What Is a Medical Records Technician? (+ How to Become One)

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Medical records technicians are integral to managing and organizing the systems for patient records. Here’s a look inside this role and how to get started.

[Featured Image]: A medical records technician, wearing a gray uniform, is going over a patient's records on her computer.

Ever wondered how your medical records are maintained behind the scenes of your doctor’s office? Medical records technicians (MRTs), sometimes known as health information techs, are the administrators who manage patient records in a hospital or clinic. 

Technology has helped health care organizations digitize their medical records, making them more efficient and accessible for the patient, the health care provider, and the insurance company. Medical records technicians play a critical role in ensuring patients’ confidentiality, as well as optimizing the systems of record-keeping so that the health care organizations can run smoothly.

Here’s a look inside the role of a medical records technician, and how to get started.

What is a medical records technician?

A medical records technician is responsible for the administrative tasks of maintaining patient records. Rather than dealing with diagnoses or treatments, these technicians are in charge of updating and organizing information, ensuring that records comply with health care system standards.

Medical records technician tasks and responsibilities

As a medical records technician, these are the typical tasks you’d be responsible for: 

  • Recording patient records, including data entry of classification codes for symptoms, diagnoses, procedures, treatments, and prescriptions for insurance reimbursement and further data analysis

  • Inputting this information into electronic databases and registries

  • Ensuring these records are confidentially collected, stored, and analyzed, as well as easily transferred to other medical providers’ offices

Skills needed

To become a successful medical records technician, you’ll need both technical and workplace skills. Here are the most common skills required:

  • Technical skills 

    • Familiarity with computer systems and software applications

    • Expert in Excel, Word, and code selection software, and medical record applications like Vista and CPRS

  • Workplace skills

    • Detail-oriented, to be precise about coding and verifying patient information

    • Organized, to keep track of all the systems, records, and databases

    • Trustworthy, to maintain patients’ confidentiality

    • Analytical, to solve problems and analyze data 

    • Interpersonal skills, to discuss record-keeping with doctors, finance professionals, and health insurance providers

Types of technicians

In addition to medical records technicians, there are two other types of medical records technicians and health information specialists:

  • Cancer registrars are like general technicians, except they focus on assigning classification codes to keep track of patients’ cancer or tumor diagnoses and treatments and maintain facility and national databases. They may also use this information data analysis to further research on cancer treatments and recovery.

  • Medical coders are the individuals who assign codes for patient care, population health statistics, and billing. They go through the data to determine whether a patient has preexisting conditions or concurrent treatments, and will make sure they’re coded properly, acting as the liaison between health care providers, billing offices, and insurance companies.

To learn more about electronic health records (EHR), watch this video:

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electronic health records (EHR)

Salary and job outlook

As a medical records technician, you should expect to make a median salary of $45,240, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics [1]. The predicted job growth for this role between 2020 and 2030 is 9 percent, slightly faster than the average of 8 percent for all occupations [1].

How to become a medical records technician

To become a medical records technician, you’ll need at least a high school diploma or equivalent. Here’s how to get started.

Do I need a bachelor’s degree?

No, you’ll only need a high school diploma or equivalent to become a medical records technician. The Bureau of Labor Statistics mentions that it is trending among employers to require a certification either before or soon after you begin working. However, a bachelor’s degree can only help you get noticed by employers, and earning an associate’s degree (with typically shorter programs) can be just as effective in elevating your resume and employability.

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1. Gain the skills you need.

You can learn many of the technical skills you’ll need as a medical records technician on the job. Transferable skills, such as familiarity with coding software applications, organizing and analyzing data on Excel spreadsheets, and workplace skills such as organization, time management, and attention to detail, should be presented in your resume, cover letter, and interview.

A great way to boost your skill set is by taking online courses. You may also decide to earn an associate degree, preferably a program that is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education. This national group ensures that the universities stay up-to-date with the standards of medical information management. 

2. Complete a certification.

There are training programs that provide accredited certifications, for which you’ll have to learn the material and pass the certification exam. The Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT) program gives licenses through the American Health Information Management Association, and the Certified Tumor Registrar (CTR) program provides licenses from the National Cancer Registrars Association as well as the American Academy of Professional Coders

  • RHIT: This exam focuses on seven categories, which are revenue cycles, legal matters, quality assurance, information technology, compliance, coding, and data analysis. Exam takers are given 3.5 hours to complete 150 questions [2]. You’ll need a score of at least 300 out of 400 to pass the exam [2].

  • CTR: This exam focuses on six categories, which are data quality assurance, analysis, data usage, operations and management, cancer committee and conference, and activities of centralized registries. Exam takers have 4.5 hours to answer 235 questions [2]. You’ll also need at least 300 out of 400 on the score scale to pass the exam [2].

3. Choose where you’ll work.

Medical records technicians can work for a hospital, clinic, doctor’s office, nursing home, insurance company, or even a public health organization. Because MRTs typically only need a computer and a phone and are mostly dealing with electronic records, they are also able to work remotely. 

When applying for jobs, read through job listings to make sure they are entry-level positions. If you have similar experience and transferable skills, you may be qualified for a more advanced or specialized role.

4. Continue learning.

Learn on the job and ask your manager for more projects, if you want to continue advancing into managerial or specialist roles. You may be interested in pursuing higher education, such as a bachelor’s, associate's, or master’s degree to get higher, better paying roles. 

The field of health information technology is vast and in demand. Building your skills in coding and systems is a great start to advance your career.

Start your health care career today

Looking to start as a medical records technician, or even a health care IT support specialist? With Johns Hopkins’ specialization in Healthcare IT Support, you can learn how to solve technical problems that help support public health in this ever-evolving field. 

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Article sources

1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Medical Records and Health Information Specialists, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/medical-records-and-health-information-technicians.htm.” Accessed May 24, 2022.

2. Your Free Career Test. “What does a Medical Records Technician do?, https://www.yourfreecareertest.com/medical-records-technician/.” Accessed May 24, 2022.

Written by Coursera • Updated on

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