How to Become a Medical Coder | Step-by-Step

Medical coders play a vital role in the healthcare system.

These experts ensure hospitals, doctors’ offices, clinics, and other facilities receive proper payment for patient services.

Medical coders use health management systems, medical record-keeping software, and other technologies.

It allows them to document treatments and bill the insurance companies for the patient’s medical services.

Medical coders interpret medical treatments and assign the correct codes to the patient’s bill.

It ensures the healthcare facility receives proper compensation/reimbursement.

As a result, medical coders must understand the medical codes required for proper billing procedures,

They must also have adequate knowledge of anatomy, physiology, medical terminology, and database management.

Computer science, mathematics, communication, biology, chemistry, and health education courses are beneficial.

If this sounds like a great career and you want to become a medical coder, here are the steps you can take to get there.

How to Become a Medical Coder

The following section covers the various steps needed to become a medical coder.

It includes earning a diploma, researching programs, enrolling in a medical coding/billing program, gaining experience, and getting certified.

1. Get your Diploma

To become a medical coder, you must first obtain your high school diploma or GED.

However, you can start earlier to develop your education if you attend high school.

In that case, taking computer science, mathematics, communication, biology, chemistry, and health courses is beneficial.

It enables you to complete specific requirements for certain medical coding specialty credentials.

You’ll want to research the various medical coding certifications to determine the necessary prerequisites.

2. Research Medical Coding Types

There are numerous types of medical coding certifications.

It includes medical coders, professional coders, outpatient coders, risk adjustment coders, and inpatient coders.

As a result, you must research the different certifications to determine which specialty best suits your interests and skills.

Types of Medical Coding

  • Certified Medical Coder
  • Certified Professional Coder
  • Certified Outpatient Coder
  • Certified Risk Adjustment Coder
  • Certified Inpatient Coder

Each certification qualifies medical coders for jobs within particular healthcare facilities and departments.

Not all medical coding positions require individuals to hold a certification to qualify for the job.

However, many employers, agencies, and healthcare facilities prefer medical coders with the appropriate certification.

It ensures the applicant is appropriately trained and has completed a nationally recognized certification program.

3. Enroll in a Medical Billing/Coding Program

The next step to becoming a medical coder is to enroll in a 1-year certificate program or 2-year associate’s degree.

That said, earning an associate’s degree in medical coding can take up to three years.

Those looking to enter medical coding promptly may join a one-year program to earn their certificate.

It enables them to begin working quickly, make money and accept entry-level positions.

In contrast, individuals interested in gaining further experience can apply for a two-year associate’s degree program.

The higher your education is, the more opportunities you’ll have to apply for different jobs and earn a higher wage.

There are no direct bachelor’s degrees in medical coding.

However, some occupations, like registered nurses, receive medical coding certification to become RN coders.

Depending on the school, some medical coding programs offer online courses.

It enables students to study from home rather than at school.

As a result, students learn at their own pace and eliminate the need for transportation.

It also allows students to learn during the nights and weekends when regular schools are closed.

Students must ensure the school offers a nationally recognized accredited program.

Therefore, it’s beneficial to determine whether a qualified organization accepts the certification.

It includes the American Health Information Management Association and the American Academy of Professional Coders.

4. Gain Career Experience

You’ll want to apply for an entry-level medical coding position to obtain work experience after you’ve completed school.

Institutions like AHIMA recommend at least six months of experience before taking the medical coding certification exam.

However, you may pursue the medical coding certification exam directly by skipping the work recommendation.

It depends primarily on the certification and the organization providing the exam.

You may apply for a medical coding job in various healthcare institutions.

It includes hospitals, physician’s offices, outpatient care facilities, and other healthcare establishments.

Once you’ve obtained a job, gain experience to provide yourself with career advancement opportunities.

You may need to accept entry-level positions in the early stages.

However, the certification exam gives employers more assurance about your abilities and competence as a medical coder.

5. Earn your Medical Coding Certification

As previously stated, you may need previous work experience or apprenticeship before applying for certifications.

Completing the certification exam through an accredited organization is highly recommended after obtaining sufficient work experience.

It enables you to accept more challenging roles and earn more money.

The American Academy of Professional Coders and the American Health Information Management Association offer certification.

Not all medical coding jobs require certification to be eligible for the position.

However, many healthcare facilities and organizations prefer medical coders with accreditation and certification.

It represents the applicant’s training, knowledge, and expertise.

Medical coders have an enormous responsibility to ensure accuracy when managing medical data, patient bills, and other related information.

Therefore, medical coders are often highly regulated.

They may be subject to frequent audits to ensure they follow proper procedures and apply the correct billing codes.

Medical coding certification assures employers you understand the procedures and medical codes necessary to be effective.

It also allows applicants to earn a higher salary and enter advanced careers not available to non-certified medical coders.

6. Update Your Resume

Once you’ve obtained certification, you’ll want to update your resume.

Updating your resume shows employers the latest credentials, which helps you land jobs more successfully.

It also provides the best opportunities to receive well-paying jobs and pursue career advancement opportunities.

If you have work experience and multiple certifications, display those skills.

You can find various online services that will tweak your resume, provide feedback, and ensure it looks professional.

7. Find a Job

The final step to becoming a medical coder is to find a job.

There are numerous positions and organizations you can submit your resume.

It includes administrative support, hospitals, physician’s offices, management companies, outpatient care facilities, technical services, and government agencies.

You’ll also want to network with medical coders or healthcare workers in school, social networks, and social spaces.

They can provide information on career openings and a reference during interviews.

Besides that, look for jobs requiring coding services and skills related to your credentials.

There are numerous types of medical coders, so you’ll stand a better chance of getting hired by applying for the right jobs.

Benefits of Being a Certified Medical Coder

There are numerous benefits to being certified as a medical coder.

Firstly, certified medical coders earn higher salaries, and those with two certifications receive notable salary jumps.

They also obtain jobs faster and more smoothly due to their certification.

Certified medical codes are more likely to receive remote assignments, work-from-home jobs, and freelance employment.

It’s because employers are more confident in their skills and accreditations.

Finally, certified medical coders can advance into higher-paying fields to earn more and accept additional responsibilities.

It includes clinical documentation improvement, compliance, medical auditing, and practice management.

They can also seek careers in education or other disciplines.

Some medical coders make six figures a year at the high end of the income gap.

However, it requires proper training/certification, suitable occupation, and obtaining jobs in fitting locations.

How Long is Medical Coding School?

The length of medical coding school varies depending on the program.

For instance, the medical coding certificate takes approximately one year to complete.

Those who pursue an associate’s degree in medical coding typically require 2 – 3 years to complete the program.

Obtaining an associate’s degree is lengthier and more expensive.

However, it provides medical coders with more career opportunities and higher salaries.

Some students earn their certification and begin working immediately to make money and develop their experience.

It enables them to support themselves financially and learn while resuming their education to obtain an associate’s degree.

Registered nurses or other healthcare professionals may pursue education to specialize in medical coding.

It still takes the same amount of time to become certified medical coders.

However, you can apply their previous education to the time needed to become an RN coder.

Becoming a registered nurse takes approximately two to four years of nursing school.

In addition, to earning an ADN/BSN, RNs spend one to three years obtaining medical coding certification or a degree.

The time needed to be an RN coder is more prolonged than becoming a medical coder or registered nurse.

However, it enables these professionals to enter medical coding, utilize their specific skills, and earn excellent wages.

Continuing Education Courses

Once certified as a medical coder, you’ll need to take continuing education units regularly to maintain certification.

These courses occur every one to two years.

They ensure you stay updated on current medical coding technology, practices, and information.

You can also take supplemental courses and certifications to advance your career.

Why Medical Coding is Essential

There is a corresponding code for every injury, diagnosis, and medical procedure a doctor or physician treats.

The medical coders interpret a patient’s treatment and assign the correct codes to their medical records/billing.

A growing medical code base with thousands of codes requires highly talented and educated specialists.

As a result, it’s becoming increasingly important for healthcare facilities to find and hire talented medical coders.

These specialists understand computer systems, anatomy and physiology, medical coding, and medical terminology.

It enables them to apply the correct medical codes, so healthcare facilities receive fair compensation and avoid legal actions.

Incorrect code usage, manipulation, and coding errors cost companies thousands or even millions.

It also creates unnecessary legal issues due to inaccurate billing.

Therefore, highly qualified medical coders significantly manage some clerical and billing aspects of healthcare.