Medical coders play a vital role in the healthcare system by ensuring that hospitals, doctors offices, clinics and other healthcare facilities receive proper payment for the services they provide their patients.
Medical coders use health management systems, medical record keeping software and other technologies to record patient medical treatments so that they can bill the insurance companies for the services/treatments the patient received.
Being able to properly interpret medical treatments and assign the correct codes to the patients bill is vital for ensuring that the healthcare facility receives proper compensation/reimbursement.
In addition to understanding the medical codes required for proper billing procedure medical coders must also have an adequate knowledge and understanding of anatomy, physiology, medical terminology and database management.
An education in computer science, mathematics, communication, biology, chemistry and health can help prepare you for a career as a medical coder.
If this sounds like a career you’d like to start in and you’re still interested in becoming a medical coder here are some steps you can take to get there.
How to become a medical coder
Step #1) Get your deploma
In order to become a medical coder you must first obtain your high school diploma or GED.
If you already have your degree you can jump to the next step, however if you are currently attending high school you can get a jump start towards becoming a medical coder by taking courses in computer science, mathematics, communication, biology, chemistry and health.
Once you’ve obtained your degree the next step towards getting into the medical coding field is to look for a school that offers
The next step towards become a medical coder is to look for and apply to a school that offers an accredited 1-year certificate program or 2-year associates degree.
Those looking to quickly gain entrance into the field of medical coding may enter into a one year program in order to earn their certificate while individuals interested in gaining further experience can apply for a two year associates degree program.
The higher your education is the more opportunities you’ll have to apply for different jobs and earn a higher wage.
While obtaining a bachelors or masters degree can provide medical coders with the ability to enter into advanced career fields it is not necessary when first getting started in the medical coding field.
Depending on the school you apply to some medical coding programs offer online courses that allow you to study from home rather than having to go to school.
These programs allow you to study at your own pace and eliminate the need to find transportation to and from school.
It also allows you to study during the nights and/or weekends when regular schools are closed.
Most importantly make sure the school you apply to offers an accredited program that is excepted by a certification organization such as the American Health Information Management Association or the American Academy of Professional Coders.
Step #3) Gain career experience
After you’ve completed the medical training program the next step is to either apply for a position in the medical coding field or taking the medical coding certification exam (explained in step 4).
Depending on your interest and/or the certification program you completed you may apply for a position in a number of healthcare organizations/facilities such as a hospital, physicians office, outpatient care facility or another healthcare facility.
Once you’ve obtained a job in the medical coding field you’ll want to gain as much experience as possible in order to provide yourself with future opportunities for career advancement.
Some healthcare facilities may prefer that you gain your certification before they hire you as the certification exam provides them with more assurance about your abilities and competence as a medical coder.
Step #4) Earn your medical coding certification
Depending on the certification program you apply to take you may be required to have amount of work experience or apprenticeship training before you can apply for certification.
After you have completed the required education and training it is highly recommended that you obtain certification through an accredited organization such as the American Academy of Professional Coders or American Health Information Management Association.
While certification may not be necessary for obtaining a job in medical coding many healthcare facilities and organizations that are interested in hiring medical coders are often interested in hiring applicants that have obtained their certification as it represents the applicants training, knowledge and expertise in the field.
Medical coders have a large responsibility to ensure they maintain accuracy when managing medical data, patient bills and other related information, therefore medical coders are often highly regulated and may be subject to frequent audits to make sure they are following proper procedures and applying the right codes to their patients medical bills.
Obtaining certification provides better assurance to employers that the proper procedures will be followed.
It is also allows applicants to earn a higher salary and potentially gain entry into advanced careers that may not be available to non certified medical coders.
Step #6) Take continuing education courses as needed
Once you become certified as a medical coder you may be required to take continuing education courses ever year or two in order to ensure that you stay up to date on current medical coding technology, practices and information.
You can also take additional courses to help you advance further in your career.
Why medical coding is an important and growing field
For every injury, diagnoses and medical procedure a doctor or physician treats there is a corresponding code and is the medical coders responsibility to interpret the treatment and assign the correct codes to the patients medical records/billing.
With a growing medical code base and thousands of codes to choose from it is becoming increasingly important for healthcare facilities to find and hire medical coders that understand anatomy, physiology the medical terminology necessary to ensure that the correct codes are being applied to their patients records.
Incorrect code usage, manipulation and coding errors can cost companies thousands or millions of dollars and create unnecessary legal issues, which is why highly qualified medical coders play a significant role in managing some of the clerical aspects of healthcare.