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What Does a Medical Coding Specialist Do?

A medical coding specialist is part of the the medical records billing department of a healthcare organization, such as a hospital or a clinic, classifying diagnoses and procedures to facilitate billing and reimbursement from Medicare or health insurance companies. Medical coding specialists must hold an associate's degree and certification in order to work.

Career Overview

A medical coding specialist works in the medical records billing department of a healthcare organization, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov). Some professionals in this field choose to specialize in a certain type of medical coding, such as cancer treatment. The primary responsibility of a medical coding specialist is to assign a code to each type of treatment and diagnosis. The coding system tracks each patient's diagnosis and treatment and assigns them to a specific diagnosis-related group (DRG). Medicare and health insurance programs use the coding to reimburse hospitals. Typically, medical coding specialists work in a normal office environment and have 40-hour workweeks. In some hospitals with 24-hour health information departments, some coding specialists may also be required to work at night and on the weekends.

Important Facts about Medical Coding Specialists

On-the-Job Training Not provided
Licensure Some states require cancer registrars to be licensed
Key Skills Analysis, attention to detail, interpersonal skills, ability to use appropriate computer systems and software, discretion with confidential material
Similar Occupations Medical and health services managers, medical transcriptionists, receptionists, medical assistants

Education Required

Medical coding specialists must hold a postsecondary certificate or an associate's degree and receive certification. Many employers prefer candidates who are certified by the Registered Health Information Technicians (RHIT) organization. Community colleges in the U.S. offer two-year programs in medical coding. Generally, a program dedicated to medical coding will include coursework in:

  • Health data standards
  • Coding and abstraction of data
  • Quality improvement methods
  • Medical terminology
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Aspects of health information

Career Outlook and Salary Information

The BLS reports that employment of medical records and health information technicians is expected to increase by 13% between 2016 and 2026. The primary reason for this better-than-average growth is the demand for additional healthcare services as the population ages. The BLS additionally reported the median annual salary for such technicians as $40,350 in May 2018, noting that those employed by pharmaceutical companies made the most money, averaging $62,740 a year.