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July 2013

Do MTs Still Love Their Jobs?
By Linda G. Brady, CAE
For The Record
Vol. 25 No. 10 P. 32

An AHDI survey sheds light on that question and others.

Driven by its mission to protect the integrity of patient health information through continuous workforce development and the support of practitioners and industry partners and its strategic goal in workforce development, the Association for Healthcare Documentation Integrity (AHDI) conducted a career and professional development survey in March and April to understand the attitudes, challenges, and preferences of health care documentation professionals. The goals were to assess career attitudes, uncover professional roadblocks, ascertain where health care documentation specialists turn to for continuing education, and understand how the AHDI and the broader health care community can better serve and represent the workforce.

More than 2,700 people responded to the online survey, representing a diverse group of health care documentation professionals. A majority reported their primary role to be practitioners (eg, medical transcription, speech recognition technology editing, EHR documentation, scribe), managers/supervisors, educators, and quality assurance specialists. A smaller proportion indicated they were new professionals, unemployed students, recruiters or trainers, sales or marketing professionals, business executives, or senior management. Most said they are full-time employees of either a medical provider or a health care documentation outsourced service organization. A smaller group indicated they were employed by educational institutions and technology companies.

Survey respondents were seasoned professionals: 76% reported working in health care documentation for five or more years, with more than 50% having 15 or more years of experience. Despite the considerable professional experience, an average of 61% indicated they do not hold a credential of any type. Of those sporting credentials, 31% are certified medical transcriptionists; 7% are registered medical transcriptionists; 4% hold an RHIT or RHIA; 1% are certified as a CCA, CCS, or CCS-P; and 11% indicated they hold a credential that was not listed in the survey. An unknown portion of respondents held multiple credentials.

Workforce Attitudes
It’s well-known in industry circles that health care documentation specialists are facing numerous challenges and obstacles. Job stress combined with an uncertain future has placed enormous strains within the ranks. The survey set out to assess how documentation specialists felt about their chosen field.

The AHDI believes that with passion comes determination. Therefore, it fashioned specific survey questions in the hopes of getting a read on how health care documentation specialists will respond to changing job roles in the EHR era. When polled about their chosen profession, 41% said most of the time they love their career, while 33% indicated they like it.

From those numbers, it appears that the passion still burns for health care documentation specialists and medical transcriptionists despite the myriad changes occurring in the field. What the AHDI does not know is how these attitudes compare to previous years or other professions, making it important for the AHDI to continue to keep its finger on the pulse of the workforce to spot trends over the course of time.

Through open-ended comments, the survey allowed health care documentation specialists the opportunity to candidly and confidentially share what they most like about their career, what they find most challenging, and what is most frustrating. The responses revealed important feedback that will be examined by the AHDI’s volunteer leaders, staff, and committees so that the association can continue to provide valuable resources, tools, and benefits to its members and the broader health care documentation community.

Survey respondents viewed the ability to work from home and job flexibility as important job considerations and excellent benefits. However, as health care documentation specialists take on new tasks, such as direct entry into an EHR or EHR auditing, working from home may become less of an option.

At the same time, health care documentation specialists shared that they are lifelong learners with a strong commitment to building their knowledge base and conducting research to enhance their work lives. The accuracy, completeness, and integrity of the health record as well as their contributions to patient safety and quality care continue to be the driving force behind why they enjoy their occupation.

When the AHDI examined what issues kept health care documentation specialists up at night, several common concerns emerged from among the thousands of answers, including the following:

• Why am I not being recognized for the value I bring to my organization?

• How do I balance quality with the demands of production and turnaround times?

• What does the future hold for me?

• Will I be able to make a living wage?

• How will I keep pace with change?

These concerns speak to the AHDI’s vital role as the professional association representing the health care documentation workforce. Its national leadership board, component associations throughout the country, and special interest alliances all focus on and support the development of practical solutions, best practices, resources, and position statements to help members navigate these hurdles.

Furthermore, its advocacy and alliance-building work to connect the AHDI and its members to policy makers, standard-setting organizations, industry thought leaders, and other key stakeholders continue to be mission critical. By joining and participating in the AHDI, the association’s voice becomes louder, and it can continue to make progress in addressing member concerns.

Education and the Future
The survey examined how health care documentation specialists maintain their knowledge base and keep their skills up-to-date. In general, the data paint a picture of a workforce devoted to learning, with 70% of respondents saying they read profession-related articles, books, and online content. Online courses were a popular learning option, with 45% of respondents saying they have opted for that educational tool.

AHDI members (42%) were more likely to attend in-person events such as seminars and conferences compared with nonmembers (27%). Online discussion boards brought up the rear as far as education options go, with 25% having taken part in the activity. It is hoped that cross-tabulating the data based on demographic profiles will provide the AHDI with greater insight into how the association can best deliver continuing education and content to its members.

In the survey’s final section, a series of questions was posed to better understand member and prospective member needs. Respondents were asked to rank the importance of seven statements on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being most important. The results revealed that health care documentation specialists find it most important to be positioned as a professional who plays a crucial role in patient care and safety. Continuing education, keeping current on news and trends, being viewed as an expert among peers, and understanding the future of health care documentation also ranked high in importance.

In terms of whether to join a professional organization, the survey data indicated health care documentation specialists weigh several factors, including cost, the organization’s ability to influence policies and practices, and the organization’s values and beliefs.

Final Thoughts
In summary, the survey results have revealed new findings and validated many long-held assumptions. Receiving this frank and open feedback will play a crucial role in guiding the AHDI forward in how it shapes programs, benefits, and advocacy messages. The association invites and encourages health care documentation specialists to become partners in the mission to positively impact the profession’s future and protect the integrity of patient health records.

— Linda G. Brady, CAE, is CEO of the Association for Healthcare Documentation Integrity.