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Medical billing or coding training programs take between four and 15 months, depending on how much time you can spend on your classwork and what coding specialties you might study. You might think that the two professions are the same, but medical billing and medical coding are two parts of the healthcare industry's administrative side. While the two jobs use similar skills and knowledge, coders and billers do different work. Coders work behind the scenes reviewing patient records and assigning codes to the information so that the insurance paperwork can be filed appropriately. Medical billers take over from there, using billing software and the codes to send out bills and claims. Depending on where you work, you may do coding, billing, or both.
Medical coders or billers are classified as medical records and health information technicians by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). According to the BLS, the average medical coder or biller earns $42,630 a year or $20.50 an hour. In large companies, there are higher-paying jobs in the coding and billing fields. A medical billing clerk could move on to be a billing specialist or supervisor, for example. A large insurance company might have a medical records coding manager with a salary of $65,000 or so.
Coders or billers work full or part-time in medical offices, hospitals, insurance companies, or medical billing companies. Still, other industries hire coders, and you can even do some medical billing jobs from home. Most coders and billers are employees, but some work on a contract basis.
How Do You Become a Medical Biller or Coder?
You can learn the basics in as little as three or four months, but you should look for programs that will get you certified as a coder or biller through:
- American Academy of Professional Coders(AAPC)
- American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA)
- American Medical Billing Association (AMBA)
These programs usually take a minimum of 12 months. Not all employers required certification, but you will be considered an expert and have broader job prospects if you have it.
There are also regional accrediting agencies, including:
- Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools
- New England Association of Schools and Colleges
- North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
- Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
Lots of programs pop up on the internet, but before you choose a “for-profit” school, check their accreditation and see if they can give you certification rates (what percentage of their graduates get certified) and employment rates. In addition to schools and organizations offering certificate programs, colleges have two-year associate degree programs and four-year bachelor's degree programs. Depending on your life and career goals, college might be right for you. In two or four-year college programs, students take classes in subjects like English composition and the humanities, in addition to medical billing and coding subjects like human anatomy, medical terminology, and healthcare reimbursement systems. A college degree would surely set you up to move into management positions later in your career.
Consider your learning style. Choose a program or school for how you learn best. Maybe you like the idea of all online classes but investigate how the school presents online courses. If you like to ask questions, make sure classes are interactive and not just recorded lectures. In-person classes can offer you more give and take with teachers and other students.
Should you specialize? Once you learn the basics of medical coding, you might consider specializing in a field like cardiology, ophthalmology or pediatrics. There are about a dozen specialties, so you may want to think about future education and career goals before choosing a school.
7 Places to Find Medical Billing and Coding jobs
- Hospital inpatient and outpatient coders - Hospital inpatient and outpatient coders work in the emergency, billing, and surgical departments, and labs. Inpatient coding uses a system of codes to transcribe the details of a patient's hospital stay. On the other hand, outpatient coding utilizes a different code system to report same-day healthcare services. After coding, hospital billers take over.
- Medical coding and billing in a doctor’s office - The work a coder does in a doctor’s office is essential to the practice's success. Specialty training that matches the doctor’s field could make you indispensable. Doctor's office coders are responsible for coding all the medical records and charts for physicians' patients. Often the coder and biller are the same person.
- Insurance agencies - Medical coders in insurance agencies verify the accuracy of incoming claims. Knowledge specialization helps here, too. Uncovering errors saves the company money.
- Information technology companies- A career avenue you might not think about is working for a company that develops coding software for healthcare facilities. Your knowledge of medical coding enables you to check the accuracy of new programs.
- Education - Once you have gained some experience, perhaps you will decide to train a new generation of coders and billers.
- Law firms - Firms specializing in liability or billing fraud cases may require a medical coder's expertise. Billing fraud is a huge problem for healthcare providers.
- Independent billing services -You could work for a medical billing services company. They manage claims and get insurance payments for medical practices. You might be an employee or work as an independent contractor.
Can You Work for Yourself as a Medical Coder or Biller?
Are you the independent type? Some people are attracted to the medical coding and billing field because they want to work from home or even establish their own company. You can certainly become an independent contractor and do coding and billing for one or more medical offices. You must find the work and set fees, and you would usually also be responsible for providing a computer, printer and other supplies. Be sure to learn about reporting your income and filing taxes for yourself if you go this route.
Starting your own company requires a whole other set of skills, and you might want to wait until you get some experience in the profession. If your long-term goal includes starting a business, college, and small business association classes could help you.
How Do You Find Medical Billing and Coding Jobs?
Medical records are complicated, and medical coders enter patient treatment information into the standard industry-recognized formats so that medical billers can send out accurate paperwork. They assign codes to each part of a patient’s care so that healthcare providers can get paid by insurance companies. Since coders and billers sit in front of computer screens, working primarily with numbers, attention to detail is vital. If you are detail-oriented, medical coding and billing might be right for you.