Member spotlight: Janell Austin

Member spotlight: Janell Austin

The Health Information Management (HIM) industry is responsible for collecting, organizing, and analyzing health information that tells the story of a patient’s health journey. The work of cataloging and protecting this information is conducted by a team of health information professionals who work behind the scenes to ensure that patients’ medical information is accurate, accessible, and safe. Health Information professionals work at the intersection of health, business, and technology and help contribute to a greater understanding of patient care and medical treatments.

Surrounded by the hum of computers and the increasing digital health landscape, HIM has shaped the profession and profoundly influenced the merging of health care and technology. Janell Austin, a coordinator for the Department of Health Information at the Shuswap Lake General Hospital, has been a HIM professional for over two decades. Janell compares health information management professionals’ work to the role of a librarian, stating, “health information management is the Dewey Decimal system of health information.”

Let’s meet Janell Austin.

Kelly Wilson: Your biography mentioned that you were first introduced to health information management through an ad in a tiny green pamphlet. What was it about the ad that resonated with you?

Janell Austin: At the time, I had been working at a stationery store that had gone bankrupt. One day, I came across a pop-up college information session. There were a lot of programs being showcased, but a humble-looking photocopied green pamphlet caught my eye, and it was the one that had health records written on the front. That’s what we were called at the time—health records. I remember asking about the program, and it intrigued me. I have always loved health care and been interested in the culture of health care, and I thought this may be a good fit for me.

Kelly Wilson: How has the health information landscape changed over the years?

Janell Austin: The field was overwhelming and filled with paper when I first started. Health information has drastically shifted and evolved into an intricate system that collates health information electronically. It has been a slow evolution yet an important shift.

Kelly Wilson: You spent some time working in public health. How did this experience prepare you for your current role?

Janell Austin: Public health was intense. During the first ten years of my career, when I worked as a coder, I didn’t have a lot of forward-facing interactions with the public. While in public health, I worked with health inspectors and public health nurses–it was the opposite of my previous role. I was hired in public health because of my HIM background. The level of confidentiality and integrity with data was the standard that they were looking for. Public health prepared me for my current coordinator role.

Kelly Wilson: I read that you feel that the values of your current organization—Interior Health, align with your own. Can you elaborate on these values and how they influence your approach to your work?

Janell Austin: Yes! The values of Interior Health are built on quality, integrity, compassion, and safety. For me, quality means if you make a mistake, you fix it. Integrity is recognizing that we are all part of a team that is connected and are vital pieces of this department, treating each other with respect. While we deal with a lot of information, we also deal with people, especially when it comes to the public’s request for the release of information. We do our best to respect their request and ensure that we give them the service they deserve—service with a smile. Safety can mean many things in health care, but I have this philosophy: it may take a little longer, but it will be done right.

Kelly Wilson: Based on your extensive experience in health information management, what advice would you give someone just starting their career in this sector?

Janell Austin: To my fellow HIM professionals and those aspiring to join this field, I offer this advice: be humble. The learning never ceases, so become comfortable with a constantly evolving environment. View mistakes as learning opportunities and take your successes as they come. There is no ego in this craft, so use your resources, take advice, and collaborate with the team you work with. Learn to type (laughs). Typing is really a fundamental skill in this role and the budding electronic world.

Health information management is ever evolving, with new technologies and challenges emerging. As Health Information Professionals continue on their career path, it is evident that they are armed with experience and a passion for innovation, which contributes to the vital role that health information management plays in shaping the future of healthcare.

Biography: Janell Austin

I had always been interested in Health and Medicine, so when I stumbled upon a tiny green pamphlet advertising the HIM program, I knew it would be a fit for me! I attended the two-year HIM program at Saskatchewan Polytechnic (formerly SIAST) in Regina, Saskatchewan from 2000 to 2002. During the first year, we studied ICD9 coding and in the second year, the transition to ICD10 occurred, so we then trained in that system. Once I graduated and successfully passed the National Exam, my job search began!

I was fortunate to obtain employment at the Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops, British Columbia. I worked with the coding team for ten years learning and growing through every chart I coded. At the ten-year mark, I moved and began working as a HIM professional with the Public Health sector In Yorkton, Saskatchewan. It was both interesting and different from my years in acute care coding, but it readied me for my next adventure as a Coordinator for Health Records at Shuswap Lake General Hospital. This is where I now live, work, and play!

I enjoy my role as Coordinator just as much now as the day I started. My position involves both leadership and coding and I enjoy working for Interior Health as their values align closely with my own.

Janell Austin, CHIM, Coordinator, Health Record Services, Shuswap Lake General Hospital, Interior Health

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