Discover what it takes to begin a new career path as a medical coder
You have many options when taking the first step down a career path as a medical records specialist (also could be titled as medical records technician, medical biller, or medical coder, among others). The biggest decision is your educational pathway, which may vary depending on how quickly you want to get started and your overall career goals.
You can take these general steps to become a medical coder or medical records technician/specialist:
Quick facts: what to know about becoming a medical coder
|How long it takes||10-20 months|
|Education requirements||Diploma or associate degree|
|Average salary||$51,090 per year, $24.56 per hour (BLS)*|
|Job outlook||7% increase from 2021-2031 (BLS)*|
|Key certifications||Certified Professional Coder (CPC), Certified Coding Specialist (CCS)|
1. General job description: understand the role of a medical coder and determine if it’s right for you
Medical coders are key contributors in the healthcare revenue management process. Their responsibility is to interpret care provided for patients into codes computers can understand to classify services for billing purposes and ensure the accuracy of Electronic Medical Records (EMR).
Success requires proficiency in anatomy and medical terminology to properly assign diagnostic and procedural codes based on Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) and International Classification of Diseases, Tenth Revision (ICD-10) standards.
The day-to-day life of a medical coder primarily involves reading cases as detailed by a physician’s notes and correctly assigning diagnostic and procedural codes. This can become more difficult depending on the complexity of the case and clarity of the notes. You’ll need to become comfortable referring to documentation and communicating with healthcare staff efficiently to do the job and keep up with the queue.
Medical billers use these “instructions” provided by coders to file insurance claims and post payments to accounts. Billers work with insurance companies to deal with denials/rejections, finalize any outstanding details and send out statements. These roles can be entirely separate, or in some facilities be combined in a “medical billing and coding specialist” position.
Skills required: is it right for me?
However, in some respects you will need to think like a programmer. Your job is to interpret text and categorize it as numbers. You must be a highly detailed, analytical problem solver with the patience to approach every case with equal diligence and streamline your process as best as possible to maximize efficiency.
Introverts may be better suited for medical coding, while extroverts may prefer a job more specialized in medical billing. If you’re a bit of both, you could excel in a role as a billing and coding specialist.
2. Get educated in medical coding
With Herzing University, you have several options to begin your educational path to becoming a medical coder.
You may consider our medical coding, insurance billing and coding specialist, or health information management programs. All options feature 100% online classes with several start dates throughout the year.
Our admissions team can help you determine the best starting point based on your personal circumstances, but here’s a general breakdown of how you might weigh your choices:
My goal is to...
Find a good job ASAP
Our fastest pathways to graduate with a college-level education are diploma options in medical coding or Insurance Billing and Coding Specialist, which can each be completed in as few as 10 months. You can complete the program, get certified and become qualified for an entry-level job in medical coding in less than a year.
Build a long, growing career
In addition to associate degree options in billing and coding, the broader field of Health Information Management (HIM) can present a wide variety of advanced career opportunities. An undergraduate education in HIM can prepare you both for success as a medical coder and potential jobs as a Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT) or manager in the future.
Here’s the good news: there’s a pathway for you no matter where you start. You can choose a lower degree level today to become certified and find a job faster, then transfer credit earned into a higher degree level in the future and continue your education. We exist to help you build the career you want as quickly or methodically as you choose.
3. Get certified1
There are two crucial medical coding certifications we recommend earning to best qualify for entry-level coding jobs:
- Certified Professional Coder (CPC) from the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC)
- Certified Coding Specialist (CCS) from the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA)
Complete any of our program options and you’ll be very well-prepared for each certification’s respective exams. We have preparation for these exams built right into our medical coding curriculum.
You will also learn the knowledge and skills to potentially pursue additional coding certifications such as Certified Billing and Coding Specialist (CBCS) from the National Healthcareer Association, Certified Coding Associate (CCA) from AHIMA, and several others.
It can be tough! According to AHIMA, the CCS exam pass rate for first time testers is 55%. The AAPC does not publicize pass rates for the CPC exam, though some sources suggest about half of exam takers pass on the first try.
Exams are designed to be challenging to ensure you’re ready to succeed. Without any formal education, training, or experience, passing these exams on the first try can be very difficult.
By earning a degree or diploma through one of our programs, you’ll be very prepared and in a great position to pass on the first try.
Frequently Asked Questions
Inpatient coding refers to a diagnosis report for patients who require hospitalization and must be admitted for an extended stay. Inpatient coding uses Internal Classification of Diseases, Tenth Revision (ICD-10) coding systems.
Outpatient coding refers to reports outlining services for patients who aren’t required to be hospitalized, typically those who are released within 24 hours. Outpatient coding uses Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) coding systems.
Inpatient and outpatient coding also deal with unique payment and reimbursement systems you will need to be familiar with.
You may learn inpatient and/or outpatient coding depending on whether you choose the associate degree or diploma path.
Our goal is to best prepare you to become an excellent medical coder who is ready to excel right away in your first entry-level coding job.
While earning a degree/diploma is not always required to earn certain coding certifications, getting educated can help you qualify for more job openings, hit the ground running at full speed and position you best for career advancement.
Herzing University offers several undergraduate healthcare degree and diploma options that you may earn online, in addition to medical coding and billing:
- Health Sciences
- Healthcare Administration - Associate, Bachelor's
- Health Information Management - Associate, Bachelor's
- Medical Office Administration - Diploma, Associate
- Medical Assisting - Diploma, Associate
Each program is positioned uniquely to build a foundation for you to pursue the type of job in healthcare you’re looking for—whether it’s directly caring for patients, focusing on day-to-day administrative tasks or leading the way in a managerial role.
With enough experience in the field, many medical billers may find jobs with the option to work from home. However, it can be difficult to find entry-level work-from-home positions. Expect to work your way towards qualifying for these competitive positions after graduating with a degree or diploma.
As a medical insurance billing specialist, you can typically expect a 40-hour work week in an office environment such as a healthcare facility or agency setting. Full-time Medical Insurance Billing Specialists may receive a comprehensive benefit package that includes health insurance, paid vacation, and a retirement savings plan such as profit-sharing or 401(k). Some employers have part-time opportunities available as well.
There isn’t always a firm requirement for license or certification, and there are no state requirements. Requirements will vary by employer. However, earning certification to become a Certified Billing and Coding Specialist (CBCS) can help you earn an edge over the competition and get the job you really want.
Medical coding is a great career choice for detail-oriented people who work well on their own (a good option for introverts!) and seek a growing career field with opportunities for advancement.
Getting educated is your first step to finding the job you love. Become possible with Herzing University.
While software can automate certain tasks in a medical biller’s day-to-day workflow, there is still need for the human element in the medical billing process, including case-by-case decision making and interpersonal communication.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment for billing and posting clerks is expected to increase 3% from 2020-2030.*
As a medical records technician, you can build your career in a variety of healthcare settings. Most medical records technicians in 2019 worked in hospitals according to the BLS. You can also work in general practice, physicians’ offices, administrative support or technical services. Long-term care facilities also offer many employment opportunities as the elderly population in the U.S. seeks affordable care options.
As a full-time medical records clerk, you would likely have access to benefits such as a 401(k), paid vacation and medical and dental insurance. With the options to work part-time and weekend shifts, a career as a medical records clerk is very flexible, allowing you to explore the positions that best suit your professional goals.
Herzing’s program features 100% online coursework for both the diploma and associate degree options.
The program does include a required research project or internship as part of the curriculum.
You can complete the research project online. If you choose the internship (pending eligibility in your state), you will be able to gain experience in a real working environment to best prepare you for your first entry-level job as a medical coder.
Technology increasingly influences the evolution of the healthcare industry. Digital coding software called “encoders” can streamline the coding process and have provoked many to wonder about the future of medical coding.
Software can help to reduce the probability of human error but certainly does not replace what a human medical coder brings to the table: ability to decipher human documentation and the reasoning skills to accurately translate them into instructions for billing.
According to the projection from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for medical records and health information technicians (including medical coders) is expected to increase 9% from 2020-2030, faster than the average U.S. occupation.*
Learn more about a career as a medical coder
4. Find a job and advance
After earning an education and certification, you’ll be ready to find your first job as a medical coding professional and begin an exciting new career path.
You can go back to school, earn a college education, and build your new career path. We want to help you make it possible.
1. Certification is not a state requirement.
* Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook 2021. BLS estimates do not represent entry-level wages and/or salaries. Multiple factors, including prior experience, age, geography market in which you want to work and degree field, will affect career outcomes and earnings. Herzing neither represents that its graduates will earn the average salaries calculated by BLS for a particular job nor guarantees that graduation from its program will result in a job, promotion, salary increase or other career growth.
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