Medical Decoding Career and Salary Facts

Research what it takes to become a medical decoder. Learn about the duties of this job, the education requirements, and the salary range to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Computer Forensics degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is Medical Decoding?

Medical decoders, also known as health information technicians, gather, process, and organize medical information in accordance to medical and insurance coding. They use medical software to assign codes to different diagnoses and procedures a patient has received for the purpose of billing. To perform this task efficiently and correctly, medical decoders will need a good handle on the different services healthcare facilities provide in order to assign the right codes, as well as the ability to concentrate for long periods. They must also ensure that patient records are accurate, accessible, secure, and complete. Medical decoders may also need to track patient outcomes in order to ensure that they are receiving quality care.

The following chart provides an overview of the education, job outlook, and average salary in this field.

Degree Required Postsecondary certificate or associate's degree
Education Field of Study Health information technology, medical office assisting, billing
Certification and Licensure American Health Information Management Association (three certification options); Professional Association of Healthcare Coding Specialists (optional specialty coding certification); American Academy of Professional Coders (optional Certified Professional Coder certification)
Key Responsibilities Collect, process, and correctly code medical procedures and other information into computers; communicate with patients and medical personnel; process medical billing
Job Growth (2014-2024) 15% increase (for all medical records and health information technicians)*
Mean Annual Salary (2015) $40,430 (for all medical records and health information technicians)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Would My Job Description Be as a Medical Decoder?

As a medical decoder, your job is to prepare and process medical invoices with codes used by insurance companies and healthcare professionals. You assign codes to each treatment or diagnosis on a bill, which requires knowledge of the standard medical codes, medical procedures, and medical terminology. You must have a basic understanding of the services in order to assign the correct code. Daily job duties involve reading medical bills, researching terminology, entering codes into a computer program, and communicating with healthcare personnel.

What Training Do I Need?

Some employers provide on-the-job training, but most employers expect you to have prior knowledge of medical coding. You may obtain training through a medical coding certificate program at a vocational school or community college. Another option is to earn an associate's degree in medical office assisting, billing, or support.

In both certificate and degree programs, your courses may cover medical topics, including anatomy, medical terminology, ethics, diseases, and procedures. You may study specific coding systems, such as the International Classification of Diseases (ICD), Current Procedural Terminology (CPT), and Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System (HCPCS). You're also trained in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and other applicable laws and regulations.

Do I Need To Be Certified?

While not mandatory, employers may prefer you to be certified. Certification provides proof of your medical decoding skills and knowledge, and is offered by various professional organizations.

You can choose from three certified coding specialist options awarded by the American Health Information Management Association (www.ahima.org). The certification you'd apply for depends on whether you work in a variety of medical settings, a hospital, or a doctor's office or group practice.

The Professional Association of Healthcare Coding Specialists provides various certification options for specialty coding (www.pahcs.org). Some of your certification options include cardiology, dermatology, and mental health coding. You may also become certified in general medicine, family practice, general surgery, and emergency medicine coding. If you complete exams in three specialties, you can become a Certified Multi-Specialty Coding Specialist.

You can earn the Certified Professional Coder designation from the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC) after completing a certification exam (www.aapc.com). The exam tests your knowledge of different coding techniques, including ICD, HCPCS, and CPT. The AAPC also offers specialty certifications for outpatient hospital codes and payer coding and billing.

How Much Can I Earn?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), medical records and health information technicians earned a mean annual salary of $40,430 in 2015 (www.bls.gov). The BLS projected an increase of 15% in jobs in this field between 2014 and 2024. BLS job growth estimates were based upon an increase in medical procedures being performed, the growth of the older segment of the population, and more cases of cancer. An increased reliance on electronic health record systems was also a factor in anticipated job expansion.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Medical transcriptionists write out audio recordings from medical professionals to have a physical record of verbal notes, as well as check these materials for accuracy and completeness. Cancer registrars review cancer patients' medical records and record diagnoses and treatments given, following up with patients as treatment progresses to keep medical databases up to date on their status. Both of these careers typically require some form of certificate or other nondegree award as a minimum education.

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