According to the U.S. Census Bureau, by 2030, one out of every five U.S. residents will be retirement age or older. And while an aging population will have a significant impact on a variety of industries, it will have one of the most significant impacts on the healthcare system.
While this will mean a need for more doctors and nurses, those aren’t the healthcare careers for everyone. If the sight of blood is too much for you, consider a career as a medical coder.
As a medical coder, you’ll be part of a growing field with plenty of job opportunities.
However, the path to becoming a medical coder isn’t as simple as some online ads would have you think. There is a fair amount of training you need to undertake. But, once you’ve completed your education, you’ll be able to work in a variety of healthcare settings and may be able to work flexibly and even remotely.
What Is a Medical Coder?
A medical coder is, in essence, a translator. As part of the medical team, the medical coder reviews the patient’s file and translates everything from that file into universal codes required by insurance companies. It’s the medical coder’s responsibility to make sure the right code is used every single time. It’s the only way to ensure the insurance companies are billed properly.
Everything that happens with the patient is translated and coded. This includes everything from diagnosis and treatment, to what supplies were used. The coder also indicates if there were any unusual circumstances during the visit or procedure.
A medical coder is different from a medical biller. A medical biller processes the insurance claims and follows up on them. They do not determine what codes are used in the insurance billing. However, a medical coder and a medical biller can be the same person if they have the proper training.
A medical coder does not have anything to do with the technological aspects of medical record keeping. Even though the word “code” is in the title, medical coders do not write code for computer programming. They also do not maintain medical records or have anything to do with ensuring the protection and safety of patient information stored electronically.
A medical coders’ job duties are the same no matter where they work. However, a medical coder can pursue certification in specific concentrations if they choose. While there are several medical coder certification organizations, there are some “standard” certifications.
There is the “intro level” certification that says you are a certified medical coder. You can also pursue other certifications, depending on where you want to work. For example, there are certifications for people who wish to work in doctor’s offices and certifications for people to work in hospital settings.
Medical Coding Salary and Growth Expectations
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) categorizes medical coders under “Medical Records and Health Information Technicians.” This term refers to everyone that reviews patient files, organizes patient data, and assigns clinical codes for insurance reimbursement (among other things).
This entire job category—including medical coders—is predicted to grow 11% between 2018 and 2028. This is “much faster than average” than other occupations, which is due, in part, to an aging population.
Pay varies for medical coders, depending on where you work. In 2018, the median salary for a medical coder was between $35,520 and $43,470.
How to Become a Medical Coder
Before you decide to pursue a medical coder career, you should know that you will need to pursue some specialized education. First, you will need to learn multiple sets of medical codes, as the government requires their use. Some of these codes are:
- International Classification of Diseases, 10th Edition (ICD-10-CM), which includes 69,000 codes for everything that can hurt you, make you sick, or kill you.
- Current Procedure Terminology (CPT) for the 8,000 codes that describe all physician services.
- International Classification of Diseases, 10th Edition, Procedural Coding System (ICD-10-PCS) used by hospitals to code the 130,000 different surgical procedures.
- Health Care Procedural Coding System, Level III (HCPCS Level II), which has over 7,000 codes that help bill insurance companies for supplies.
There are other codes you will need to learn if you want to become a medical coder. And, if you wish to pursue a specialized field, for example, dentistry or cancer, you will need to learn specific codes for those areas, too.
Beyond the codes, you will also need to learn about anatomy, physiology, and medical procedures, not to mention all the individual insurance rules and policies.
Because there’s so much to learn on the path to medical coder, most employers want prospective employees to have a solid background and education in medical coding. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean you must have an M.D. or even a Ph.D. to do the job.
While some employers are fine with medical coders who have a high school diploma and extensive medical coding experience, many are not. Typically, you will need a bachelor’s degree in a health-related field, but some employers will accept an associate degrees.
That said, your coursework should include classes in medical terminology, anatomy, and physiology. You’ll also need classes in health data standards, classifications, and coding systems. It’s also wise to take computer classes that focus on data and record keeping.
You may also want to pursue a medical coder certification during or immediately after your studies. While generally not required to apply for a job, having a certification can help you get ahead of the competition. And, even if you are hired without a certification, many employers will expect you to become certified soon after you start.
Make sure you receive your certification from a reputable accreditation organization. Advancing the Business of Healthcare (AAPC) and the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) are two such bodies, but there are other accrediting bodies you can look into.
Medical Coding Jobs
Many medical coders can work flexible hours or alternative hours, where they work evenings or weekends. However, this flexibility is dependent on where you work, how big of a place your work for, and how much experience you have as a medical coder.
Because medical coders work with highly sensitive and confidential information, many medical coders are required to work on-site. But, many positions can be done from home.
At FlexJobs, you can find many remote medical coding jobs. These roles may require proven ability to access sensitive information from home. You’ll typically need a quiet home office that’s free of distractions that lets you focus.
Medical Coding Companies
Where do medical coders work? Medical coders work in a variety of settings that aren’t hospitals. You can work in a private practice office, a long-term care setting, or an urgent care center. Here are a few companies from our database that are known to hire for flexible coding jobs.
Atrium Health is a network of hospitals, medical centers, and healthcare and wellness providers serving residents of the Carolinas. Atrium Health provides services at more than 700 locations, including academic medical centers, nearly 40 hospitals, a freestanding emergency department, physicians’ practices, surgical and rehabilitation centers, and more.
BayCare Health System provides comprehensive, community-based medical care to residents of the greater Tampa Bay area. Its inpatient and outpatient services include primary care, laboratory, behavioral health, wellness, home care, imaging, and acute care.
As one of the country’s largest independent healthcare technology companies, Change Healthcare works with partners and customers to expedite the journey toward a better quality of life for all. The company strives to improve point-of-care delivery systems at all stages before, in between, and after care episodes.
Cooper Thomas improves healthcare programs using technology, health information and program management services, and strategic communications. Cooper Thomas offers services in four key areas: virtual training and events, health IT, website design and development, and medical records coding.
Ensemble Health Partners is a hospital and healthcare company that partners with its clients’ hospitals to go beyond expectations in developing processes and training teams to create long-lasting and accurate results. The company helps hospitals reach their financial and operational goals so clients can better focus on their communities, families, and patients.
GoHealth Urgent Care is a system of nonemergency healthcare clinics that aims to deliver an effortless, convenient patient experience with state-of-the-art equipment, modern facilities, walk-in service, and on-site imaging and lab services. GoHealth Urgent Care partners with industry-leading healthcare organizations in its communities to extend a seamless continuity of care beyond its facilities.
Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian operates as a not-for-profit healthcare organization. Since 1952, Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian has provided a range of healthcare services growing to operate through two acute care hospitals, seven health centers, and four urgent care centers.
Indiana University Health, often called IU Health, is a network of hospitals, physicians, and allied services working to improve the Indiana healthcare system. It provides a variety of patient services, including outpatient care, hospital-based physician practices, and pharmacy and home health services, specializing in cancer, cardiovascular, transplant, neuroscience, and pediatric care.
Mercy Health is a Catholic healthcare ministry that serves Ohio and Kentucky. It is ranked among the top 20% of U.S. health systems noted for clinical quality and efficiency, and the organization works to improve community health and help individuals who are poor and underserved.
Metropolitan Heart and Vascular Institute – MHVI is a heart clinic that serves the communities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. It enables various cardiovascular service providers to deliver patient-centric and high-quality care in general cardiology, cardiovascular surgery, noninvasive imaging, electrophysiology, and more.
Founded in 1949, Mount Sinai Medical Center operates various facilities around South Florida, including physicians’ offices, diagnostic laboratories, emergency rooms, a cancer center, and specialty care facilities. It is the largest private, independent, nonprofit teaching hospital in South Florida.
The University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics serves as the primary academic medical organization for the School of Medicine and Health at the University of Wisconsin. It employs 1,400 physicians and 16,500 staff members who serve over 600,000 patients annually from the Midwest and beyond.
Job Searching with FlexJobs
Medical coders can find work in a growing field that isn’t projected to go anywhere anytime soon. If you want to find a flexible medical coding job, use FlexJobs. Our listings are all hand-screened and verified.
Photo Credit: bigstockphoto.com
A version of this article was originally published on September 18, 2015.
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Adrianne Bibby, FlexJobs Staff Writer
Adrianne Bibby is a staff writer at FlexJobs, the premier website for telecommuting, flexible schedule, and freelance job postings. Her writing focuses on work-balance issues, finding joy in your job, and using life experience to transition to a more meaningful,…Read More >
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