The healthcare industry offers a number of exciting and rewarding careers based upon delivering exceptional care to patient populations. As medicine and technology mingle to advance, the ever changing process medical coding – that is the practice of recording, processing, and reviewing medical data – is a growing field with a huge demand for qualified professionals.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the current job outlook for medical records and health information technicians is 22 percent, which is much faster than average. A Medical Coding Certificate is a credential that validates the expertise of a trained and qualified medical coder. After earning their certification, these individuals can go on to work in the billing office inside of a medical practice such as a hospital, physician’s office, outpatient center, or clinic. Medical coders are also the healthcare professionals who handle medical claims so that physicians and hospitals can be reimbursed for insurance payments. As you can see, medical coders are integral members of healthcare teams who require specific and continuing education to remain relevant within a dynamic industry.
What Skills are required for Medical Coding?
Anyone interested in a career in medical coding should be able to work with numbers really well and have excellent attention to detail. It is also important to have training in various types of administrative skills including submitting medical claims. Sometimes a medical coder will have to obtain additional information in order to file a claim successfully. Having solid interpersonal skills can help them communicate with physicians or other medical professionals, as well as representatives from insurance companies when they need to gather facts on a particular claim.
Certifications and other Educational Requirements for Medical Coders
Medical coders must have a high school diploma and a certificate from an accredited program. The American Academy of Professional Coders, or AAPC, offers certification courses where students can obtain their Certified Professional Coder certification as well as other related credentials. Students may attend classes in a traditional classroom setting or find accredited programs that are available online. These courses typically cost anywhere between $1,000 and $2,000. The AAPC recommends that all medical coders complete an anatomy course and a medical terminology course before they earn their certification.
Why choose to be a Medical Coder?
The job outlook alone is enough to convince many people who want to start a career in the health care industry to go the Medical Coding route. Finding a job this secure is difficult these days and the certification process doesn’t take a long time to complete. The median pay for a coder is around $16.42 per hour which comes to $34,160 per year. Even though technology has made it possible for software to do a large amount of a coder’s job, there is still a demand for a qualified technician to enter the data and follow up any issues with health care providers or the insurance companies. Most medical coders get to enjoy a typical 40-hour work week with weekends and most holidays off. A career in medical coding can also lead to even better, higher paying job opportunities such as medical office management or office operations.
A Medical Coding Certificate can open up many new doors for individuals interested in a secure job in the health care industry. This role allows certified coders to help all types of patients get their health care services paid for while also aiding insurance companies in tracking the money they reimburse to physicians. Their work can prevent fraudulent medical claims from occurring which in turn, allows insurance companies to keep their rates low and affordable.
Medical billing and coding carries tremendous responsibility upon which patient care, their course of treatment and related payments amounting to tens of thousands of dollars all depend. The precision required and the medical knowledge necessary to properly identify myriad health conditions and procedures means regularly scheduled training must occur in order to keep up with changes and advances in the health care industry. Therefore, proper certification can only come as a result of training through accredited schools to ensure certain standards are maintained.
There are two nationally recognized accreditation organizations that provide for allowing schools to certify students as medical coders. They are the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC) and the Commission of Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education (CAHIM). Schools you are interested in should list either one or both of these organizations, which can be cross-referenced to be sure. In addition, there are six regional agencies granting institutional accreditation, which are:
– Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools (MSA)
– New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC)
– North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (NASC)
– Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges (NASC)
– Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS)
– Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC)
Traditional universities and colleges receive regional accreditation. This is what makes it possible to transfer credits, the primary reason you want to find a properly accredited school. You don’t want to put in the time, effort and money only to find the school you have used is not able to transfer your credits when attempting to get certified or choosing other schools to further advance in your health care career.
Accredited Schools Offering Medical Coders Programs and Certification
What follows is a listing of some of the schools that offer quality, accredited programs:
The AAPC’s Online Medical Coding Courses are conveniently divided into modules including quizzes at the end of each segment so you can assess your progress. As a progressive course with the goal of sitting for exams, this is a very effective approach. In addition to reading, there are critical-thinking exercises and audio lectures. In addition to other learning materials, there is a team of certified coaches to help with the courses. Online courses allow you to study at your own pace anywhere you are comfortable and have Internet access. With AAPC, you are taking courses directly from the source.
The Medical Insurance Billing and Coding Program at Everest College is a nine-month course that offers training in medical insurance, claims processing and collection strategies, current procedural coding and diagnostic coding. The program includes simulated practice in preparing both manual and electronic insurance claims as well as practice at patient interviewing for documenting the information necessary to complete and manage claims.
Penn Foster Career School
The Penn Foster Career School has been regionally accredited by the MSA as well as nationally by the Accrediting Commission of the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC), which makes it possible to take the training course online. Their Medical Billing and Coding Classes Online may be completed as soon as seven months. In this course, students learn how to manage records and file insurance claims, how to prepare insurance forms, how to bill the doctors’ offices and clinics as well as private billing services. Students also complete real-world coding examples. This program includes preparing for the AHIMA certification exam in addition to providing for free membership in the AAPC.
Regionally accredited by the NCA, Kaplan University offers their Medical Billing and Coding Certificate Program providing for the knowledge and technical skills to become certified as a Medical Coder. This program highlights coursework that includes anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, data information processing, medical coding and billing, medical terminology, insurance billing and medical office management. Additional hours include practical medical billing and coding experience and administrative functions within the classroom lab setting. Prepare to sit for either the Certified Coding Specialist (CCS) exam or the Certified Coding Specialist physician-Based (CCS-P) exam.
Ultimate Medical Academy (UMA)
The Ultimate Medical Academy (UMA) offers accredited medical billing and coding diploma and degree programs either online or on campus in Tampa, Florida. The industry-relevant topics cover accurate coding of medical and surgical procedures, how to effectively process insurance claims, coding procedures, medical records, and applying ICD-9 diagnosis. Courses include Healthcare Settings, Healthcare Claim Cycle, Claims Processing, Medical Basics and Medical Practice Management Systems. These classes can be completed in 10 months. An associate of science in medical billing and coding, which can be completed in as few as 18 months, includes general education courses, such as English Composition, College Math, Sociology, General Biology and Critical Thinking and Problem Solving as well as a variety of electives.
These are but a few of the schools out there that offer excellent programs to become a certified medical coder or billing and coding. A well-established school provides well-versed professors and instructors. Take the time to engage with the schools to find out what their graduation rate is. With so many to choose from, there is no reason to settle for less. Choosing an accredited school gives you the advantage of the elevated standards of medical coding as well as the expanded choices of coding audits, physician practice management and regulatory compliance.
Be aware that with such high demand in the field, there are countless programs to evaluate and compare costs, features and benefits. Be careful to verify accreditation status. Do your research; find out what graduates are saying. Reflecting your accreditation on your resume demonstrates the desire to serve the public interest with a commitment to getting the job done that is only going to continue to increase in demand through 2020.
Medical coding professionals are an integral piece of the health care system. As more and more reliance is placed on the use of technology and digital records in health care, and as the demand for health care continues to rise, the medical coding career will also continue to grow in demand.
Medical Coding Overview
Using knowledge in medical terminology and business operations, medical coders document patient records using identified procedures and diagnoses. After reading through and extracting the information in order to assign a code, the medical coder enters the code into the computer.
In some cases, the medical coding professional will concentrate on one specific area of medicine, such as pediatrics, oncology, obstetrics, or cardiology. This is likely to occur in a large hospital or physician’s group office setting. Many coders will be required to have general knowledge of all areas of coding in order to handle any possible diagnosis or procedure.
Medical coders might work in large, urban hospitals, rural outpatient treatment centers, or suburban physician’s offices. Sometimes, the type of workplace is important when determining which education to pursue.
Certificate Programs in Medical Coding
Many certificate programs in medical coding can be found throughout the United States. The majority of these programs are offered through community colleges, and most of these programs enable a student to utilize credits earned during completion to be transferred to other universities for furthering an education.
The certificate is often the first step a future medical coder decides to take when beginning to complete the education requirements for medical coding. Some of the courses certificate students complete include physician-based medical coding, hospital-based medical coding, medical terminology, chart auditing, medical coding and billing software, and case studies in medical coding.
Associate Degree Programs in Medical Coding
While a certificate program requires completion of only 16 to 18 credits on average, the associate’s degree also include courses in general education. Many associate degree programs in medical coding can be divided into two categories for future professionals to begin specializing in one area. For example, some institutions include both a physician’s track and a hospital track.
Typical course in either of these tracks are similar, with students completing elective courses in one area or the other. Common course work for both concentrations includes coding anatomy and physiology. coding compliance, ethics in coding, diagnostic coding, procedural coding, and evaluation and management.
In addition to certificate programs offered through colleges and vocational programs, there are also a number of certificates for medical coders to obtain in order to both enter into the field after graduation or for exemplifying skill and knowledge in order to advance within the field.
For many organizations an companies, the Certified Coding Associate (CCA) designation is required in order to work as a coding specialist and to advance into leadership roles and management. Additionally, the Certified Coding Specialist (CCS) and the Certified Coding Specialist-Physician-based designation (CC-P) are designations that improve opportunities and employment consideration.
Additional Education for Advancement
Medical coding professionals might also choose to move on and advance within the field. Entry level positions in medical coding are often helpful for gaining skills for future careers in health care administration, health information management, and medical office management. After earning a certificate or associate’s degree in medical coding, professionals often have a number of the skills needed to continue on to complete a bachelor’s degree in one of these areas of the industry.
Course work in these programs includes similar classes to the certificate and associate’s degree programs in medical coding. In addition, students in these programs will complete courses such as medical law and ethics, principles of managed care, medical record management, medical information technology, and health services administration.
The completion of a training program in medical coding, whether at the certificate or associate’s degree level, prepares graduates for work in an in-demand, fast-paced, interesting and rewarding career field. With the choice to continue a career in medical coding or advance a certificate or associate’s degree with further education, medical coding professionals have a number of options and opportunities.
Do you dream of traveling the world but love the stability of a steady paycheck? Do you have great attention to detail and want to be part of a growing industry? A career in medical coding can provide all of that. Here are some great options if your wanderlust and inner-homebody both want a satisfying career.
The medical coding industry is expected to grow almost 20 percent in the next decade. The new Affordable Care Act shifted the responsibility for higher deductibles to the public, creating a need for doctors to increase pinched cash flow. Great coders offset that need by ensuring all records are coded correctly which allows for claims to be paid faster. The need for medical coders is also on the rise because of the new ICD-10 coding system, set to go into effect in 2015. This system increases the number of coding options by the thousands. Needless to say, those in the industry have a steep learning curve. But the upside is this creates more job growth and opportunity in this industry than before.
How to Get Started Traveling the U.S.
Medical coders who travel are known as ‘travel coders’ or ‘remote coders.’ Most have multiple certifications and extensive education in the field. Many have also worked in the industry for a few years, too.
But you can start without any experience or education, in some cases. Here’s how it works: There are companies nationally that both train and pay for medical coders to travel. Companies that hire travel coders include: sourcemed.net, onassignment and Altegra Health services, to name a few well known recruiting services.
How it Works
Hospitals, health firms and departments need either additional coders or outsource their coding entirely. Travel coders arrive at the location and work to either overhaul a big project, working in tandem with the company coders, like on audits, or will work to help an organization ‘catch-up’ on its claim records.
The job includes travel on assignment for different hospital and health departments around the U.S., for at least one month. Once you’re vetted, and this can take anywhere from one to three weeks, some hospitals will pay for you to fly home on weekends.
Sound good? Medical coders can have anywhere from four to ten assignments in one year. They get to see the U.S., traveling from state to state, where needed. It gets better: Some companies will pick up both your travel fare to fly home weekly and your housing expense, depending on their budget or strong need in the area. Not bad.
Travel Outside the U.S.
Some medical coders relish the idea of working internationally. There are ways to have a career that allows you travel. Simply, it’s telecommuting medical coding.
Telecommuting coders are also known as ‘remote medical coders’. They work off site from businesses, and they can work from anywhere in the world.
What to look for? Find companies that have moved entirely to EHR (electronic health records) systems. These are places that can work with you remotely, since all records are digital. These are also companies who are more likely to hire someone remotely, cutting down on their travel or housing expense cost in hiring you as a remote coder, rather than travel coder. Also, these are companies that either have staff and need the extra support, or are small firms, needing coding support without the cost output of hiring a full-time employee.
Coders who telecommute can and do work anywhere in the world, though they must have both access to internet, video chat and phone, to be in touch with their company. Some work part of the year as travel coders in the U.S. and the rest of the year in telecommuting jobs, traveling the world while working.
How Do You Get in the Door?
If you want to telecommute and travel the world, start with recruitment groups who specialize in placing medical coders and inquire whether they know any companies looking for a telecommuting coder.
Try Linked in Groups and reach out to recruiters there. Also, become a member of AAPC, the biggest medical coding certification organization.
Be aware that most telecommuting coders have worked in the industry for a few years, and already have the basic knowledge of an organization’s flow as well as multiple certifications in the industry.
If you want to find a stable job and travel, medical coding as a travel coder or remote coder is a great option. Not only will you have peace of mind, earning a stable paycheck, but you’ll be able to see the world while doing so.
Completing training within the field of medical coding can open educational avenues and pave the path to your greatest career aspirations. One of the best ways to ensure success is by obtaining your associate’s degree in an accredited medical coding associate degree program. Since the average, annual income for medical coding professionals typically begins around $32,000 annually per to Payscale.com, any and all educational and real life work experiences will enable you to be more qualified and better compensated than others with less training and experience. Whether you elect to complete studies online or on campus, an associate degree will make you more marketable and increase your eligibility for a higher earnings, better promotions, and career opportunities.
Some people may be lucky enough to get into an open entry level position in the medical field without their associate’s degree; however, later on down the road if they wanted to reap further benefits in the medical coding field, they would most likely opt to earn their associate’s degree. All medical coders, regardless of their backgrounds, are vitally integral to the operations of all healthcare offices and facilities. Since they are responsible for the reporting, classification, and recording of patient care, diagnosis, and treatment, all health care providers are dependent upon their abilities and accuracy. As medicine and technology evolve, certified medical coders often opt to advance their studies within associate degree programs. Plus the pay incentives are great for degree holders!
An associate degree in medical coding requires a two year time investment. The curriculum includes courses that cover subjects such as: Anatomy and Physiology, CPT Medical Coding, ICD-9 Coding, CPT-H Hospital Coding, Pharmacology, Medical Terminology, Health Care Technology, Insurance and Billing, and Medical Machine Transcription. Many people may be under the impression that an associate’s degree is not enough to acquire a job as a medical coder; however, that assumption is completely inaccurate. There are many health care facilities willing to hire graduates with their associate’s degree in medical coding.
Continuing education in a related discipline may be required if you wish to continue education in the healthcare industry. The result of the constant change and revisions to the guidelines in the medical industry make even the mot experienced medical coders complete continuing education programs. Sometimes associate degree graduates will not be eligible to apply for certification unless they complete certificate programs. Therefore, it is imperative to receive your degree from accredited institutions if you are serious in establishing yourself in the medical coding profession.
Several options exist for those who wish to expand their educational foundation beyond their primary area of expertise and main sources of income as a certified medical coder. Many people obtain their Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT) Certification. Those who hold associate degrees have the capability and option to become certified as a CPC (Certified Professional Coder). The CPC is issued by the American Association of Professional Coders and is the most reputable, nationally recognized certification organization. The CPC Certification denotes a candidate’s capability for comprehending Medical Terminology, being familiar with Anesthesiology, Surgery, Radiology, Patient Evaluation, coding rules and reimbursement. Medical coders who became certified in their CPC’s experienced a salary increase by 20%, converting the non-certified medical coders’ initial salary of $31,096 to $45,404. Again, the only way to qualify as a candidate for taking the CPC exams and achieving certifications in medical coding is if you have your associate’s degree. Often if experienced coders desire to later on maximize their credentials, they often are preferred candidates over other less qualified candidates.
Obviously, if you want to strive for the higher salary, you would have to accomplish more years of schooling and/or certifications, beyond an associate degree. However, an associate degree does serve as a huge stepping stone into the healthcare profession of medical coding by opening the doors to many entry-level coding positions in hospitals and other health care facilities. It is a much needed and growing field, and with an associate’s degree you can expand your training and gain access more opportunities than a non-graduate.
Medical coding, sometimes referred to as medical classification, is a standardized process involving the assignment of alphanumeric and numeric codes to the medical diagnoses of patients and the procedures that were performed. Medical coders use lab results, medical records, or transcribed physician’s notes to determine the codes for various diagnoses and procedures.
Medical codes serve several purposes. In addition to being used on Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement forms, diagnostic request forms, and insurance claim forms, medical codes are also very useful for statistical and research purposes in order to track heart disease, flu, diabetes, and other major diseases and illnesses.
Types of Medical Codes
Medical coders use CPT codes, or Current Procedural Terminology codes, to code virtually everything from spinal surgery to simple office visits. ICD codes, or International Classification of Disease codes, are also used to identify the reason for a patient’s visit and their diagnosis. Medical coders must be well-versed in both CPT and ICD codes as combinations of these codes are regularly used on insurance, Medicaid, and Medicare claims forms to inform the necessary agencies of a patient’s problems and the care that they received.
The Difference Between Medical Coding and Medical Billing
While medical billers may also serve the function of medical coders in some settings, billing and collection is their primary concern. Medical coders, on the other hand, are not primarily concerned with billing or money-related matters. Rather, their primary concern simply lies in the accurate reporting of patient diagnoses and the specific medical care they received.
In other words, the primary role of certified medical coders is to act as translators between doctors and medical billers. They review the medical records of patients, which are written by physicians, nurses, therapists, technicians, and other medical professionals, and compare it to the established standards of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the American Medical Association, and commercial health insurance plans. Then, they distill the written information provided by healthcare providers into standardized codes.
Diagnoses and procedures are translated into codes found within the Healthcare Common Procedural Coding System, the Current Procedural Terminology, and the International Classification of Diseases. These codes are used by medical billers to submit claims for the reimbursement of medically necessary services at agreed-upon rates by insurance companies and any other third-party payers. Public health officials, researchers, internal auditors, and statisticians also use these codes to determine the health of the patient population. As such, medical coding has a multitude of ramifications that not only affect the financial health of healthcare providers and institutions, but also public policy in general.
Becoming a Medical Coder
While a great number of medical coding professionals have boosted their careers by earning undergraduate and graduate degrees in the field, neither is a requirement for individuals seeking a lucrative career in medical coding. A bachelor’s or master’s degree may not be a requirement, but prospective medical coders must possess a solid understanding of medical terminology, physiology, and human anatomy. Thus, it is highly recommended for individuals serious about a career in this rewarding field to complete a course of study that focuses on medical coding, such as an Associate’s degree program.
Those interested in a career in medical coding should take courses to prepare for and pass the CPC exam in order to gain the credential of a Certified Professional Coder. Certified Professional Coders, known within the industry as CPCs, are in extremely high demand as employers know they have the requisite skills needed to perform their job function with the utmost proficiency.
No ordinary person can pass the CPC exam and become certified without experience and accredited training, which can be obtained through public and private universities, community colleges, and online study programs. Many medical coding training programs require students to perform an externship and become a Certified Professional Coder Apprentice, or CPC-A, for one year.
Pursuing a degree in the medical field allows for a diverse career with vast opportunity. A medical coding certificate acknowledges that you are educated in coding procedures and have completed the proper training to work with insurance claims. Since medical coders are responsible for analyzing, reviewing and processing medical claims for reimbursement, this isn’t a position or career that can be learned quickly. Extensive training regarding billing laws, medical terminology and knowledge of CPT and ICD-9 codes is required to fulfill job duties. Being educated with such a diverse range of diagnosis codes allows you to function as a professional within a clinical setting generating insurance bills and invoices for clients and insurance companies. All medical coders must abide by strict guidelines set forth by insurance companies and company policies. Their work is cross-checked and audited by a supervisor or outside source. A medical coding certificate also allows you to work in multiple offices that may have different roles and specialties. Some medical coders work as independent contractors, filling in for other employees or assisting with overflows of work.
Choosing to complete a medical coding certificate program allows you to refine your abilities and expand your knowledge in the field. Investigating available certificate options and researching the differences in certificate programs ensures participants get the right training and skills which appeal to potential employers. A medical coding certificate allows you to showcase your expertise not only on your resume but when utilize your knowledge and skills in the workplace.
Individuals interested in pursuing a medical coding certificate must be cautious about where the certificate and the education required to obtain it are pursued. Many programs offer medical coding certificates but not all programs are the same. Only choosing schools which offer courses backed and endorsed by the American Academy of Professional Coders or AAPC ensures the quality education necessary to establish the educational foundation needed for building a successful career. Selecting an AAPC certified program allows you to specialize your training or earn a specific credential in particular area. Since there are medical coding certificates that are recognized by professional and government agencies such as the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services or CMS, taking the time to thoroughly research potential programs ensures you find the best one to not only suit your training needs but also align your educational experience with your career aspirations.
Here is a list of the different Medical Coding Certificate programs available:
CPC Certified Professional Coder
The CPC Certified Professional Coder is one of the most popular of medical coding certifications. This designation allows participants to utilize all of the fundamentals of coding that are generally used in a physician or outpatient medical office. The correct application of codes is essential for billing and proper filing in the patient’s permanent medical file. Enrollees will learn all of the basics of coding including HCPCS procedure and supply codes, as well as ICD-9-CM codes that correspond with patient diagnoses and procedures.
CPC-P Certified Professional Coder-Payer
With this payer coder credential, students will be able to use the education and experience of the CPC-P medical coding certificate to apply for positions in accounts payable. This credential allows you to perform coding duties and overview and easily process medical bills and claims for the return of payment. You may find positions in:
Depending on the facility you work at, you’ll be able to use your education to demonstrate advanced aptitude and reimbursement methods to fulfill your job duties. You will also showcase your knowledge of medical coding guidelines.
CPC-H Outpatient Hospital
This credential and code certification allows participants to gain knowledge of the rules and regulations of coding as pertaining to a hospital or outpatient setting. You will easily understand how reimbursement works and be up to par on all of the compliance issues related to outpatient and hospital billing systems. Enrollees will learn more in-depth knowledge of medical terminology, plus human anatomy and physiology. Exploring the ICD-9-CM codes more in depth will allow you to take your expertise to anesthesia, pathology, radiology and surgical services units within a clinic or hospital.
Specialty Medical Coding Certificate
Specializing your medical coding certificate allows you to expand your resume and grow within your career. This is an especially important factor in the course of your entire medical coding career. Because of the ever-changing diagnosis codes and billing practices, advancing technologies, and evolving relations within insurance companies, governmental organizations (including Medicare and Medicaid), and medical systems, medical coding professionals are required to participate in continuing education programs to stay informed of changes in the field.
Several specialty certificate programs allow participants to gain advanced knowledge and expertise in coding, especially in particular medical settings. These are stand-alone credentials that you can add to validate your knowledge in coding and billing. CPT, HCPCS and ICD-9-CM applications are reviewed during the study and testing process. From there, you can decide on your specialty or area of concentration such as:
• Pain Management
• Emergency Department
• General Surgery
• Internal Medicine
• Surgical Foot & Ankle
Your medical coding certificate does not confine you to work in one location pertaining to county or state. You can use your certificate in any work setting, including hospital, physician office or a medical clinic.