How to Become a Physician Coding Specialist: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Mar 11, 2020

Learn how to become a physician coding specialist. Research the education requirements, training information and experience required for starting a career in the field of medical coding.

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Be a Physician Coding Specialist

Physician coding specialists work in doctors' offices, clinics, and group practices. Medical coders help health care professionals get reimbursed for their services by assigning a numeric code to each procedure and diagnosis that a patient receives. By translating patient records into numerical codes, physician coding specialists streamline the billing process and help health care professionals receive payment from insurance companies.

Coding specialists, like other kinds of medical records and health information technicians, almost always work in office settings on either a full- or part-time basis. Some facilities, like hospitals, may require overnight or weekend shifts.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Certificate or associate's degree
Degree Field Medical coding, health information technology
Certification Voluntary certifications are available; some employers may require certification
Key Skills Analytical abilities, able to work with others, knowledge of medical codes and coding and classification software
Salary (2018) $40,350 (median for all medical records and health information technicians)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Physician coding specialists need analytical abilities to apply their knowledge of medical codes and the usage of coding and classification software. This career also requires interpersonal skills and the ability to work with others. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported, in May 2018, that medical records and health information technicians, a group that includes physician coding specialists, earned a median salary of $40,350.

Steps to Be a Coding Specialist

This job requires a combination of training and experience.

Step 1: Obtain Postsecondary Education

Most employers hire applicants that have completed a medical coding training program. The skills and knowledge necessary to obtain a job as a physician coding specialist are usually taught in a certificate or associate's degree program. Training programs are available at community colleges as well as some technical schools. These programs cover medical procedures and terminology and provide training in ICD-10 and CPT coding. The required education may also be obtained through a health information technology program

To get ahead, complete an internship or apprenticeship program. Students enrolled in a college program may have the opportunity to participate in an internship or apprenticeship as part of their training. These programs provide candidates with direct work experience that can be beneficial when seeking employment following graduation. The American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC) also has 3-month internship opportunities open to members who have coding certification.

Step 2: Get Certified

Certification is not always required, but many employers prefer to hire coding specialists who are certified. Aspiring physician coding specialists have a variety of certification options, but employers generally look for candidates who have one based on CPT or ICD-10 coding.

Coding specialists can obtain the Certified Coding Specialist (CCS-P) designation, which is offered by the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA). The CCS-P designation can be obtained through a variety of avenues such as completion of an approved training program, having obtained two years of coding experience, or possessing a coding certification from a different organization to go along with a year of coding experience. Applicants may also apply to become a Certified Professional Coder (CPC)_, which is offered by the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC). The CPC credential requires applicants to have two years of experience in medical coding or to have completed an apprenticeship.

Step 3: Get Experience as a Coding Specialist

After obtaining training and a certification, aspiring coding specialists should be able to secure an entry-level position in the health care industry. After gaining experience in an entry-level position, a coding specialist can usually pursue a job as a coding coordinator. Coding coordinators generally have similar job duties as coding specialists, but they're also responsible for ensuring that the coding done by specialists is accurate. Coordinators may also be responsible for training new coding specialists. Coordinator positions generally require applicants to have anywhere from two to five years of coding experience.

Preparing for a career as a physician coding specialist requires postsecondary education through a training program, or a certificate or associate's degree program. Some programs offer an internship or apprenticeship. Voluntary professional certification, such as Certified Coding Specialist (CCS-P) and Certified Professional Coder (CPC) can improve your prospects. Career advancement may be possible with several years of experience.

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