Certificate or diploma programs and associate's degree programs in medical coding are similar, offering courses that cover coding systems, billing procedures, and legal issues for medical coding. Degree programs require students get hands-on experience in a medical facility. Some of these programs offer online courses as well. Graduates of all levels of training apply for certification from professional coders' organizations. Certification is voluntary, but can help with employment or career advancement.
Most associate's programs allow applicants with a high school diploma or GED, though some also require certain skills and the completion of specific courses, such as keyboarding, business communication, and medical terminology. Candidates need to pass a technology assessment or placement test prior to acceptance. Some schools also require students to submit to a background or health test. Certificate and diploma programs only require a high school diploma or GED. Some schools recommend or require applicants have medical terminology and basic computer experience prior to enrollment. Students need to carry professional liability insurance throughout the duration of the program and submit to health testing.
Medical Coding Specialist Certificate and Diploma Programs
Aspiring medical coding specialists enter the career after the completion of a certificate or diploma program. Lasting anywhere between 4-18 months, these programs provide education and training specific to medical coding, billing, and reporting. Students learn to manage software programs used for electronic records-keeping and insurance billing.
Certificate and diploma programs do not carry a general education requirement, and are comprised of progressing levels of coding education. Some longer programs also include additional training in medical topics, such as anatomy, pharmacology and health care law. Students are required to participate in coding practicums at local affiliate hospitals, clinics, and health care facilities. Courses specific to medical coding include:
- Coding classifications for Medicare and Medicaid
- Medical, diagnostic and procedural coding
- Medical coding related to specific health agencies
- Information systems and coding software applications
- Encoding and grouping procedures
- Laws and ethics related to medical coding
Associate of Applied Science for Medical Coding Specialists
A two-year associate's degree program for medical coding specialists includes education in computer, coding, and medical topics. Graduates meet eligibility requirements for professional certification and may receive more job opportunities than those with only a certificate or diploma in medical coding. Very few general education credits are required, and are loosely related to the field of study. Many degree programs incorporate one or more clinical practicums to provide students with hands-on training. Associate degree programs include multiple courses in varying stages of coding, billing, reimbursement, and organizational training. Students learn:
- Medical coding systems and classifications
- Medical conditions, diagnoses, treatments and basic pharmacology
- Office administration and leadership skills
- Advanced medical terminology and communications
- Information technology, advanced encoding and security
Medical coding specialists often work in hospitals, private medical clinics, nursing homes and outpatient facilities. In addition to a coding specialist career, graduates of a certificate or diploma program may also qualify for entry-level positions, such as:
- Medical transcriptionist
- Medical administrative assistant
- Insurance specialist
- Scheduling and billing coordinator
- Patient account representative
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment opportunities were anticipated to increase 11% for medical records and health information technicians from 2018-2028, faster than the average for all occupations. Those with professional certification and experience in the field offered greater value to employers (www.bls.gov). Salary reports from PayScale.com stated that in September 2019, the annual salary for entry-level medical coding specialists ranged from $30,000 - $63,000.
Continuing Education and Certification Information
Several employers require educational training and professional certification. Medical coding specialists with experience or an associate degree may qualify to earn a Registered Health Information Technician or Certified Professional Coder credential. Certified coding and billing specialists demonstrate their proficiency in several coding systems and applications. Certification must be periodically renewed, and continuing education courses are often required.
Aspiring medical coding specialists may pursue a medical coding specialist certificate, diploma or associate's degree. While all three programs cover coding systems, billing procedures, and legal issues related to medical coding, employment opportunities may increase for those with a degree.