Just because you’re pursuing a career in the healthcare field – even if it has “medical” in the name – doesn’t mean that working in a hospital or doctor’s office is your only option.
This is certainly true for medical coders. They can work in a variety of places, from government agencies and law offices to hospitals and even their own home.
Here is a look at what a medical coder is, how to get into the field and where you might end up working once you’re hired.
What is a medical coder?
A medical coder will ensure the care provided to a patient is entered correctly into a computer system, which is essential for electronic health record management. The coding covers both the patient diagnosis and procedures provided, making sure there is an accurate record for future reference.
A coder works in conjunction with medical billers, physicians and others to make sure there is an accurate distribution of costs and that insurance claims are filed correctly. The coder could work on either side of the process – inputting the information or analyzing it once it’s in a system.
The job outlook for medical coders is bright, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimating employment of medical records and health information technicians will grow 9% from 2020-2030. The continued proliferation of electronic health records and an increase in medical care throughout the country because of the aging population has driven much of this growth.
Medical coders will need to be adept at using software that helps medical offices/systems manage the billing process. You’ll also need to be detail-oriented, be able to quickly understand terms and codes, and have an interest in medicine and medical procedures.
Job titles could include:
- Inpatient or outpatient coder
- Coding specialist
- Medical records specialist
- Medical coder
How can you become a medical coder?
Medical coders can come from a variety of professional and educational backgrounds, but one sure way to get a head start in your career is to obtain a diploma or associate degree.
Herzing University offers both academic programs:
- Diploma: It takes as few as 12 months to complete the medical coding diploma program at Herzing. Your diploma is designed to help prepare you for entry-level positions at a variety of employers. You’ll learn about medical terminology, diseases and anatomy, and also how to analyze medical records. You can specialize in outpatient coding – which focuses on work in physician’s offices, clinics or group practices – or inpatient coding, which is geared toward long-term care facilities and hospitals. Herzing will also prepare you to sit for the Certified Coding Associate (CCA) exam from the American Health Information Management Association.
- Associate: This program can take as few as 20 months to complete, and also prepares students for inpatient and outpatient coding specifics. In addition to receiving preparation for the CCA exam, graduates will be eligible to pursue the Certified Coding Specialist (CCS) qualification after graduation and one year of work experience. The associate degree program includes general interest classes and is an ideal pathway to a bachelor’s degree if you are interested in pursuing a degree in a concentration such as healthcare administration or health information management.
Where do medical coders work?
A medical coder could work in an inpatient or outpatient medical setting, or at a business that does not directly provide healthcare but is more concerned about the insurance/claims aspect of it.
Here are some of the possible workplaces for medical coders:
- Healthcare industry: The BLS shows that around 37% of medical records and health information technicians worked in hospitals. Medical coders are needed day in and day out in every type of healthcare facility to process diagnostic and insurance paperwork. The type of work you do will vary – a large hospital might have a consistent flow of inpatient and outpatient coding needs and a small physician’s practice could rely on a variety of codes to match the diverse needs of patients. You will learn a lot about a particular specialty if you work in, for example, a physician group that focuses on dermatology or geriatric care. If you want to work in the healthcare industry for your first job, it will give you a chance to choose between large and small employers and a variety of care settings.
- Insurance industry: While healthcare organizations rely on medical coders to help them define the type of treatment they give so they can get insurance reimbursement, coders who work for insurance companies could examine whether the claims are correct.
- Companies: There is a need for medical coders to help pharmaceutical and medical device companies explain to their customers how to get reimbursed, to assist businesses that are self-insured and to help software companies develop better coding applications.
Can you work from home?
Working as a medical coder, you may have the option to work from home. Many medical coders work from home, no matter what company or organization they are employed by, especially as the coronavirus pandemic continues.
However, that doesn’t mean all coders are currently working from home or will in the future. For example, you might find hundreds of medical coding positions on job search websites that allow you to work from home, but some of those may be temporarily remote and require you to return to an office setting.
Working from home certainly has its benefits, allowing for a more flexible lifestyle. However, it’s important to remember that working from home is a privilege and works best when you have a dedicated office space. If you can’t find a room with a door you can close during phone calls, try to set up a computer on a desk in a quiet spot in your living room or basement. Secure internet access is key, as medical records contain private information that health care organizations and others are required to protect.
It’s important to keep in mind that you may be able to adapt better to a work from home position once you’ve had experience working in environments such as an office or a hospital. Consider building your skillset at an on-site location before making the transition to remote work.
Whether working on-site for a health care organization or remotely, medical coders are one of the most valuable support positions in the health care industry.
Interested in enrolling in an online program? Check out Herzing University’s medical billing and coding program options to get started today.