Medical Coding Information

Medical Coding. A primer.

Many people are drawn to the medical profession. Some want to help others, to heal and comfort the sick. Others are drawn by the constant advances in medical science and technology while still others are attracted to the advantages of stable, well-paying careers. Whether it’s working with a single physician, small clinic, medical office, research facility, or large hospital, individuals in the medical profession assist people as physicians, nurses, phlebotomists, dietitians, x-ray technicians or medical coders. Those looking for a career in the medical profession have a lot of choices.

How big is health care in the United States?

The health care industry in the United States is huge and growing every year. According to Fortune Magazine

U.S. government actuaries state Americans spent $3.65 trillion in health care in 2018. This amount is larger than the GDPs of such countries as Brazil, the U.K., Mexico, Spain, and Canada.

The level of spending is by far the highest in the developed world, according to data from the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development

Why is the size of the health care industry relevant?

When making career choices many factors need to be considered. Is this something you are interested in? Passionate about? Can you make a living? Are your long-term prospects positive? Because the health care industry is so large it means there are lots choices and opportunities for people with a myriad of interests and talents. What’s more, because everyone will need medical care at some point in their lives, not only can you make a living but long-term employment prospects are extremely positive. This article will discuss one of the more interesting jobs in this industry, that of a Medical Coder.

What is Medical Coding?

When you go to the doctor for a checkup, emergency, or have a procedure at a hospital, all of what happens needs to be recorded. This includes everything from the diagnosis, procedure(s), medication(s) and treatment(s) prescribed, to laboratory results and more. All of this is transcribed using standardized codes. Proper use of standardized codes is critical in creating claims which are paid by insurance carriers. These codes are also vital for ensuring each patient’s medical records are understandable.

To recap, medical coding documents a patient’s medical care that tell insurance carriers;

  • Diagnosis.
  • What treatments, supplies and/or services a patient received.
  • Any circumstances or ancillary medical issues that impacted services or treatments rendered.

What are medical coders?

Medical coders are the professionals responsible for making sure the proper codes are utilized during the medical billing process. Without medical coders, medical practices and hospitals simply wouldn’t run as they would have no easy way to be paid for their services. This makes the medical coder a very important member of the medical community.

What types of skills does a medical coder need?

Medical coders are interested in medicine. They have a basic understanding of anatomy, physiology, various medical procedures, medical terminology, injuries, drugs and more. Since many medical coders work independently, it is important you be a self-starter and disciplined enough to work on deadlines. Some medical coders work in office settings with other medical professionals so a willingness and ability to work cooperatively with other people is a vital skill. Computer proficiency is also very important as medical coders spend a great deal of time in front of a computer. If you are interested in medicine, detail oriented, have a desire to work as part of a medical team but can also work on your own and under deadlines doing something absolutely critical for patents and medical offices, this might be a career for you.

How do you become a medical coder?

Becoming a medical coder involves proper training. This isn’t something you can just learn as you go. Instead aspiring medical coders get the education they need though schools that specialize in this vocation. The good news is that training to become a medical coder typically takes a lot less time than that of some other healthcare professions. You can become a coder much faster than becoming a nurse or doctor and for a much lower cost. Many programs such as one offered by Apex Career School can be completed online in less than a year. This fast and flexible option means medical coding students can fit training into their busy lives. This can be a fantastic educational and career road for working adults.

Let’s analyze the steps you will need to take to become a medical coder.

Preliminary Step:

You will need to be a high school graduate or have passed an equivalency exam. Although each medical facility will have different hiring standards, people with a criminal history involving drug related convictions might be rejected. This doesn’t automatically mean that aspiring coders with criminal records should find another line of work.

According to Chron:

“Medical coders work with confidential patient information. Due to the security measures that medical offices have to take to protect patient data, background checks are performed on anyone privy to patient files. Additionally, some certification programs require a criminal background check before students enroll. This is not to say that someone with a criminal history cannot seek employment in this field. Depending on the offense, some certification programs and employers may be willing to work with a prospective candidate. Individuals with convictions of crimes against children, sex offenders or drug histories will most likely be turned down.”

Step 1: Find and enroll in a school that teaches medical coding.

Beyond the high school diploma or equivalent mentioned earlier, there are no formal agreed upon education prerequisites to be a medical coder. This has caused employers to look for applicants who have graduated from a medical coding program. Graduation from a medical coding school tells potential employers is that at minimum the applicant has shown the discipline to learn about medical coding in a structured and relevant fashion. It also let’s employers know if the applicant is up to date on the latest coding.

The type of medical coding program you select has a lot to do with the kind of education you best respond to. Courses can run from condensed programs taking 4 months to those taking as much as 24 months. Some are brick and mortar schools with physical classrooms and others on-line programs. As a general rule vocational programs for medical coding that require a student to sit in a physical classroom are more costly than those that can be taken by students on-line. The differences in costs between some schools can be thousands of dollars so it is highly recommended that potential students do their research and really consider the kind of education that will best work for them. If you learn better in a physical classroom than perhaps you ought to consider that type of school. Just understand that attending a physical classroom means you will have to travel to and from the location and take classes and exams at times set by the school.

Online programs have the advantage of flexibility in that many can be taken by students in the evenings, weekends and assuming the aspiring coder is currently working, after business hours. If you are disciplined, focused, willing to work hard, and need the aforementioned flexibility along with a better price, online might be the way for you. Next let’s talk briefly about the length of medical coding programs. While rewarding, medical coding requires specialized knowledge. Aside from learning a bit about anatomy and physiology, medical terminology and health laws, medical coders today are being taught the International Classification of Diseases, 10th Edition Clinically Modified or as it is commonly known ICD-10-CM. The ICD-10-CM includes 69,000 codes for every conceivable procedure, condition, disease, complaint and medication that medical professionals will be involved in.

The point here is that you want to make certain any school you enroll in will give you enough time to master the materials without it being so overwhelming they are not setting you up for success. 4 months is the minimum time this should take and again make sure that any school you consider gives you additional time beyond the 4 months if you require it.

So, you’ve selected a school, diligently studied and mastered the materials. Now you stand as a graduate of a medical coding school. What’s next? First, congratulations are in order! As a result of the choices you made and the work you did, you stand one step closer to joining the exciting world of health care. Can you go out and start looking for work? Yes, but you will be much more likely to find it if you take the next step. Medical coding certification.

Step 2: Certification.

The key here is to stand out. Let’s face it, when you go out and start looking for medical coding work you will be competing against others some of whom have experience as medical coders. The more bring to table the better your chances of finding employment may be. We suggest all coding graduates take the Certified Professional Coder CPC® Certification Exam.

Final step: Finding a job

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is a fascinating government department that tracks the performance of just about every type of job performed in the United States. Their website is a vital tool for people looking to learn the levels of compensation common in a field, descriptions of the work and 10-year projections for growth of your particular job. The great news about medical coding is that employment of medical records and health information technicians is projected to grow 11 percent from 2018 to 2028, much faster than the average for all occupations.

Another piece of good news are the options for where you can work. Some medical coders can work from home or in small offices and others in large hospitals or clinics. If you go about finding a job with the same dedication, hard work and focus you showed in your medical coding studies and certification, your chances will be significantly enhanced. This last part is important.You may be working in a professional medical environment as part of a team comprised of highly educated medical specialists. Doctors, nurses and other staff members will be counting on you. We don’t say this to intimidate, but to illustrate the importance of your job and of making a good impression. This includes dressing for success, being punctual to all interviews, as well as being engaging and pleasant.

Hopefully this helps answer some of the questions you have about the interesting and exciting opportunities for medical coders.