An Essential in Today’s Healthcare: Medical Coding

The Department of Labor estimates that 30,000 new medical coding jobs will be generated in 2016. This suggests that the medical coding profession is a career growth area for the foreseeable future.

Taking accredited college courses via online education or distance learning can lead to:

  • An associate's degree (For example: ASMBC- Associate's Degree in Medical Billing and Coding)
  • A medical coding certificate (For example: CPC- Certified Professional Coder)

The best curriculum focuses on the proper codes to use when submitting medical procedures the patient received, for payment to insurance carriers or Medicare.

Training includes the proper coding practices, rationale and resource material for coding in a variety of situations. For example, as a Certified Professional Coder, you can work in a physician's office, hospital or a third party medical billing company.

Salaries for medical coders average from about $32,000 to $41,000 or higher depending on your employer, your experience and your education level. Several online medical coding programs exist that provide the classes necessary to become a medical coder. Continuing online education in the profession is also available.

Medical Coding and Billing Degree Information

While getting certified or a degree in medical coding and billing isn’t required for these positions, most employers definitely prefer to hire people with an associate’s degree or professional coding and billing certification. Certificate and diploma programs in coding and billing generally take between nine months and a year to complete. An associate’s degree in medical coding takes two years, but provides the student with further educational background that will help further their career in medical coding. A bachelor’s degree in healthcare management with an emphasis on coding and billing will allow the candidate to search for management positions in healthcare and offer further career options. A bachelor’s takes four years to complete.

Online Medical Coding and Billing Curriculum

Many medical coding programs offer online classes to acquaint students with both medical and coding information they will need to know on the job. These online programs prepare students to take accredited CPC (certified professional coder) exams to obtain certification once the course of study is completed. Typical courses will include some of the following:

  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Medical terminology
  • Medical billing and reimbursement
  • Workman’s compensation
  • HIPPA privacy and security
  • Ethics and law

These courses prepare students for work in either a physician’s office or in a hospital, two of the largest employers of medical coders.

Certification and Diploma

These nine month to one year coding programs teach all the basics of coding and billing knowledge and skills that coding candidates will need for employment. The cost for taking a comprehensive coding program varies, but most will be between $1400 and $1800 for the course. Textbooks, ICD manuals, videos and other incidental expenses are not included in that price. Prepare to study hard, and you can look forward to a burgeoning career path.

Associate’s

Getting an Associate’s in Science degree with a focus on healthcare and medical coding will take two years, but offers extra educational benefits such as math and science, writing and some humanity courses to ensure a rounded education. Students become fully prepared to work with a patient’s medical files. An associate’s degree in medical coding will include classes in ethics and law, communication, medical terminology, anatomy and coding methodology.

Bachelor’s

Programs in medical coding at the bachelor’s level offer degrees in healthcare administration and health information management. These programs take four years to complete and can range in cost from $40,000 to $70,000 and up. Costs depend on whether a student is full or part-time or lives on campus or off, and can vary according to other factors as well. However, with a bachelor’s and an emphasis in medical coding, a job candidate will have a greater variety in career options with higher pay.

Coursework

At whatever level of diploma or degree, medical coding students will take a large number of courses in medical terminology, anatomy and physiology and details of medical coding and billing. Other courses will likely include

  • Computer science
  • Computer applications
  • Database management
  • Body systems terminology
  • Electronic medical records
  • Coding methodology
  • Statistics
  • Physician-based medical coding
  • Hospital-based medical coding
  • Medical billing software
  • ICD-9 CM coding

Medical coding programs will vary depending on state and licensing requirements. Community colleges, vocational colleges and many universities offer specific programs in medical coding and billing.

Career Opportunities

The medical industry is one of the fastest growing industries in the nation, including the sub-specialty in medical information technology. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that medical coding and billing jobs are growing by 21 percent, faster than for other occupations. Medical coders work in physician’s offices, hospitals, outpatient hospitals, health care clinics, family practices and nursing homes. Insurance agencies and law firms occasionally hire medical coders to help ascertain fraudulent claims. Most coders work a full time 40 hour week. With an aging population in the United States, the country can expect more medical treatments, tests and procedures. With even more claims for health insurers, the call for medical coders will be needed to manage the growth in the medical industry.

Earning Potential

Average median salary for medical coders and billers is $32,350 as recorded by BLS in 2010. However, the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC), reported in its Health Care Salary Survey that certified medical coders are earning an average of $47,870 in 2012. Medical coders in doctor’s offices earned a bit less than coders and billers in outpatient hospitals. Job responsibilities, credentials and years of experience all impact a medical coder’s salary, so an entry-level medical coder may make significantly less than a more experienced coder.

Medical Coding FAQ

What types of jobs can I expect with a medical coding degree?

Medical coders can expect to work full time in a variety of medical settings. Doctor’s offices and hospitals employ the majority of medical coders, but physicians’ group practices, nursing homes, health care clinics and outpatient hospitals also employ a large number of medical coders. Medical coders can expect to be continually learning as the field changes. Coders can also specialize in either a medical specialty such as oncology or cardiology or in hospital or doctor’s office work.

How long does it take to earn a medical coding degree?

Getting certified as a medical coder can take as little as nine months to one year at a community college. Most medical coders go on to get an Associate’s in medical coding and billing in a two year stint, also at a community college. People who opt for a bachelor’s or master’s degree in medical coding or healthcare administration can expect to attend school for four to six years, but can expect higher salary levels when they do graduate and find jobs.

What are the highest-paying jobs for medical coders?

Medical coders on the west coast have earned consistently higher salaries at an average of $54,980 than coders in the Midwest or South. East coaster coders, however, earned almost as much as west coast coders at an average of $52,505. Besides regional location, educational levels determine salary amounts, with master’s degrees commanding higher salaries than those with an bachelor’s or associate’s degree. Medical coders who advance into medical auditing or teaching medical coding classes earned more money as well.

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