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Medical Decoding Career Information and Education Requirements

Sep 19, 2019

Working as a medical decoder requires little formal education. Learn about the education, job duties and certification to see if this is the right career for you.

Most medical decoders find employment in hospitals and physicians' offices. Associate degree programs are available, but not necessary in order to pursue certification. Coders can choose to earn basic coder credentials or credentials specific to their employer of choice.

Essential Information

Medical decoders, also known as medical coders or coding specialists, utilize different code sets to classify patients, diagnoses and treatments for medical records and billing purposes. Most decoders receive certification after completing an associate degree program. Although certification in this field is voluntary, many employers prefer to hire applicants with credentials beyond a formal education.

Required Education Associate degree in health information technology; certificate programs are also available
Certification Voluntary through the Professional Association of Healthcare Coding Specialists (PAHCS) and the Americal Association of Professional Coders (AAPC); other specific certifications are available
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028) 11% for medical records and health information technicians*
Average Salary (2018) $44,010 for medical records and health information technicians*
$51,454 for certifed professional coders with AAPC credentials**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **The American Association of Professional Coders (AAPC)

Medical Decoding Career Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of medical records and health information technicians, which includes medical decoders, was projected to increase 11% from 2018-2028 (www.bls.gov). The largest employer of these technicians is hospitals, followed by physicians' offices, per the BLS. The American Association of Professional Coders' (AAPC) 2015 healthcare salary survey reported that the average annual salary of decoders and coders holding its Certified Professional Coder certification was $51,454 (www.aapc.com). In 2018, the BLS reported an annual average salary of $44,010 for medical records and health information technicians.

Medical Decoding Education Requirements

Individuals seeking a career as a medical decoder typically complete an associate degree program to prepare for certification examinations, although most certifications only require a high school or GED certificate to be eligible. Coursework should include anatomy, biology, medical terminology and database management.

Employers prefer applicants with certification. AAPC and PAHCS (Professional Association of Healthcare Coding Specialists) administer basic coding credentials. Specialty coding credentials, such as pediatrics, orthopedics, emergency medicine, urology, internal medicine or dermatology, are overseen by the Board of Medical Specialty Coding (BMSC), PAHCS and AAPC. Coders interested in working in the area of cancer treatment may become a Certified Tumor Registrar (Certifying body is NCRA - National Cancer Registrars Association.)

Most of the certifications require candidates to demonstrate proficiency with the American Medical Association's Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) and the World Health Organization's International Classification of Diseases (ICD) code sets. ICD-10 is the current code set and contains approximately 141,000 codes (as opposed to 17,000 codes in ICD-9). WHO - World Health Organization (www.who.int) is developing ICD-11, to be released in 2018.

Medical decoders work with billing processes in medical facilities. They must be familiar with the current set of codes, as established by the World Health Organization. Most employers prefer job applicants to have formal education as well as credentials and certifications, which are available for the general medical field as well as specific categories, like cancer treatment and emergency medicine.

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