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How Can I Learn to Be a Coder?

Medical coders translate terms for illnesses, diagnoses, and treatments into standard industry codes. Read on to discover the education you'll need to become a medical coder.

Career Overview

If you work as a medical coder, you'll turn descriptions of patient procedures into shortened codes. You'll communicate regularly with physicians, health care providers, and medical billers to ensure that you're using correct codes. Generally, the codes you input will be used to provide physicians with reimbursement and inform insurance companies about patients' medical conditions.

You may work in a private practice, hospital, or other type of medical facility, coding inpatient and outpatient procedures. As of May 2018, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov) reported that medical records and health information technicians earned an average annual salary of $44,010.

Important Facts About Coders

Job Outlook (2016-2026) 13% growth (for all medical records and health information technicians)
Key Skills Attention to detail, computer competency, critical and analytical thinking, discretion
Work Environment Hospitals, physician's offices, nursing care facilities, administrative and support services
Similar Occupations Information clerks, medical transcriptionists, medical and health services managers

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Education Options

The BLS reported that most health information technicians, including medical coders, typically earn an associate's degree in the field of health information technology. Classes can teach you current medical codes and ways to apply them. You'll also learn about different insurance plans. Depending on your program, you may be required to take practical courses, which allow you to gain hands-on coding experience while being supervised by a coding professional. Your classes might include:

  • Legal aspects of health information
  • Anatomy
  • Pharmacology
  • Health statistics
  • Basic and advanced coding
  • Medical terminology
  • Computerized health information systems
  • Insurance reimbursement methods

Certification

To improve your chances of employment, you might want to earn professional certification. The BLS reported that most hospitals and medical facilities prefer to hire certified coders. The American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) offers the Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT, www.ahima.org) designation if you complete an accredited associate's degree program and pass an exam.

If you've been working as a medical coder for more than two years, you might choose to pursue the Certified Professional Coder (CPC) credential from the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC, www.aapc.com). To receive the CPC title, you'll need to become a member of the AAPC, pass the certification exam, and pursue continuing education every two years.

The AAPC also recommends that you earn your associate's degree from an accredited school. If you choose to take the CPC exam before you've completed two years of professional work, the AAPC will designate you an apprentice until you submit formal proof of work experience.