When Ashley Downing began looking for a career, the health care industry caught her eye — but she had one stipulation.
“(I) wanted nothing to do with blood,” Downing said.
The 26-year-old Wausau woman found a way to make that work. She now works as the supervisor of medical records at Aspirus, one of the few health care fields that doesn’t include patient contact or require her to deal with bodily fluids.
And there are plenty more where that came from. Medical-record jobs are expected to increase by 20 percent in the next seven years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, providing thousands of opportunities for people seeking the stability of a health care job but no patient interaction.
The projected expansion is one reason more colleges are offering health information programs. Rasmussen College immediately offered the program when it opened in Wausau in 2010. Northcentral Technical College also offers a program that trains people to work with medical records.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary in the field is $30,600, with the highest 10 percent of employees making more than $50,000 a year.
“Our graduates are going to be the key people for those jobs,” said Hertencia Bowe, national director for the health information management program at Rasmussen College. “It’s a high-demand job.”
The reason for the projected expansion is twofold, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For one, electronic medical records, already common in central Wisconsin, are being used in more and more hospitals and clinics. As part of national health care reform, providers have monetary incentives and could face penalties if they don’t incorporate electronic records by 2014.
Also, medical tests, treatments and procedures are expected to grow as the baby boomer generation increasingly needs more health care services.
“Things like that let us know this is going to grow,” Bowe said.
Essentially, people working with electronic medical records are the custodians of the records. They spend a lot of time putting in codes for procedures and tests that help streamline the billing and insurance process, Downing said. Medical records employees also analyze the data, and make it available to patients and providers.
At Aspirus, currently only nursing documentation is electronic, but doctors should be using electronic records by November, Downing said. That has provided new work for her 43-person staff as it continues to scan in records and prepare for the transition.
Sandie Miller of Rhinelander is one person who sees a future in medical records. The 48-year-old enrolled in the health information technology program at Rasmussen and takes most of her classes online, while continuing to work at Ministry Saint Mary’s Hospital scheduling patient appointments.
She said she wants to be proficient in terms of how to properly do coding in records as the hospital transitions to a new system.
“The growth did draw me in,” she said. “They’re predicting coders to be in really high demand.”