The healthcare industry is booming and, according to projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, many professions within the industry are expected to grow in the next decade. Among these professions is medical billing and coding specialists, or medical coders, who are expected to see job growth greater than the national average between 2014 and 2024. Higher than average job growth combined with very reasonable education and certification requirements make this profession an attractive choice. The medical coding salary also compares well to other professions with similar education requirements.
Medical coders are not alone in providing assistance to physicians and other healthcare providers in the healthcare setting, but this role is particularly important. The significance of the role has only grown in recent years, as insurance companies and hospitals seek to improve care and cut costs by placing greater emphasis on accurate record keeping, medical coding, and billing. This means that the medical coder is not only an important aid to the physician, but an important part in helping the industry stick to the bottom line.
Job Description and Duties
It is important that any prospective student have an understanding of the job duties accompanying in any professional role when deciding whether to pursue a particular career. Although the duties of the medical billing and coding specialist may seem straight forward, coding is a complex science requiring specificed skills. This is the reason why coders have more stringent education and qualification requirements then similar positions within the healthcare industry, like medical scribes.
In fact, the healthcare industry has seen an increase in the number and the duties of roles that provide assistance to physicians, including medical billing and coding specialists. This is in part related to the massive size of the healthcare industry, and the increasing tendency for many physicians to be overstretched both in the hospital and in a private practice setting. With the aid of support staff like medical billing and coding specialists, physicians can accomplish their primary tasks while maintaining high standards of accuracy and efficiency.
Indeed, the growth of jobs in medical billing and coding and related fields like the medical scribe reflect an increasing attention toward efficiency, accuracy, and other measures that are tied to cost. Part of this is due to very high healthcare costs in the United States compared to other Western nations, and a desire for insurance companies and other healthcare companies to generate as much revenue as possible in order to remain cost-effective in this highly important field.
But the role of the medical billing and coding specialists transcends mere financial matters. Students interested in this field should have an interest in medicine and the healthcare industry as they will have to become highly familiar with medical terminology in order to code accurately. They will also need communication skills, both when interacting with physicians and other healthcare providers, and in terms of accurate written communication on billing forms, charts, or other important records.
The following skills are important for anyone considering a career in medical billing and coding:
Medical billing and coding specialist is actually an umbrella term of sorts to describe several types of workers engaged in activities that often overlap to some degree. This job title includes technicians whose area of expertise is focused on billing, as well as those technicians who scope of training and work is more focused on coding. Because many workers are trained in both areas or work in both these areas, the twin work of medical billing and coding is often grouped together.
The projected demand for this career will be discussed in greater detail later in this article, but job growth is expected to be higher than the national average. The medical billing and coding specialist may experience an increase in the number of job opportunities in the next decade as this career expands, and the medical coding salary may become more robust as a result.
The daily tasks of the medical billing and coding specialist vary according to the type of medical office they are hired by, as medical billing and coding specialists can be found in various settings within the healthcare industry. These workers can be found at hospitals and other medical facilities as well as at primary care practices, specialist offices, and insurance companies, just to name a few. It is not uncommon for medical billing and coding specialists to become specialized in a particular area of medicine where they have acquired advanced billing and coding knowledge.
Education and qualifications for a career in medical coding will be addressed in greater detail in the next section, but the requirements for a career in medical coding is relatively modest considering the critical nature of their work. Workers in this important healthcare field do not require an advanced degree in order to find work, and, in fact, many workers are able to work with a certificate and without a college degree. Although education is an important factor in any profession, in the case of medical coding, specialized knowledge and training may be just as important in securing a strong medical coding salary.
There are several professional organizations that certify workers in the medical billing and coding industry. Two well-known organizations are the American Academy of Professional Coders, or AAPC, and the American Health Information Management Association, or AHIMA, which is known for providing certification and other qualifications for several careers within the wider industry of health information and health management including medical billing and coding. There is also the Board of Medical Specialty Coding and Compliance, which can provide advanced certifications.
Education and Certifications
The basic education or training requirement for a career as a medical coder is an associate’s degree or a certificate in medical billing and coding. This education requirement is similar to other technician-type healthcare careers that have similar job outlooks and salaries to medical billing and coding specialists. These requirements are more stringent than some related roles, like the medical scribe, in part because of the understanding of medical diagnoses that is required of medical coders in order for them to be able to accurately code and bill.
In terms of the background that is suggested for people considering a career in medical billing and coding, the following areas of coursework are suggested:
Education in this area will be incorporated into associate’s degree programs or certification programs, depending on which route of study the prospective entrant into this career decides to take. Although it may surprise some that students of this field are expected to have some understanding of the law, this should not come as a surprise as medical billing and coding specialists must have an understanding of the privacy guidelines set forth by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA.
Depending on the employer, medical coders may be required to have a certification in order to be eligible for hire. Possession of a certification may also have some bearing on the medical coding salary. The certification organizations were mentioned previously, though it is important to note that the most common certification possessed in this industry is the CCA, or Certified Coding Assistant, which is offered by the American Health Information Management Association, or AHIMA.
There are other certifications offered, many of which require advanced experienced or specialized training. After a medical coder has gained several years of work experience, they can become eligible to obtain another certification, the CCS, or Certified Coding Specialist, which like the CCA requires sitting for an examination.
Medical Coding Salary
The medical coding salary compares well to other healthcare technicians with similar roles or responsibilities. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), medical coders earned an average of about $37,000 in 2015, which is more than the earnings brought in by medical scribes. Like most careers in the healthcare industry, the medical coding salary is influenced by several factors, of which the most important are perhaps geographic location, type of employer, and years of experience.
As mentioned previously, workers in this field are able to specialize in specific areas of medicine and obtain additional certification. Obtaining specialized knowledge and working in specialized areas, like gastroenterology, can increase earnings. The number of medical coding positions is expected to increase by 15% between 2014 and 2024, and if salary keeps pace with this growth, prospective workers can expect to earn more than the current average.
With reasonable education requirements and great predicted job growth, it is not surprising that many people are considering entering medical coding. This career offers an opportunity both to gain highly specialized knowledge and to work in the healthcare setting. In addition, a strong medical coding salary has also proven to be an attractive lure.