RHIAs generally make more money and have more responsibilities than those who hold the RHIT credential, but RHIAs also are required to have more education, according to the University of Wisconsin, which compared the two credentials in 2017.
Obtaining RHIA certification
Candidates for RHIA certification must meet criteria set by AHIMA and the Commission on Accreditation of Health Informatics and Information Management Education (CAHIIM). In some cases, candidates may be able to graduate from a program approved by a foreign association that cooperates with AHIMA.
AHIMA and CAHIIM require candidates to complete certain academic requirements, such as a bachelor's or master's degree in health information management or a related post-degree program. People who hold an RHIT certification may also qualify for RHIA under certain conditions.
The RHIA exam is four hours long, with candidates answering 180 multiple-choice questions based on competencies needed to meet the certification. The exams are held at various locations and dates throughout the United States in cooperation with Pearson Education, which operates professional testing centers.
Recertification is based on a two-year cycle, with RHIAs required to obtain 30 continuing education units (CEUs) during that period.
Exam application fees are modest, ranging from about $217 to $299 depending on whether someone is an AHIMA member.
It is not easy to quantify how much an RHIA certification is worth in a paycheck. According to the latest available numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, generally, health information managers earn a median salary of $96,540 annually. Some job search sites, such as Indeed.com, indicate lower salaries for these careers.
Although a RHIA certification is not the sole determinant of salary levels, a job candidate who is an RHIA may be able to command higher pay and more responsibility.
For example, in the past, AHIMA indicated through survey results that a healthcare coder with a RHIA credential could earn 15% more in pay than a coder without the certification.
Career growth and future outlook
A combination of heavy technology use in healthcare and an aging baby boomer population has increased the demand for health information management professionals, including RHIAs.
Medical and health services jobs -- including those for health information management professionals -- were anticipated to grow by 20% from 2016 to 2026, reported the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
While continuing to hold jobs in traditional healthcare settings, such as hospitals and long-term care facilities, RHIAs are also finding job opportunities in nonpatient settings that have ties to the medical field, according to AHIMA.
For example, interest in RHIAs has risen at insurance companies, technology vendors and pharmaceutical firms. This interest is likely sparked by the growing importance throughout healthcare of analyzing patient data for efforts such as population health management and value-based care.