Ever wondered who keeps track of the complex medical records system at your doctor’s office or hospital? If you want to be one of the many healthcare administrators that makes sure the system operates efficiently and effectively, then you should learn how to become a medical coder.
The healthcare system in the US, which works closely with private insurance companies, is extremely complex and needs a team of professionals to help manage it. This is Career Karma’s guide to help you learn more about what a medical coder does and what you need to do to become one.
What Is a Medical Coder?
A medical coder is a healthcare administrator who translates patient records, diagnoses, prescriptions, and treatment plans into universal code for insurance billing purposes.
Medical coders have to convert every aspect of a patient’s record into this code so insurance companies know how to bill patients. Because money is involved, medical coders need to be very careful to make sure they get the codes right every time.
What Does a Medical Coder Do?
Medical coders are stewards of the American health information management system. They work hard to translate medical jargon into universal insurance code for companies all over the country.
Medical coders do particularly important work when it comes to keeping track of medical terminology and treatment terminology. This is to make sure insurance companies get the right information from patient records.
Translate Medical Terms into Insurance Code
A medical coder’s main responsibility is to translate medical terms from patient records into the universal insurance code recognized by American insurance companies. These records include patient visit authorizations, referrals, prescriptions, and treatments. This is all in line with insurance billing procedures to make sure insurance companies bill patients appropriately.
Medical coders work with different database systems when handling highly sensitive and confidential patient records. They should feel comfortable with a certain level of technology and with learning and navigating digital databases.
Retain Medical Terminology
Most medical coders will do their work more efficiently and effectively if they retain a solid base of medical terminology. Instead of having to always check a guidebook or manual, medical coders familiar with medical terminology will have an easier time translating medical terms into the universal code used for insurance billing.
Essential Medical Coder Skills
Attention To Detail
The difference between a single letter, number, or character can be the difference between a patient receiving the right billing amount or an astronomical, incorrect billing amount. This means that the stakes are high for medical coders to get the job done accurately. Strong attention to detail is one of the most important skills a medical coder should have.
Strong Computer Skills
Because medical records communicate with insurance companies electronically, medical coders should have strong computer skills. They should feel comfortable navigating electronic records systems and navigating electronic databases.
Medical coders handle many records throughout any given day and depending on the load, may need to work relatively quickly to keep up. This means coders should have very strong organizational skills to make sure they keep track of their workload and their priorities throughout the workday.
Medical Coder Salaries and Job Outlook
The Bureau for Labor Statistics records information for Medical Records and Health Information Technicians, umbrella professions that include Medical Coders. According to the BLS, these professionals earn a mean annual salary of $42,630.
Salaries for medical coders vary from state to state and hospital systems to private clinics. That said, the salary stays relatively steady since the average pay range for medical coders only varies by $14,500.
As the baby boomer generation continues to age, healthcare will continue to be extremely relevant and important in society. As long as the healthcare system functions with independent insurance providers, medical coders will be in high demand.
Without them, the process of communicating information and translating it from medical terminology to the universal insurance code would not be possible. According to the BLS, job growth for medical coders will be faster than average. Jobs in medical coding are expected to grow by eight percent between by 2029.
How Long Does it Take to Become a Medical Coder?
Becoming a medical coder is extremely accessible because you don’t have to follow a singular path to get there. You can pursue a career with a bachelor’s degree or you can jump straight into a medical billing and coding program with only your high school diploma.
With this in mind, it takes anywhere from 18 months to 4.5 years to become a medical coder, depending on which education path you decide to take.
How to Become a Medical Coder: A Step by Step Guide
Here is our step-by-step guide to becoming a medical coder. Remember that you have a few different choices, from a full bachelor’s degree to certification opportunities, to launch your career.
Step 1: Complete Basic Education Requirements
The only formal education requirement before certification is a high school diploma. Some medical coders have associate degrees and some have bachelor’s degrees, though there is no formal degree in medical coding out there.
The most obvious educational path for someone who wants to become a medical coder is a certification program. Most programs, which you can complete at many community colleges and/or online, take 18 months to two years to complete.
Step 2: Earn Preliminary Certification
Upon completion of one of the medical coding education programs, you will be eligible to get a preliminary certificate. You can take the Certified Coding Associate (CCA) exam, a nationally-recognized standardized test that can help you get a leg up in the job search.
Step 3: Gain Work Experience in an Entry Level Position
Gaining work experience in healthcare administration is a great way to get your foot in the door. You might consider getting an administrative job as a records clerk or a health office assistant to gain experience while you’re enrolled in college or a medical records and coding program. Upon the completion of a medical billing and coding program, you can get started in the field with entry-level work experience. Then, you may think about getting a certification.
Step 4: Earn Higher Level Credentials and Become a Certified Professional Coder (CPC)
You can gain additional medical coding certificates to stand out in the field. They are not required but they are like getting a graduate degree, helping you to develop your skills and specialize in an area of expertise.
You should consider earning these additional certifications after at least one to two years of initial work experience. Some advanced certifications include: Certified Professional Coder (CPC), Certified Outpatient Coder (COC), Certified Risk Adjustment Coder (CRC), and Certified Inpatient Coder (CIC).
Should You Become a Medical Coder in 2020?
Public health and effective healthcare administration are more important than ever and there is a high demand for talented, responsible medical records specialists.
Medical coders are essential workers that complete the important task of translating medical records into universal code for insurance billing. If you are interested in pursuing a valued and essential professional role, medical coding might be a rewarding path.
Medical Coder FAQ
The cost of becoming a medical coder depends on the choices you make to become certified. If you go straight into an 18-month to two-year education program in medical coding, you can expect to pay between $1,000 and $2,500 at a community college or a trade school. Then, the application fee for the basic credential is $199. If you decide to earn a full associate degree, you can expect to spend much more.
According to the Bureau for Labor Statistics, the mean annual salary for medical records specialists is $42,630.
Entering the field of medical coding right away with no experience can be tough. That’s why experts recommend that you get your foot in the door by working in other healthcare administration jobs.
Once you’re working in a hospital or doctor’s office, you can work on training to become a coder. Once you have your certificate, you will be much more qualified than those who do not have other healthcare administration work experience.