Alum reveals all about Medical Coding, Health Information Technology programs

INA, Ill. (July 1, 2015) – Two health care programs at Rend Lake College go perfectly hand-in-hand with each other and an increase in job availability across the country. The Health Information Technology (HIT) and Medical Coding (MEDC) programs prepare students to go out into the working world in a year or less, but don’t take our word for it.

MEDC and HIT graduate Veronica Reed of Sesser and Angela Richard, RHIT, Health Information Management Director, and Privacy Officer at the REA Clinic in Christopher, tell all about the programs at RLC and the clinical experiences that go along with it.

Reed graduated last month with her Associate in Applied Science degree in Health Information Technology, a degree she combined with her MEDC certificate, which she earned in May of last year, to help her on her job search. After missing the deadline to enroll in the Nursing program at RLC two years ago, Reed said she started looking into other health care programs.

“I knew I wanted to do something in the health care field. I consulted with Kim Wilkerson [Dean of Allied Health] and she suggested the Medical Coding program by telling me there would be a new Health Information Technology program up and running by the time I finished. It sounded very interesting to me, so I enrolled,” said Reed.

VeronicaAtWork wVeronica Reed completed her clinicals at the REA Clinic in Christopher for the Health Information Technology degree. She said, "Everything I had read about or learned in the classroom came together for me when I had the opportunity to have a hands-on experience." Click on the image for a larger view.
(ReAnne Palmer / RLC Public Information)

The Medical Coding program requires 29 credit hours – or two semesters – of work to receive an occupational certificate. During the program, students learn to condense information from physicians, nurses, and other health care staff and assign codes to that information to create a claim to be paid by the patient or others. The certificate prepares students to sit for licensing as a Medical Coder.

During the MEDC program, Reed completed the clinical requirement at a local hospital. This past year, she finished her HIT program clinicals at the Rea Clinic in Christopher. Both, she said, have positives that taught her the differences between classroom and hands-on work.

“Everything I had read about or learned in the classroom came together for me when I had the opportunity to have a hands-on experience,” explained Reed. “Then in the classroom, I was tested on everything I had experienced and was taught, and I was able to focus on the subjects I didn’t understand as well. Both the classroom and clinical experiences were beneficial to me and they go hand-in-hand.”

Reed’s clinical coordinator Angela Richard said the clinical experience is important for both the student and the health care facility. Not only was she impressed with the knowledge Reed brought with her from RLC’s program, but she used Reed’s knowledge to help with keeping up with an annual grant the clinic receives through the Bureau of Primary Health Care.

“We want to support the students and help them apply their education in a real setting,” said Richard. “Veronica was very helpful when it came to hospital statistics and working with medical records for our annual grant. She came at a very good time. I was amazed that she already knew ICD-10 (the new medical coding system). We haven’t changed over to it yet. When she came here, Veronica had a basic knowledge of everything she needed to know, and we put that to use.”

Richard, a 25-year plus veteran working in health information, said the clinical experience is set up much like the routine of a patient to give the students a view of all the functions in each department.

“We like to put our students into the workflow of the building as if they were a patient,” she explained. “We start at the front desk where a patient checks in, and the student works with the patient through that process. They also follow the nursing staff to see what they do, and they visit billing and health information. Everything that a patient does here, the student also does.”

For Reed, that meant getting to put her hands into a variety of areas.

“It was a lot of going back and forth, and every day was different,” said Reed. “I was good at asking a lot of questions. The first time I saw medical records, everything clicked into place and a lightbulb went off. You have to see it and use it to be able to really understand. I am so thankful for the experience I had at the Rea Clinic. There are just certain things you can’t understand in a classroom unless you actually have the opportunity to have the hands-on experience you get at your clinicals, such as working with actual medical records, we didn’t have that option in the classroom.”

The HIT program requires 66 credit hours of coursework that results in an Associate in Applied Science degree. Health information technicians organize and manage health information data in hospitals, physician’s offices, clinics, and other health care facilities, on both paper and electronic systems. Serving with administrative and technical skills, technicians maintain many components of health record systems.

AngieVeronicaOutside wVeronica Reed, LEFT, and Angela Richard are pictured outside of the REA Clinic in Christopher. Richard said, "We want to support the students and help them apply their education in a real setting." Click on the image for a larger view.
(ReAnne Palmer / RLC Public Information)

“I was obviously nervous on the first day of my clinical, because I didn't know what to expect, but the staff made me feel comfortable right away,” added Reed. “Angela was always willing to take time out of her busy schedule to answer any questions I had. Everyone who I worked with was extremely patient and very helpful. I learned so much from each member of the staff.”

Not only was the staff helpful, but Reed said two instructors at RLC also pushed her in the right direction. Lora Phillips, MEDC and HIT Instructor, and Charlotte Henry, Director of the HIT program, both played an important part in her education.

“The instructors at Rend Lake are great. Charlotte Henry (Director of the HIT program) is still very helpful. Even now when I’m getting ready for an interview, I’ll call or text her with a question and she’s always there to answer,” said Reed. “She goes above and beyond.”

For students interested in the two programs, Reed had a bit of advice to share.

“What I would say to a student who was looking into the HIT program is that it is a great program for an individual who is interested in pursuing a career in the health care field. Health Information Technology is an emerging, growing field in healthcare, offering an array of career opportunities,” said Reed.

There are several courses available in the HIT and MEDC programs this fall, including Intro to Health Information, Health Data and Statistics, Management in Health Care, Pharmacology for Health Information, Intro to Medical Coding, Medical Law and Ethics, Electronic Health Records, Health Care Terminology, Anatomy and Physiology Fundamentals, and Pharmacology for Health Information.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, both careers are growing across the country due to an aging baby boomer population. Medical coders can expect to see 6,400 new jobs by 2022 compared to 41,100 for health information technicians during the same time.

To learn more about the Medical Coding program at RLC, contact Lora Phillips at 618-437-5321, Ext. 1776 or [email protected]. For more information about the Health Information Technology program, contact Charlotte Henry at 618-437-5321, Ext. 1772 or [email protected].

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