There are a lot of institutions out there that provide a medical coding certification. It actually all depends on you to choose the one that suits you best based on your career goal.
Medical coding, just like medical billing is a very in-demand job these days. Needless to say, these jobs play a very important role in the healthcare industry.
Medical coding along with medical billing is considered the backbone of the healthcare industry as they process billings and payments from insurance companies.
As of 2019, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics has recorded 341,600 people employed under the Medical Records and Health Information Technicians job category, which includes medical coding.
Furthermore, BLS projects an 8% growth — which is faster as compared to other job categories/industries — in the said industry between 2019 and 2029.
The increasing demand for both medical coders and billers are caused by the continuous digitization of the healthcare industry. Thanks, indeed, to digital technology as this brought changes on how things are done and essentially opened up for more job opportunities.
By the way, the medical coding and medical billing industry also provide work from home jobs, which makes it even more attractive to a lot of people – making it one of the most sought after online jobs out there.
Moving on, as mentioned, the industry offers a lot of medical coding and billing job opportunities, but how does one become a certified medical coder in the first place (which, by the way, is a key requirement if you want to pursue this career)?
Well, if you have the same question in mind, you are in the right place because, in the next few sections, we are going to share with you essential information about the job, and of course, a step-by-step guide on how to acquire a medical coding certification.
For your reference, we are going to particularly tackle the following important points:
- What is medical coding?
- What does a medical coder do?
- Who qualifies to become a medical coder?
- How much does a medical coder make?
- How to become a certified medical coder?
WHAT IS MEDICAL CODING?
For those who are totally new to the idea of medical coding, this is for you.
When getting into something like medical coding, it is important to fully know and understand what the job is all about first.
Do not just jump into something you are not fully aware of as you might end up not landing in any job opportunity at all.
Now, as mentioned earlier, we are here to provide you with some of the most important details about medical coding – and one of them is to provide you with the definition of the job.
So, what is medical coding?
Generally, medical coding is defined as the act of translating healthcare diagnoses, medical services, and procedures, prescriptions, as well as equipment into universal medical alphanumeric codes.
Medical coding practitioners help ensure that all codes are applied properly during the medical billing process including assigning the appropriate codes, abstracting the information from documentation, as well as creating a claim to be paid by insurance carriers.
It is important to note that the process of medical coding happens not just once, but every time a patient sees a healthcare provider, which makes the job very essential in the healthcare industry.
By the way, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) regulates medical codes, which are standard among medical facilities so that data can be transferred efficiently across the country.
WHAT DOES A MEDICAL CODER DO?
In the last section, we defined what medical coding is all about. This time, let’s get to know deeper what the job entails.
Medical coders play a big role in the internal workings of most hospitals, clinics, doctors’ offices, and other medical facilities.
It helps streamline illness reporting and is also very important in terms of tracking disease prevalence, as well as effective treatments.
What medical coders do actually depend on their working environment. However, according to Glassdoor, these are the common responsibilities of a medical coder:
- Assign codes to diagnoses and procedures, using ICD (International Classification of Diseases) and CPT (Current Procedural Terminology) codes
- Ensure codes are accurate and sequenced correctly in accordance with government and insurance regulations
- Follow up with the provider on any documentation that is insufficient or unclear
- Communicate with other clinical staff regarding documentation
- Search for information in cases where the coding is complex or unusual
- Receive and review patient charts and documents for accuracy
- Review the previous day’s batch of patient notes for evaluation and coding
- Ensure that all codes are current and active
Again, to be more specific with what the job requires, it is best to check the office or medical facility you are eyeing for as the job description varies from one medical institution or office to another.
WHO QUALIFIES TO BECOME A MEDICAL CODER?
If you are eyeing to work as a medical coder, it is important to know the requirements to get into a medical coding job.
Similar to the job description, every medical institution or office has its own set of requirements for the job.
But, Glassdoor has listed down some of the common requirements for a medical coding job, and it includes the following:
- Associate’s Degree in Medical coding or successful completion of a certification program
- Strong knowledge of anatomy, physiology, and medical terminology
- Excellent typing and 10-key speed and accuracy
- Commitment to a high level of customer service
- Superior mathematical skills
- Familiarity with ICD-9 codes and procedures
- Solid oral and written communication skills
- Working knowledge of medical jargon and anatomy preferred
- Able to work independently
Again, we highly recommend checking the job requirements set by the medical institution you are eyeing for to have full knowledge of what they are looking for.
Before we move on, if you wish to know if medical coding is indeed right for you, here’s an insightful video by Contempo Coding you should check out:
HOW MUCH DOES A MEDICAL CODER MAKE?
So, in the previous chapters, we’ve talked about what medical coding is all about, what medical coders do, and the requirements for the job.
This time, we’ll talk about another important aspect of the job — the salary.
So, how much does a medical coding professional make?
According to FlexJobs, the pay for medical varies depending on where you work. Your credential is also another factor to be considered to determine your pay.
However, generally speaking, as of 2018, the median salary of a medical coder ranges from $35,520 and $43,470.
Meanwhile, based on the data by BLS, the median pay for medical coders as of 2019 is $42,630 per year or $20.50 per hour.
HOW TO BECOME A CERTIFIED MEDICAL CODER?
Now that we have already tackled what medical coding is about, what medical coders do, the qualifications employers are looking for, and the expected salary range, in this section, it’s time to share with you the process of acquiring a medical coding certification.
A medical coding certification is important especially if you are aiming for a higher salary or a higher job level. Needless to say, most employers require a medical coding certification for the job.
So, with that said, here’s a step-by-step guide on how to get a medical coding certification:
1. Pursue an education.
The primary step towards getting a medical coding certification is to choose an education.
There are actually four routes to consider — all of these, though, require you to finish high school, or obtain a GED, or get a high school diploma equivalent.
Once you have acquired any of these, the next step is to choose between the following education routes:
- Certificate or Diploma Program
- Associate Degree Program
- Bachelor’s Degree Program
- Training Courses
Now, let’s dig deeper into what each route has to offer –
Certificate or Diploma Program
First among the options is to get a certificate or diploma program. Please take note that these two are different from one another.
Certificate programs usually require the least time to complete, while the diploma program requires a longer period of time.
Also, another difference between the two is that a certificate program is slightly more restrictive curricula, while diploma programs have a better-rounded curriculum.
Normally, both certificate and diploma programs may take between 4 to 12 months to finish. Depending on the institution you choose, it could cost you around $800 to $4,500. Of course, diploma programs are more expensive than certificate programs.
Associate Degree Program
As compared to certificate and diploma programs, an associate degree program is usually more expensive and requires more time to finish.
However, earning an associate degree may bring more career options for you as many employers these days prefer job candidates with an associate degree in medical coding.
It is important to note that an associate degree program takes two years to complete and usually costs between $6,000 and $13,000 depending on your chosen institution.
Bachelor’s Degree Program
If you wish to more competitive, and you aim for higher-level positions in the medical coding industry, we recommend you take this route.
Normally, students who wish to pursue a medical coding career obtain their bachelor’s degree in healthcare administration or health information.
By choosing this route, which is to obtain a bachelor’s degree, you get to have a comprehensive education as well as training that prepares you well for your career ahead.
Generally, a bachelor’s degree program takes four years to finish, and as compared to the other education options, it usually costs a lot. The cost could range between $36,000 and $120,000 depending on the course you’ll take and where you’ll take it.
The last education route available is taking up training courses. This option, however, is only available for individuals or students who have strong knowledge of topics like medical terminology and anatomy.
There are certain credentialing organizations that offer preparation courses for a lot of medical coding certification examinations.
What’s nice about taking up training courses is that most institutions offer classes entirely online.
Also, training courses can usually be completed in just four months or less. The cost varies depending on your chosen institution.
2. Choose a school that suits you.
The second step towards getting a medical coding certification is choosing a school that’s right for you.
Keep in mind that as long as you choose an accredited program, the school you’ll go for will be all up to you.
When in doubt, we recommend you ask around. Talk to students from different programs and ask for feedback and opinions. This will greatly help as you choose the right school for you.
Also consider researching what each school requires, how long the program takes, and how much it costs. Another factor to look into when choosing a school is their passing rate for certification exams. The higher their rate is, the better.
To give you an idea, some of the institutions you may consider based on popularity in the medical coding industry are as follows:
American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC)
The American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC) is one if not the most popular institution among medical coding and billing professionals alike.
Launched in 1990, AAPC is currently the world’s largest healthcare training and credentialing organization with 190,000 members as of to date.
AAPC offers a wide selection of medical coding courses at very affordable prices.
Also, the APPC website is known to have an extensive knowledge base that provides students with various resources in the medical coding field.
American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA)
The American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) or is another popular choice among individuals who wish to pursue a medical coding career.
Founded in 1928, AHIMA is one of the oldest accreditation organization in the country. Needless to say, with its vast experience in the medical coding industry, the institution sets the bar in this field.
As of this writing, AHIMA is associated with 52 states, and have over 103,000 members.
Currently, AHIMA offers a wide selection of certification programs including professional and facility coding, documentation improvement, medical records management, as well as professional and facility coding, and privacy and security. These programs are ideal for both inpatient and outpatient coding. Thus, making it an ideal choice if you want to pursue a medical coding career in hospitals or inpatient facilities.
These certification courses by AHIMA costs around $299 each.
University of Cincinnati
Part of the University System of Ohio, the University of Cincinnati offers a fully remote asynchronous medical coding program.
The University’s medical coding course can be finished in as short as 12 months if you enroll full-time.
As soon as you finish the course, you are automatically eligible to sit either for CCA or CPC national certifications.
Students also have the option to transition to the Associate Degree Program in Health Information Systems if they wish to.
The only requirement to be able to enroll in the said program is to have at least a high school diploma or equivalent.
Meanwhile, tuition fees vary depending on your residence. For Ohio residents, it costs around $6,144 per semester for full-term enrollment. Non-Ohio residents must expect a higher tuition fee.
Hutchinson Community College
Founded in 1928, the Hutchinson Community College in Hutchinson, Kansas offers a Healthcare Coding Specialist Certificate course.
The course is offered entirely online and is consists of 45 credit hours.
The course is very flexible. In fact, students have the option to complete it in a span of three semesters.
Furthermore, students may opt to pursue further advanced studies as most credits earned in this program are applicable to the college’s Health Information Management Associate in Applied Science degree.
To get into the program you must have a high school graduate with a minimum cumulative grade point average of 2.0 on a 4.0 scale for the final six semesters of high school, a minimum cumulative grade point average of 2.0 on a 4.0 scale for a minimum of 12 semester hours of college, or a minimum GED average standard score of 58.
Since it is a community college, the tuition fee is definitely much cheaper. In fact, for in-state students, it only costs around $116 per credit hour, while out-of-state students may have to pay around $147 per credit hour.
3. Take and pass your certification exam.
The last, but certainly not the least step in the whole process of acquiring a medical coding certification is taking and passing the certification exam.
You will have to choose your preferred certification exam between AHIMA and AAPC.
Yes, they are the same institution that provides medical coding courses as well.
Medical Coding Certification through AHIMA
If you opt to pursue your certification and take the examination offered by AHIMA, you will have to choose one among its three levels of Certified Coding.
- Certified Coding Assistant (CCA) – To be eligible to take this certification, you will need a high school diploma, at least 6 months of work experience, and of course, completion of an accredited certification program.
- Certified Coding Specialist (CCS) – This certification requires at least 3 years of workplace experience and additional coursework in anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, as well as pathophysiology.
- Certified Coding Specialist – Physician-based (CCS-P) – This certification is ideal for individuals who plan to work as a medical coder in a physician’s office, specialty area, group practice, or clinic practicing multiple specialties.
Medical Coding Certification through AAPC
AAPC offers 18 different options for specialization. This covers from dermatology to pediatrics.
With such a huge option, it gives you an opportunity to become more proficient in basic billing and coding, and then eventually pursue what truly interests you.
Every specialty has their respective individualized examination.
The list of Specialty Credentials for Expert Coders are as follows:
- Certified ASC Coder (CASCC™)
- Certified Anesthesia and Pain Management Coder (CANPC™)
- Certified Cardiology Coder (CCC™)
- Certified Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery Coder (CCVTC™)
- Certified Professional Coder in Dermatology (CPCD™)
- Certified Emergency Department Coder (CEDC™)
- Certified Evaluation and Management Coder (CEMC™)
- Certified Family Practice Coder (CFPC™)
- Certified Gastroenterology Coder (CGIC™)
- Certified General Surgery Coder (CGSC™)
- Certified Hematology and Oncology Coder (CHONC™)
- Certified Interventional Radiology Cardiovascular Coder (CIRCC®)
- Certified Obstetrics Gynecology Coder (COBGC™)
- Certified Orthopaedic Surgery Coder (COSC™)
- Certified Pediatrics Coder (CPEDC™)
- Certified Rheumatology Coder (CRHC™)
- Certified Urology Coder (CUC™)
- Certified Ophthalmology Coder (COPC)
Meanwhile, for general medical coding certifications, AAPC offers the following:
- Outpatient Hospital/Facility Certification
- Inpatient Hospital/Facility Certification
- Risk Adjustment Certification
FINAL THOUGHTS ABOUT GETTING A MEDICAL CODING CERTIFICATION
Medical coding is an in-demand job. However, just like any other job, it comes with certain requirements.
One of the most important requirements is to have a medical coding certification. This does not only enable you to compete with other candidates, but it also enables you to ask for higher pay, at the same time, making you eligible for better opportunities.
So, have you decided to pursue medical coding yet?