What Is a Medical Coder?

A medical coder takes a health care patient's file and translates the procedures and diagnoses into numerical codes. The codes you assign will determine how much a doctor or hospital is reimbursed for their services. Read on to learn more about this occupation's job duties, education requirements, job outlook and salary potential. Schools offering Insurance Billing & Coding Specialist degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Job Description

When a patient sees a doctor, his or her medical history is updated, complete with the procedures and the diagnoses performed in that visit. Your job as a medical coder is to assign the proper numeric code to each of the procedures and diagnosis using software to determine how much a hospital or doctor will be reimbursed. You may need to learn a variety of coding system software programs in order to classify several categories of patients, such as those used for Medicare, long-term care, physician offices or ambulatory settings.

The codes you provide are used to bill for the services of the doctor or hospital. However, the codes you input can also be used as data for administrative activities to assess the services of the institution and for medical research or statistical purposes. Although the field of medical coding allows you to work in the healthcare industry without having to deal directly with patients, you will still work closely with healthcare professionals such as doctors or nurses. You might work in a variety of medical facilities, such as a hospital, doctor's office or nursing home.

Important Facts About Medical Coding

Similar Occupations Medical Office Assistant, Office Manager, Front Desk Receptionist, Medical Transcriptionist
Key Skills Integrity, analytical, and technical skills
Required Education Courses in medical terminology, health data requirements, healthcare reimbursement methods, and healthcare statistics
Work Environment Typically full-time, sometimes on weekends, evenings, and through the night

Education and Skills Required

As a medical coder, you must be able to interpret the information contained in a medical record. You must also understand medical vocabulary, medical ethics and confidentiality practices. In order to learn the aspects of the job and gain a better understanding of the medical industry, you may wish to pursue a certificate or associate's degree in health information technology. You will likely complete a degree program in two years, and your curriculum will incorporate classes in disease process, pharmacology, physiology and anatomy.

In order to be successful as a medical coder, you must be detail-oriented, well-organized and comfortable working with figures. You also need to be able to use the electronic health records systems your facility utilizes, as well as keep information confidential. Interpersonal skills are also necessary for this career as you must interact with personnel to discuss data.

Certification Options and Advancement

Once you have gained a couple of years of professional experience, or after you complete a degree program, you may wish to pursue optional certification in order to demonstrate your commitment to the profession. Some employers may prefer to hire you if you hold a professional credential, and you may be offered higher wages than an uncertified medical coder. Several organizations offer credentialing exams, including the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC), the Professional Association of Healthcare Coding Specialists and the Board of Medical Specialty Coding and Compliance.

The AAPC offers several different credentialing options depending on your coding knowledge, including the Certified Professional Coder, Certified Professional Coder-Hospital Outpatient, Certified Professional Coder-Payer and many other coding sub-specialties.

Job Outlook and Salary

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects job growth to be much faster than average for medical records and health information technicians, including medical coding professionals, over the 2016-2026 decade, with employment opportunities growing 13% (www.bls.gov). An increase in reimbursement claims will drive demand for these professionals. The BLS notes that certified professionals with strong computer skills should have the best prospects.

In June 2019, PayScale.com reported a median wage of $41,000 for medical coders. Most of these professionals earned between $29,000 and $59,000 per year.

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