Medical coders play a crucial part in the healthcare ecosystem and mainly work in the background. So, if you are willing to become one, you will eventually be a part of a fast-growing industry with many firms providing work in medical coding. You will assist in organizing and processing enormous volumes of medical data generated daily.
These experts usually provide patients with medical treatments and diagnoses under standardized codes. Medical billers use these codes for submitting insurance claims, patient care, and data management.
However, it’s not as easy to become a medical coder as you have to undergo extensive training. After its completion, you will become qualified to work in a range of on-premise or remote healthcare environments.
So, here, in this article, we will help you understand the process of becoming a medical coder. Check out the comprehensive steps to begin your career today!
What Does a Medical Coder Do?
Medical coders deal with customer payment, regulatory compliance, and continuity of patient treatment, which are crucial to the healthcare industry. Thus, analytical thinking is an essential trait of medical coders.
Usually, these professionals operate in outpatient environments like clinics and physician offices. Certain people also specialize in coding for inpatient or outpatient care in hospitals or ambulatory surgery facilities. However, some medical coders can do both inpatient and outpatient coding. Preparing for this job includes earning the Certified Coding Specialist (CCS) credential.
Besides, an individual can work on medical billing and coding in many small-sized organizations. They occasionally convert complex medical terminologies into widely used codes.
A patient’s medical record is examined after treatment, and the services they receive are converted into codes by medical coders. It may include an X-ray or any other treatment they received.
Here are some of the typical duties of a medical coder.
- Maintaining a record of public health issues
- Enhancing the data for epidemiological research
- Measurement of patient outcomes and treatment
- Identifying which medical treatments are required
- Creating universal codes for complicated medical processes, diagnoses, treatments, and equipment
- Working together with doctors and insurance providers for appropriate coding analysis
- Checking the codes for procedures, therapies, and diagnoses in patient charts
- Effectively interacting with the medical staff
- Looking for code details in complex or odd cases
How to Become a Medical Coder?
A Certified Tumor Registrar (CTR) certificate may be necessary for expert medical coders working in oncology. This is because the cancer registry industry employs people with CTR credentials. But a state license is usually not required.
Nevertheless, to be informed about the evolving codes related to payer rules, you should always maintain your education. Updated knowledge added to your certificates will help you succeed in your job.
So, check out the steps below to become a professional medical coder.
Step 1: Get a High School Diploma
You need a high school diploma or equivalent for most jobs. Thus, it is also the first step to becoming a certified medical coder. The diploma is a prerequisite for training and employment as a medical coder. However, you may develop soft skills, such as organizational abilities and the capacity for good communication, along with vital high school education.
You will usually require your high school diploma or an equivalent to enroll in technical schools or certification programs if you want to pursue further education. You also need to get a background check to become a medical coder.
Step 2: Post-Secondary Education (Optional)
Although a post-secondary degree isn’t always necessary to work as a medical coder, several certificates demand candidates to have the relevant training. A bachelor’s degree, an associate’s degree, or a certificate program are some of your alternatives. However, the more thorough route to a career in medical coding is a bachelor’s degree in healthcare administration or health information management.
You can gain enhanced knowledge of project management, data analytics, human resources, and health policy. Medical coders who pursue this path are at the top of companies’ recruiting lists. They are also more likely to take on leadership responsibilities and get higher wages. Most bachelor’s degrees take 4 years to finish.
Besides, aspiring medical coders have a dependable and flexible choice of an associate’s degree in healthcare administration or health information management. Students can learn the fundamentals of medical coding taught in the certificate program. In addition, you can also get a broad liberal arts education that will help develop your speaking, writing, and critical thinking abilities.
The associate’s degree focuses more on soft skills and the underlying knowledge of medical coding found in certificate programs. In contrast, the bachelor’s degree exposes students to larger and more complex ideas in healthcare management. However, enroll in a medical coding program or school specially made for those who want to work as medical coders.
Step 3: Get Medical Coding Training
You can look into many educational possibilities after receiving your high school diploma or equivalent. If you want to skip getting a bachelor’s or associate degree, you can directly join a medical coding training program after high school. Since most certificate programs are completed in about a year, they are the quickest path to employment in the profession.
Organizations like the AAPC and AHIMA provide enhanced training opportunities to medical coders. On average, these courses may be finished online or in person in 4 months or less. Also, these professional training sessions will help you prepare for the certification exam. They will assist you in developing the necessary abilities to succeed as a medical coder.
However, these concentrated study courses teach students the fundamentals of ICD-10 coding, nomenclature, bodily systems, illness processes, and different treatment methods. Students also become proficient in billing practices, regulatory compliance, and medical office software. Thus, these programs’ curricula are primarily created to get students ready not only for jobs but also for formal certification tests.
Step 4: Get Some Coding Experience
You should look for on-the-job experience while completing your training or degree program. Medical coders particularly benefit from this experience as they acquire the skills necessary for their jobs in real-time through practical training.
You can consider doing a part-time medical coding job to get experience while pursuing your studies. Also, you can try looking for volunteer or internship opportunities with healthcare organizations having active medical coding departments. You may opt for office work or shadow a medical coder to gain valuable knowledge.
Obtaining work experience enables young people to get potential additional professional qualifications. It allows them to identify their preferred work environments, such as a hospital or a physician’s office. To obtain a suitable job, professionals should use the resources offered by their institution and network of peers.
Step 5: Get Certification for Medical Coders
Certification showcases to employers that you are a committed medical coder with all the necessary abilities to thrive in the position. You get qualified to sit for certification examinations only after gaining substantial experience or completing training. It makes you stand out to potential employers from other applicants.
You can pursue professional certification once you have earned work experience in the sector and finished your training or degree program. You can even opt to specialize in your coding profession after gaining some expertise in the subject. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), becoming a specialized medical coder can improve your employment prospects.
You can get certified in specialist medical coding in fields like ambulatory care, general surgery, anesthesia, family medicine, or others. However, medical coders have only a few certification options to consider. The Certified Professional Coder (CPC), Certified Coding Associate (CCA), and Certified Coding Specialist are the standard medical coding credentials (CCS).
If you are thinking of working in an outpatient setting, consider the CPC test. The certified inpatient coder (CIC) or certified outpatient coder (COC) certificates are options to explore for hospitals and ambulatory surgery.
Career Prospects of Medical Coder
The need for medical coders is anticipated to increase due to the aging population and the resulting increase in healthcare needs. From 2020 to 2030, BLS predicts a 9% increase in employment for medical coders. It equates to 34,300 new job vacancies annually on average.
Insurance providers and scientific research and development services are among the highest-paying sectors. As of May 2021, the median annual compensation for medical coders was $46,660. Also, the top 10% earned $74,200 or more annually as a medical coder. Most of these professionals are employed by general medical and surgical facilities and doctor’s offices.
Gaining certification as a medical coder can provide you access to new career opportunities and establish you as a respectable professional in the workplace. Medical coders are essential to doctors and healthcare organizations like hospitals and operation centers.
However, they need a wide variety of professional abilities in addition to qualification credentials to execute their work properly. Medical coders must communicate patient medical data effectively with physicians and hospital administration teams. So, to become one, you must possess analytical and detail-oriented characteristics.