If you’ve always wanted to work in medicine and make a difference, but working directly in patient care at a medical center just isn’t for you, consider becoming a medical coding specialist. The work medical coders do enables doctor’s offices and hospitals to be reimbursed by insurance carriers, so instead of spending hours arguing over money, doctors and nurses are able to focus on treating their patients.
If you’ve never heard of medical coding as a career option before, keep reading. This article will walk you through everything you need to know, including a detailed job description for medical coding jobs, how much a medical coder is paid, what qualifications you need to be a medical coder, how to attain coding certification, where to find medical coding jobs, and how medical coding job growth works.
By the end of this article, you’ll know whether medical coding is the answer to your dream of making a difference in the medical field without having to deal with blood and other bodily fluids. So let’s get started.
What Is a Medical Coder?
Medical coders are responsible for transforming healthcare diagnoses, procedures, medical services, and equipment into their universal medical alphanumeric codes. The codes for diagnoses and procedures are taken from medical record documentation — for example, a transcription of a physician’s notes, including lab and radiology results.
A medical coding specialist is responsible for ensuring the codes are correctly applied during the medical billing process. This can include abstracting the information from medical documentation, assigning the correct codes, and creating a claim, which will be paid by insurance carriers.
What Does a Medical Coding Job Entail?
Medical coding is a type of data entry job. The primary task of a medical coding specialist is to review clinical documentation and to assign codes using the CPT®, ICD-10-CM, and HCPCS Level II systems of classification.
Being a medical coder is a precise job because the purpose of the codes is to relay the entire story of a patient’s encounter with a doctor while being as specific as possible. This specificity and detail increases the odds of the medical provider being reimbursed by insurance carriers for the services rendered.
Medical Coder vs. Medical Biller
Medical coding and medical billing are often used interchangeably by people outside of the medical documentation industry but they are actually two very different jobs. Medical coding specialists are responsible for coding clinical documentation into a format that insurance carriers can use to understand and pay medical services bills. Medical billing specialists are the ones who process the claims and follow up with health insurance companies.
Some medical coding jobs also entail the work of medical billing and vice versa. However, at larger hospitals and clinical practices, medical billing and coding are done by different people. These people work closely together to ensure invoices are paid quickly and to avoid insurance payment denials.
Medical Coder Earnings
What you can earn as a medical coder will depend on where you’re living, the years of experience you have as a medical coder, and the type of certifications you have. According to the AAPC, the average medical coder in the United States earns over $50,000 per year.
The average certified medical coder in Dallas or Houston, Texas, will earn $55,060 per year. The same medical coder in Florida will earn an average of $52,161 per year, nearly $3,000 less. Medical coders in California average the highest income at $65,000 per year, while those in West Virginia average the lowest income at $44,958 per year.
While the cost of living does help offset the differences in pay, the best way to maximize your income as a medical coder is to work as a remote medical coder. If you have a medical coding job with a company in Washington where the average salary is $55,328, but you live in Arkansas where the average salary is $ 46,286, you’ve gotten yourself the equivalent of a $9,000 per year bonus.
What Qualifications Do Medical Coders Need?
While a bachelor’s degree or master’s degree won’t hurt your chances of getting a good medical coding job, they don’t do much to boost your odds either.
Job-specific education and training, on the other hand, are necessary to ensure a successful medical coding career. Medical coders need to have a thorough understanding of human anatomy and medical terminology as well as a familiarity with the following codebook resources: CPT®, HCPCS Level II, and ICD-10-CM.
Successful medical coders have a deep understanding of coding systems, their corresponding guidelines, which codes are accepted by each insurance plan, which government and payer regulations need to be followed, and how to stay compliant while coding.
If you have a bachelor’s degree or master’s degree in anatomy or physiology, that’s helpful. Otherwise, you can prove that you have the necessary understanding of human anatomy, physiology, and medical terminology by earning the CPC credential.
The CPC credential requires you to have an active American Academy of Professional Coders (or AAPC) membership, two years of medical coding experience, and the ability to pass a 150-question multiple choice exam. The exam lasts 5 hours and 40 minutes and costs $425 ($325 for AAPC students) to take. This credential demonstrates to employers that you have the knowledge and skills to perform medical coding tasks. Once completed, you’ll become a certified coder.
Serious medical coders tend to be members of the AAPC, which provides ongoing training and certification. Many also choose to get their Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT) or Registered Health Information Administrator (RHIA) professional certifications, which are administered by the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA).
Where to Find Medical Coding Jobs
Full-time medical coding positions are more common than part-time ones. However, if you have some medical coding experience and are willing to be persistent, you can find the perfect medical coding job for you, whether it’s full-time or part-time, and remote or onsite.
Work-From-Home Medical Coding Jobs
While most medical coding positions require you to be onsite, there are a few companies that hire experienced remote medical coders. If you’d prefer to work from home, consider starting your job search with the following companies:
- nThrive: usually has at least one or more jobs listed for remote medical coders. These will be full-time positions for those based in the United States.
- The Coding Network: requires three or more years of specialty-specific experience, an active medical coding certificate, and residency in the United States.
- iMedX: requires a high school diploma or GED, three or more years of specialty-specific experience, an active medical coding certificate, and residency in the United States for most medical coding positions.
- Maxim Healthcare: has an abundance of remote and onsite medical coding jobs, most of which require three or more years of coding experience and an active medical coding certificate.
Onsite Medical Coding Jobs
Onsite medical coding jobs are abundant and easier to find than remote medical coding positions, especially for someone who is new to medical coding. There are lots of online resources to help you find an onsite medical coding position like Glassdoor, Indeed, and FlexJobs. Even the remote job sites above tend to have onsite medical coding job listings.
One of the best ways to get a local, onsite medical coding job as a newly certified coding specialist is to check with local doctors offices and hospitals to see if they need any help. Every medical practice that deals with insurance companies needs help with medical coding.
Medical Coding Job Growth
Medical coding-related jobs are rapidly growing due to the expansion of the business side of healthcare. A certified professional coder who is looking to grow into a job with more responsibility can become a Certified Professional Medical Auditor (CPMA), a Certified Professional Compliance Officer (CPCO), or a Certified Physician Practice Manager (CPPM).
According to ZipRecruiter, becoming a coding auditor usually requires a bachelor’s degree in a business or health care field in addition to previous experience as a certified coder.
Medical Coding as a Career Choice
If you’re a detail-oriented person who likes to make other people’s lives a little easier, being a medical coder could be a fantastic career choice for you. The qualifications are much easier to acquire than those of a doctor or nurse, but a medical practice will struggle to make ends meet without someone like you.