Healthcare team checking medical records

Medical Assistant vs. Health Information Technician

Learn the Differences in Duties, Responsibilities, Schooling, Requirements, Certifications, Salary, and Job Outlook

Healthcare team checking medical records

The medical field is full of career opportunities that offer a great deal of job satisfaction, stability, and compensation. Medical Assistants (MAs) and Health Information Technician (HITs) are two thriving careers in healthcare. Although MAs and HITS fill vital roles on a medical team, they have their own responsibilities, daily tasks, job outlook, and earning potential.

If you’re interested in becoming an MA or HIT but need more information regarding these careers, continue reading to learn about the differences between these dynamic roles.

(Click here to read our comprehensive guide on how to become a Medical Assistant.)

Medical Assistant vs. Health Information Technician: Definition

What is a Medical Assistant?

Medical Assistants wear many hats in healthcare. In addition to tending the front desk of a medical office or facility, they also assist with several clinical tasks. In fact, Medical Assistants can work in a variety of healthcare settings, and their duties may vary depending on their employer’s location, specialty, and practice.

What is a Health Information Technician?

Health Information Technicians (HITs), also known as Medical Records and Health Information Specialists, organize, manage, and code health information data. Like Medical Assistants, HITs can also work in various environments. These may include hospitals, offices of physicians, administrative and support services, and more.

Medical Assistant vs. Health Information Technician: Job Description

What Does a Medical Assistant Do?

Medical Assistants fill one of the most versatile roles in healthcare. They measure vital signs, help physicians during exams, and prepare laboratory samples for examination. Plus, they may schedule appointments and enter patient information into medical records.

What Does a Health Information Technician Do?

HITs use multiple classification systems to code and categorize patient information for insurance purposes into databases or registries. They also maintain patients’ medical backgrounds and treatment histories.

Medical Assistant vs. Health Information Technician: Duties

Medical Assistant Responsibilities

The daily tasks of a Medical Assistant may include some of the following job responsibilities:

  • Measuring vital signs (i.e., blood pressure, temperature, etc.)
  • Assisting physicians during examinations
  • Giving patients injections or medications as directed by physicians
  • Scheduling patient appointments
  • Preparing blood samples for lab tests
  • Entering patient information into medical records

Health Information Technician Responsibilities

The daily tasks of a Health Information Technician may include some of the following job responsibilities:

  • Review patients’ records for timeliness, completeness, and accuracy
  • Organize and update information in clinical databases or registries
  • Use classification systems to assign clinical codes for insurance reimbursement and data analysis
  • Electronically record data for collection, storage, analysis, retrieval, and reporting
  • Maintain confidentiality of patient records

Medical receptionist helping a patient

Where Do Medical Assistants Work?

It is not uncommon to find Medical Assistants in several different healthcare settings. Just to name a few of their potential employers, MAs can work in physicians’ offices, hospitals, outpatient care centers, offices of chiropractors, private healthcare facilities, laboratories, and independent clinics.

Where Do Health Information Technicians Work?

Health Information Technicians work in a variety of healthcare settings, such as hospitals, doctors’ offices, health clinics, and medical insurance companies.

Medical Assistant vs. Health Information Technician

Educational Requirements for Medical Assistants

While some states do not require a formal education, aspiring MAs typically enroll in postsecondary Medical Assistant education programs. Some employers prefer to hire experienced candidates who are prepared to enter the field. Some Medical Assistants will choose to get certified to further improve their career outlook when searching for jobs.

(To learn more about the available certifications in the Medical Assisting field, click here to read our Medical Assisting Certification Guide.)

Educational Requirements for Health Information Technicians

In the addition to certification, aspiring Health Information Technicians typically require a postsecondary diploma or associates degree.

(Click here to read our comprehensive study guide for the Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT) certification exam.)

How Long Does it Take to Become a Medical Assistant?

One great advantage to Medical Assisting school is the length of time typically required to earn your diploma. If your goal is to enter the medical field without spending years in school, then you should consider Medical Assisting for this reason. These programs usually allow you to graduate in a year or less. At Unitek College, for example, you can complete the Medical Assisting program in as little as 9 months.

The Medical Assisting curriculum will prepare you for several administrative and clinical tasks. The courses are varied and include instruction in areas like medical terminology, medical office procedures, medical and clinical procedures, basic anatomy and physiology, and more.

As you plan for your educational needs, remember to reflect on each school’s admissions requirements, program curriculums, financial costs, and course lengths.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Health Information Technician?

Health Information Technicians, also known as Medical Records and Health Information Specialists, usually need to obtain a postsecondary certificate. Some may even acquire an associate degree or higher. Depending on the path you choose, a formal education may require one to two years of full-time postgraduate study. They often include coursework in subjects like medical terminology, health data requirements and standards, and classification and coding systems.

In addition, employers might prefer to hire HITs who are certified. Some certifications that are available include the Certified Professional Coder (CPC), the Certified Coding Associate (CCA), and the Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT). While some certifications require candidates to pass an exam, others require graduation from an accredited program. In addition, most coding certifications also require experience in a work setting. Specialists usually renew their certification regularly and complete continuing education courses.

Medical Assistant vs. Health Information Technician: Salary

How Much Do Medical Assistants Make?

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average hourly wage for a Medical Assistant is around $18.00 an hour, and their average salary is about $37,000 per year. However, MAs who earn salaries in the top 10th percentile can make up to $51,000 (or more) per year.

Highest Paying Industries for Medical Assistants

According to the BLS, the following industries offer the highest wages and salaries to Medical Assistants:

Industry Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
Outpatient Care Centers $20.35 $42,330
General Hospitals $18.37 $38,200
Physicians’ Offices $17.59 $36,580
Offices of Other Health Practitioners $15.97 $33,210
Senior Homes & Assisted Living Facilities $14.84 $30,870

Highest Paying States for Medical Assistants

Medical Assistants earn the highest average wages in the following states:

State Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
Alaska $22.41 $46,610
Washington $21.97 $45,700
Washington D.C. $21.80 $45,340
Massachusetts $20.72 $43,090
Minnesota $20.72 $43,090

Highest Paying Cities for Medical Assistants

Medical Assistants earn the highest average wages in the following cities:

City Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
San Francisco, CA $25.94 $53,960
Vallejo, CA $25.80 $53,660
Santa Rosa, CA $25.25 $52,520
Seattle, WA $23.59 $49,070
San Jose, CA $23.57 $49,020
Sacramento, CA $23.37 $48,600
Olympia, WA $22.85 $47,530
Anchorage, AK $22.02 $45,790
Santa Cruz, CA $21.63 $44,980
Longview, WA $21.53 $44,780

How Much Do Health Information Technicians Make?

According to the BLS, the average hourly wage for Health Information Technicians is about $23 per hour. Salaried employees earn an average income of about $48,000 per year. However, Health Information Technicians in the top 10th percentile can earn up to $73,000 (or more) per year.

Highest Paying Industries for Health Information Technicians

The following industries typically offer some of the highest paying jobs for HITs:

Industry Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
Insurance Carriers $26.43 $54,970
Hospitals $23.49 $50,940
Medical & Diagnostic Laboratories $23.28 $48,430
Administrative Services $22.89 $47,600
Outpatient Care Centers $21.56 $44,850
Doctors’ Offices $20.71 $43,080

Highest Paying States for Health Information Technicians

HITs earn the highest average wages in the following states:

State Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
Washington D.C. $29.10 $60,530
Alaska $28.18 $58,620
Washington $27.35 $56,890
Massachusetts $27.23 $56,650
Minnesota $26.66 $55,450

Highest Paying Cities for Health Information Technicians

HITs earn the highest average wages in the following cities:

City Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
Kokomo, IN $34.36 $71,470
Trenton, NJ $33.86 $70,430
Kennewick, WA $32.48 $67,560
Vallejo, CA $31.29 $65,080
Corvallis, OR $31.14 $64,770
Stockton, CA $30.89 $64,250
Sacramento, CA $30.71 $63,880
San Francisco, CA $30.51 $63,460
Danbury, CT $30.21 $62,840
San Jose, CA $30.09 $62,590

Medical Assistant vs. Health Information Technician: Job Outlook

Medical Assistant Job Outlook

The BLS predicts that as a result of the aging baby-boomer population, and their rising need for preventive medicine, employment of Medical Assistants is expected to grow 19 percent by 2029. This growth is much faster than the rate of other professions, which just goes to show what a bright future awaits so many Medical Assistants.

Health Information Technician Job Outlook

Not only is the job outlook for Health Information Technicians expected to increase, but the BLS projects an 8% growth by 2029 alone. They largely attribute this growth to an aging population that will require more medical services. Health Information Technicians will be needed to manage this population’s health information data.

Smiling team of medical professionals

Why is a Health Information Technician a Great Alternative Career Path for Medical Assistants?

A career as a Health Information Technician could be a great choice for Medical Assistants who are interested in technology or informational areas. If you enjoy working with data and want to make a difference, then you might want to consider becoming a Health Information Technician.

Change Your Future with a Medical Assistant Diploma

With a Medical Assistant diploma, you can gain experience and jumpstart your career. While some Medical Assistants use their education to help them pursue other paths, many enjoy lifelong careers as MAs and advance their careers over time.

If you’re ready to take the next step, start by earning your Medical Assistant diploma in as little as 9 months at Unitek College.