How to Become a Medical Coder

Behind the scenes of the healthcare industry is a group of professionals who provide the administration necessary to support the work of doctors and nurses. Medical coders are part of this group, and the tasks they do are both important and in-demand.

Medical coders take notes and documents from health care professionals and translate them into a universal series of codes used for the purposes of billing and record keeping.

This may sound simple, but it involves taking one complex set of information and coding it into another with no room for error. It’s a career that requires precision, attention to detail and the ability to interpret and problem solve, but if you are searching for a career path that also offers extensive opportunities and a quick path to entry, here are the steps to how to become a medical coder or biller.

Education to Become a Medical Coder

As long as you have a high school diploma, you can enter a medical coding certificate program that can take less than a year to complete.

If you want to get your career off to the strongest start possible, you will want to pursue further education however. There are two-year associate’s degree and four-year bachelor’s degree programs available that provide a much deeper level of training into medical coding specifically, and health information technology or health informatics generally. For instance, a bachelor’s degree in health information management opens up opportunities throughout the industry.

To find the right education option, consider how quickly you want to get working, how much you have to invest, and how your studies will impact the rest of your life.

Certification to Become a Medical Coder

Considering how sensitive and technical this line of work is, almost no employer will be willing to hire someone who is unprepared and unproven. Part of how you demonstrate your aptitude is by getting an education from an accredited institution. But an equal part is getting certified by professional organizations involved with the medical coding field.

The two primary organizations are the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) and the American Association of Professional Coders (AAPC). Both offer a variety of certification opportunities built around specific concepts/practices/issues relevant to the field. The certification requirements vary, but in general you must have a baseline level of education or experience, pay a fee, and pass an exam.

Even though certification is not absolutely necessary, it is a huge professional asset. Certifications demonstrate that an applicant has specialized skills and a level of knowledge and ability that meets the highest standards. Plus, earning certifications is a sign that an applicant is committed to professional development and motivated to improve and advance.

Job Outlook for Medical Coders

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not track statistics for medical coders specifically, but they do track for medical records and health information technicians. This broad category of employment encompasses all types of medical coders, as well as the professionals they work with most directly. By the Bureau’s estimates, demand for coders and others will grow by 13 percent through 2025, adding 27,800 new jobs. That is almost twice the average rate of growth for all jobs over the same period.

13% growth through 2026
Adding 27,800 new jobs

There is some concern that future technologies will reduce the need for medical coders, but those capabilities are nowhere near development. But even if the industry is disrupted in the future, medical coders are in a perfect position to transition seamlessly into another facet of health information management. The skills and experience of medical coders should remain in demand for decades to come.

Career Options for Medical Coders

One of the most exciting things about a career in medical coding is that the work can be done in a variety of settings. This is actually one of the most common jobs for people who prefer to work at home. There are extensive opportunities to work remotely, and due to the nature of the work little to nothing is lost by being out of the office. A career in medical coding gives you a lot of choice and control over when, where and how you earn a living.

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