There’s a lot more to the healthcare system than treating patients. With the vast amount of sensitive data to be protected and a wide range of services to record and bill for, medical coders fill a required role in healthcare administration.
But, what does a medical coder do exactly? What sort of education and work experience does it take to become a medical coder? Let’s go over these details and more so you can learn how to become a medical coder and see if it’s the right choice for you.
Medical coders are healthcare professionals who enter the codes for various lab work and treatments for billing. As a medical coder, you enter these codes to speed up the billing process for both patients and insurance companies.
The healthcare industry uses a standardized set of healthcare billing codes to speed up the billing process. Rather than describing everything done for a patient, medical codes allow for treatments to be charged appropriately without having to decipher a block of text.
Also, these medical codes make it easier to keep personal health records and follow health trends over time. Rather than searching through written reports, epidemiologists can instead review how often certain medical codes show up in billings. With this data, these healthcare professionals can identify trends in both directions for health outcomes.
As a medical coder, your ability to enter this data quickly and accurately allows for other administrative parts of the healthcare world to do their job faster.
In general, medical coders work in doctor’s offices and hospitals. Here, medical coders take the information given to them by nurses and doctors and turn those treatments and tests into billable services via medical codes. Those codes can then be sent to patient history files and insurance billing services to help the practice get paid.
However, medical coders can find work in places outside the doctor’s office. Governments and lawyer’s offices hire medical coders to help decipher medical bills when claims come up in legal disputes. Also, some insurance companies outsource their medical coding to third parties who hire medical coders for this separate company, allowing them to bill for a wide range of customers.
There is no set path when figuring out how to become a medical coder. While some medical coders will go earn an associate’s or bachelor’s degree before getting into the field, it’s possible to achieve a medical coding certificate after high school without a specific college degree.
However, different employers will have different preferences for their job postings. You’ll need to check the listings in your area to see what employers look for in applicants.
Additionally, there tend to be more opportunities for promotion for medical coders with a bachelor’s degree or higher. If doing more than medical coding is part of your career plan, you might want to consider taking this route over a straight certification path.
Training to become a medical coder has a foundation in learning medical codes and protecting patient confidentiality no matter what route you take to get trained up for the role.
When it comes to coding, medical coders will learn various coding classifications throughout their program. ICD-DM coding and ICD-PCS coding are the two common coding systems used in healthcare systems, so expect there to be a heavy emphasis on these codes when training.
Since medical coders also work with money and patient records, you’ll want to expect some training with those as well. Revenue cycles and billing practices will be a minor part of your education. HIIPA and similar patient confidentiality practices will be part of the training, too.
To round all of this out, you’ll have to learn medical terminology to understand the treatment plans as they come in. Without this vocabulary in your toolbelt, you won’t know what the medical staff is talking about.
There isn’t a set path to becoming a medical coder, so the time it takes to achieve this career will differ between folks.
A certificate program will be the fastest way to get into the career. These programs can last between nine and twenty months, meaning most folks will be in their new job within two years. However, going for an associate’s or bachelor’s degree through college will mean two to four years of education, which may or may not line up with your certification process.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for medical coders is $45,240. This is a little bit less when compared to other health information workers like information technologists and surgical assistants. But, this is also a little above the average for roles like patient record specialists and health registrars.
The bottom and top end of pay for medical coders are $28,800 and $73,370, respectively. Overall, this means that as a medical coder, you can expect a salary that will be liveable, especially in the upper half of earners within the field.
Medical coding as a career has a good outlook. The healthcare field continues to grow at a fast pace, meaning that jobs are almost always out there for medical coders. The field has seen a 9% growth in job numbers since 2020, following the United States national average.
Additionally, medical coders have room for promotion, especially with higher education. Medical coders can, with experience and a bachelor’s degree, make their way to medical services management positions. These positions put you at the head of a health admin team and have an average annual salary of $104,280.
Medical coders translate patient treatment and services into billable invoices and patient records. These data can then be used to generate revenue for the healthcare practice and ensure that other healthcare professionals can follow along with what a patient has had done for them so far.
Now you know how to become a medical coder. If you want to get into healthcare without treating patients, an administrative role like medical coding could be great for you! Check out some of the openings in your area and read the job descriptions and responsibilities. If they sound interesting, start looking at education and certification programs in your area!