First of all, you should be fully aware of what a medical coder does. In a medical coding career, one assigns specific codes to medical procedures and services so doctors, hospitals and other health care providers can get paid for their efforts. This entails assigning the correct codes to identify specific inpatient and outpatient procedures and treatments so private and public insurance agencies can reimburse them. The medical coder reads the medical documentation (patient charts) and assigns a code in order to get the proper remuneration for the services rendered. Once this is established, they input the code to the designated computer application.
Other duties include determining the amount of reimbursement to the healthcare provider. Obviously, it is critical that the appropriate codes are assigned as errors can cause disputes, frustration and delayed payments.
The major healthcare coding systems the medical coder must learn and keep current on are the CPT (Current Procedure Terminology), HCPCS (Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System) and ICD-9 for coding of diagnostic procedures and inpatient hospital services. The ICD-9 is also used on death certificates.
I think you can see that the successful, happy medical coder must be extremely methodical, a quick learner and detail oriented. If this is you, you need to get the right education and training for certification as a medical coder.
Medical Coding Schools, Certification and Degrees
You may opt for an associate degree, a bachelors or a masters degree. As with all careers, the higher the credentials and level of education, the greater the potential for initial hire, advancement and earnings. Any graduate regardless of degree must be sure the program they are enrolled in offers the following courses as a minimum:
- Medical terminology
- Anatomy and physiology
- Radiology coding
- Pathology coding
- ICD-9 coding
- CPT surgical coding
- CTP non-surgical coding
- Healthcare laws and ethics
- Insurance abuse and fraud
- Insurance compliance
Deciding on the Program for You
If you are a high school student, take classes in biology, health, computer science and chemistry. These classes will not only give you a head start to your medical coding education and career, they will give you insight to determine if this is the right path for you or not.
Most community colleges offer medical coding certification, some also offer AA degrees. You are better off with both. Medical coders must be certified no matter if they earn that degree. The AA degree gives you preferred status.
Trade and vocational schools also provide training and certification as medical coders, some will bestow the AA degree and even BS degrees as well. Check the internet for such a school near you at school-directory.net/medical-schools
For online medical coding programs, you must do a thorough investigation on all of them that capture your interest. Check the BBB and ask for references from former students. You need to find out about real certification and credentials. Another investigative tool of merit is to visit online medical coder forums for thoughts, opinions and experiences of real working people in the field. Do this by visiting such medical coding message boards as coder-net-medical billing and coding and medical coding zone.
For four-year and graduate schools, look into the various in-state colleges and universities as well as online. A four year college degree will greatly expand your career choices and offers a road to advancement. The graduate degree is expensive and difficult to attain but it does pave the way for you to become a college instructor, a chief compliance officer, health information or public information officer or a health information management consultant.
The field of medical coding is wide open and can take the certified professional as far as their interests and dedication leads them. It is well worth looking into for the person who is thinking about a career in the healthcare field, but isn’t sure where to start.