The field of healthcare billing and coding is growing with evolving healthcare regulations, an aging population in need of care, and changes in medical billing and reimbursement. Medical coders translate medical chart notes and diagnoses into a coded numerical form for insurance billing and record keeping. They review doctors' analyses, treatment plans, and performed procedures and find the information they need to compile the record into a standard classification system.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects employment for medical records and health information technicians to increase 13% by 2026. These positions require extensive knowledge of coding, insurance billing, human anatomy and physiology, and illness forms. Professionals with a certificate in medical coding have the skills and knowledge necessary to help healthcare facilities meet client needs.
How to Choose the Right Certificate in Medical Coding Program
Prospective students should consider several factors when choosing a medical coding certificate program. While most accredited medical coding and billing programs include similar foundational classes to prepare learners for certification exams, each program offers a slightly different curriculum. Some programs focus on computer technologies and electronic health records, while others emphasize illness models and disease classifications. Learners should select a program that aligns with their interests and goals.
The number of required credits also varies by program and can affect degree completion time. Students should research each prospective program's credit requirements, expected completion time, accelerated and part-time options, and transfer policy. Budget is another important consideration, as tuition varies significantly between schools and program types.
Learners should also consider each program's format. On-campus programs typically appeal to students who live near campus and want structured classes and in-person interaction. Online courses are ideal for working professionals who need to study around their schedule. Some online medical coding programs allow learners to complete coursework at their own pace, meaning they could graduate more quickly.
Employment and Salary Outlook for Certificate in Medical Coding Graduates
Medical coders specialize in health information. They ensure the accuracy of medical claims submitted to insurance carriers for reimbursement. Due to increasing demand for professionals to organize the medical records of an aging population, the BLS projects growth in the field through 2026. According to PayScale, medical coders earn an average salary of $37,218 per year, though professionals late in their career may earn up to $47,000 annually. Additionally, professional certification can lead to increased earning potential.
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Attending an on-campus or online medical coding certificate program prepares students for specialized careers. Some professionals focus on the coding of diagnoses and treatment plans, while others specialize in submitting billing claims to insurance carriers and dealing with reimbursement. Both medical coders and billers can find employment in clinics, hospitals, surgical centers, remote offices, and insurance companies. The size and structure of the employing organization can impact a coder's daily responsibilities.
- Medical Biller
Medical billers send out billing claims and collect reimbursement for medical debts. This administrative position requires professionals to work with various insurance plans and governmental organizations to ensure claims are accurate and clear. Most employers prefer certification as a medical reimbursement specialist, and a certificate in medical coding provides foundational knowledge for this exam.
- Certified Professional Coder
These professionals code and compile patient information, enter data, maintain confidential records, and ensure compliance with regulations. A certificate program prepares students to pass the examinations necessary to become certified as professional coders. CPCs must also pass organization-specific examinations for employment.
- Medical Coder
Medical coders turn diagnoses, health histories, and treatment plans into codes used for record documentation and billing. They master ICD-10 and other classification systems and stay current on changing regulations. Earning a medical coding certificate prepares learners to work in this complex field, which requires administrative and medical knowledge.
- Medical Billing Specialist
Medical billing specialists facilitate billing processes, assist with customer service, improve billing procedures, and resolve billing complaints. While most employers do not require certification or an advanced degree, earning a certificate in medical coding improves employment prospects and can lead to increased earnings.
- Billing Specialist
Billing specialists work in a variety of industries. They submit invoices, resolve billing problems, and coordinate claim adjustments. They also submit bills to insurance companies and ensure payment of claims. Billing specialists need only on-site training, but a professional certificate can make job seekers more competitive candidates.
Accreditation for Medical Coding Programs
Students should prioritize medical coding and billing programs from accredited schools. Accreditation demonstrates that a school meets set standards of quality. Accredited institutions provide comprehensive curricula that prepare students for qualifying exams and careers. Students who attend an unaccredited school may not be eligible to sit for certification examinations or transfer credits to advanced programs.
National and regional accreditation agencies award institutional accreditation. Technical and vocational schools typically receive national accreditation, while liberal arts schools generally earn regional accreditation, which is more prestigious. In addition to institutional accreditation, students can look for medical coding certificate programs with accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation of Health Informatics and Information Management Education.
Medical Coding Certificate Program Admissions
Although admissions requirements vary by school and program, most medical coding certification programs have similar prerequisites. Typically, students attending medical coding certificate programs online or on-campus must hold a high school diploma or GED. Most programs require a minimum 2.0 GPA, and some require applicants to have completed introductory coursework in medical terminology or anatomy and physiology.
The application is an opportunity for students to demonstrate that they can successfully complete the program. Online students should use their application to illustrate their self-management skills and their ability to complete coursework without the structure of a classroom. Typically, applicants must supply personal, academic, and enrollment information. While admission to a certificate program may be less competitive than admission to a more advanced program, students should still consider applying to several programs that suit their schedule and interests.
- Application: Both online and hard-copy applications to medical coding certificate programs typically require the student's basic information, educational history, and academic plans. Applicants indicate whether they plan to study full or part time. The time necessary to complete an application varies by program.
- Transcripts: Transcripts provide documentation of a student's academic history, including completed coursework and cumulative GPA. Certificate programs typically require transcripts to ensure the applicant has completed prerequisite degrees and courses. Most schools charge a small fee to release official transcripts.
- Application Fee: Most schools require an application fee, which covers the cost of reviewing applications. Fees vary depending on the program, so students should research application fees and budget appropriately.
What Else Can I Expect From a Certificate in Medical Coding Program?
Core Courses in a Medical Coding Certificate Program
Each on-campus or online medical coding certificate program offers a unique curriculum. However, all programs provide foundational knowledge needed to pass certification exams and enter careers. Below are three core courses that are common to many medical coding certification programs.
- Medical Terminology: Medical coders sort through medical chart notes, which requires a thorough understanding of terminology. This knowledge enables medical coders to identify small minutiae that can entirely change a diagnosis or billing code. This course typically covers word suffixes, bodily systems, procedures, and basic anatomical terms.
- CPT and ICD-10 Coding: This course provides an overview of ICD-10 coding and Current Procedural Terminology coding, which is standard coding systems used for medical, surgical, diagnostic, and procedural reporting. Learners explore the basics of each system and study speciality coding situations.
- Healthcare Insurance: This class examines the fundamentals of insurance coverage and the types of insurance available. Students learn about the reimbursement process, fee schedules, and the audit process. Introductory coursework on health insurance agencies prepares learners to code for and bill to different companies.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Certificate in Medical Coding?
Various on-campus or online medical coding and billing certification programs offer different timelines for graduation. The amount of time necessary to earn the certificate depends on the program, the student's enrollment status, total credit requirements, and program format. Most medical coding certificate programs require 18-30 credits, which students typically complete in one to two years.
Some schools allow distance learners to complete coursework at their own pace, meaning students can finish more quickly. Some programs award credits for prior work experience, which can reduce credit requirements and completion time.
How Much Is a Certificate in Medical Coding?
The cost of earning a certificate in medical coding varies depending on the program, school, and format. Costhelper Education estimates the total cost of an online program to be $1,000-4,000, and the cost of an on-campus program to be $2,500-12,000. Students completing a medical coding certification program through a technical school or community college typically pay more than those earning the certificate through an online association or professional organization. Additionally, students who attend an out-of-state, on-campus program generally pay more than in-state learners.
When budgeting for their education, students should consider additional fees, including books and other learning materials. On-campus students should also calculate the costs of transportation and housing. While online programs tend to cost less per credit, some programs charge distance learners additional technology fees, and online students need access to a computer and the internet. Learners should also budget for the cost of certification exams, which can cost several hundred dollars.
Professional Organizations in Medical Coding
Joining a professional organization can benefit current students and individuals who have graduated and passed certification exams. Professional organizations in the field help connect coders and billers, provide educational opportunities, sponsor conferences, and offer career services and job boards. Below are three of the primary organizations for medical coding and billing professionals.