There is a lot of confusion regarding medical coding because most individuals think it is the same as medical billing. In actuality, these are two entirely different fields. A medical coder is responsible for reading and analyzing the medical charts of the patients. They must determine what the diagnosis was for the patient, and what procedures the patient has had. The procedures and diagnoses are then categorized using a national classification system. Each procedure and diagnosis must be assigned its own alphanumeric or numeric code. More simply phrased, the medical coder takes all the documents in the chart of the patient, and translates them into specific codes.
The Responsibilities of a Medical Coder
The professional medical coder is considered an extremely important member of the healthcare team. Many administrators, physicians and health care providers have a medical coder on staff in a resource position to provide necessary information regarding data collection, regulations, documentation and reimbursement. A medical coder may take a physician’s handwritten note to fill in any blanks, use computer software for coding, or work with a combination of digital charts and files and paper. Without the medical coder, physicians are unable to receive payment from the insurance companies of their patients because the paperwork must contain the correct codes.
The Workplace of the Medical Coder
Medical coders work in a variety of locations including the physician’s office, clinics, healthcare facilities and hospitals. Every hospital and office has a slightly different procedure the medical coder must follow. For the documentation and charts of a patient to be read correctly, a professional medical coder must have an extensive understanding of physiology, anatomy, pharmacology, disease processes, and a wide variety of classification systems. To work as a medical coder, a certificate in medical coding a required.
The Cost in Becoming a Medical Coder
The average cost of a medical coding program at a college or university is between $4,200 and $19,500. The cost depends on the college, the part of the country the college is located, if this is a community college, and if the student resides in the same state the college is located. This fee includes the certificate for medical coding. There are additional charges for taking the certification exams. The Certified Coding exam through the AHIMA costs $299. The Certified Professional Coder exam through the AAPC costs $300, and there is an additional fee of $125 for membership.
The Academic Requirements for a Medical Coder
Although it is not a requirement, many medical coders choose to earn either a Master’s degree or a Bachelor’s degree. Either degree will increase the knowledge of the student, open up additional job opportunities, and increase the potential salary. The actual requirement for this career is a medical coding course. This provides the education necessary in medical terminology, physiology and anatomy, and enables the student to pass the required examinations.
The Training for a Medical Coder
Training for a medical coder is available at many universities, colleges and online courses. The average program requires between 18 and 24 months for completion. Numerous coding courses are also available through the AAPC. The courses cover the material necessary to be proficient in the job, and to pass the certification exams. Once the certification has been achieved, potential employers know the candidate understand the rules of coding, and is capable of translating the charts of patients into insurance bills with the correct coding. This is where an advanced degree makes a difference because despite the individual being new to the field, they will generally receive a higher starting salary.
Prior to a medical coder achieving two-years of experience, they receive an apprentice designation, or a CPC-A. Once the individual has the necessary experience, their designation is considered complete. The examinations offered by the AAPC are designed to test the individual’s knowledge in coding for payers, or CPC-P, outpatient facilities, or CPC-H, and physician’s offices, or CPC. Since coding is used in numerous types of medical services, there are specialties available within the field. This includes general surgery, evaluation and management, gynecology and obstetrics. To maintain the status of certified, a medical coder is required to continue their education.
The Salary of the Medical Coder
According to the AAPC, the average coder earns between $45,000 to $65,000 each year. Certified coders, and coders with a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree are on the higher end of the pay scale.
The Benefits of Becoming a Medical Coder
A medical coder makes a good salary, and has job security. This field is consistently growing, and medical coders are in demand. There is also a choice of workplace including hospitals, physician’s offices, clinics, medical billing services and medical insurance companies. Once the medical coder achieves professional status, they have their choice of positions and work environments. This is an excellent career within the medical field.