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HIM Advocacy on Capitol Hill
By Stephanie Donovan

I recently had the opportunity to visit Washington, D.C., with the AHIMA for its 2011 Team Talks and Hill Day. I was a first-time attendee, but this was the eighth year that the AHIMA participated in Hill Day, bringing to light issues that are shaping the healthcare industry and, by extension, the entire HIM profession.

So what exactly is Hill Day? Essentially, it is an opportunity to build relationships and take our seat at the table as experts and advocates on behalf of HIM professionals across the country. Five of us represented Pennsylvania—a mix of educators, healthcare and hospital workers, and consultants—serving as advocates for the HIM field and the future of health management.

In meeting with our representatives and senators, we focused our advocacy efforts on four primary issues of importance to the HIM profession:

1. Promoting recognition and increasing awareness of HIM as a profession: This mission is important for a number of reasons. Perhaps most importantly, many people are aware of the variety of careers within healthcare that are centered on patient care but not the others necessary to keep an organization operating, such as HIM. Since HIM is not generally a well–known aspect of healthcare, attendees went with the goal of increasing overall awareness of the profession.

2. Workforce development: The maintenance and management of our evolving healthcare system requires fully educated and qualified HIM professionals. As part of efforts to improve America’s healthcare system, the federal government is mandating the implementation of EHRs. Unfortunately, the current HIM workforce is not prepared to meet the demands of working in the EHR environment because the existing skill set is different. We need to continue developing the workforce to be able to meet these demands and accurately reflect the medical advances of the 21st century. Continued funding and education is vital to the development and advancement of the HIM profession.

3. Protect the HITECH funding: The HITECH Act was enacted as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to promote the adoption and meaningful use of HIT. The federal government has set aside significant funds to put these programs in place, and as an association, the AHIMA strongly believes this is not the time to cut funding. We must keep moving forward until we see a return on these investments in HIT implementation. This will be an issue for years to come, regardless of what happens with the current budget battles. The continued funding of these programs is vital if we want to move forward and improve the state of our healthcare delivery system.

4. The need for a patient identity solution: HIM professionals understand the importance of a connected health network in which a patient’s health information can be quickly and safely accessed by providers all across the country. We also understand the risks associated with this kind of access.

With patient health records and other health information going electronic, the transfer of this information is raising the critical issue of patient identity integrity. A standardized patient identity solution is needed to protect patient privacy and ensure the smooth transfer of information across the entire health information infrastructure. For example, a unique health identifier standard (not the Social Security number, which increases risk of identity theft) would allow every patient to be uniquely identified while also protecting his or her privacy. Finding a solution is important to the future of the HIM profession and America’s healthcare system.

As students prepare for careers in HIM, it is important to be active in advocacy issues shaping the healthcare arena. HIM professionals definitely need to be part of the discussions involving these issues to help shape future legislation for healthcare based on our unique knowledge and expertise.

My Hill Day experience was inspiring and an important reminder that if you feel strongly enough about an issue, go and use your voice.

— Stephanie Donovan is an assistant professor and program manager of HIM at Peirce College in Philadelphia.