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Medical Biller and Coder Careers

Most medical billers and coders work in healthcare facilities, where they classify medical services for purposes of invoicing and reimbursement. They refer to the latest versions of resources such as the International Classification of Diseases to label each element of patient care with diagnostic codes and procedural codes. Duties can vary for these health information technicians, but they often submit insurance claims on behalf of doctors and hospitals. With the increasing use of electronic health records and software created for medical office administration, billers and coders typically need technical skills as well as a knowledge of medical terminology.

Medical billing and coding professionals can be found in hospitals, doctors' offices, nursing care facilities, home healthcare services and insurance companies. They generally spend regular office hours at their desks organizing documents, often using computers. Since hospitals are open 24 hours, some technicians could work evenings or overnight shifts. Other technicians work part time. Among the positive qualities of medical coding jobs is the ability to collaborate with health care providers while offering administrative support.

How to Become a Medical Biller and Coder

There are different paths for aspiring medical billers and coders, depending on one's experience and prior education. Qualifications may vary according to the healthcare setting or employer. The following steps could help one enter the field of medical billing and coding, although there is no guarantee of employment.

  1. Take health, computer science, math and biology courses in high school to improve chances of admission to postsecondary programs, suggests the Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov).
  2. Earn a high school diploma or equivalent credential, which is a prerequisite for most programs.
  3. Pursue postsecondary education, as this career typically requires a certificate or an associate degree.
  4. Obtain practical experience if required by employers. On-the-job experience could be gained through externships -- school projects to put into practice what students learn in the classroom -- or internships in healthcare facilities.
  5. Gain professional certification to help demonstrate competency in the field. Requirements for certifications vary.
  6. Apply for open positions in one's desired area.
  7. If required by an employer, undergo background check and drug screening.

Post-Education Requirements

BLS.gov notes that many employers prefer to employ medical records and health information technicians who are certified. Certifications may require an exam administered by a professional organization, completion of an approved education program and/or related work experience. Different types of medical coding certification are available from organizations such as the American Health Information Management Association, or AHIMA (ahima.org):

  • Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT): While most RHITs work in hospitals, they are also found in settings such as public health agencies.
  • Certified Coding Associate (CCA): This credential is intended to demonstrate coding competencies in diverse settings, include hospitals and physicians' practices.
  • Certified Coding Specialist (CCS): This certification can show familiarity with current coding systems, medical terminology and pharmacology.
  • Certified Coding Specialist -- Physician-based (CCS-P): This exam focuses on coding skills for doctors' offices and clinics, with attention to the accuracy and integrity of patient data.

Certified professionals generally need to renew their credentials regularly and may have to enroll in continuing education courses.

Specialties

Medical billers and coders may develop special expertise in a type of coding, for example, procedures used in hospitals or doctors' offices. Once they have general experience, they can also focus on certain medical specialties, such as radiology or cardiovascular care.

A related specialty is cancer registry, which could include classifying different types of tumors as well as maintaining databases of statistics on cancer patients. Some states require cancer registrars to be certified and pass the Certified Tumor Registrar exam.

Job Growth and Average Salary

The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not provide medical billing and coding salary information separately, and it classifies these professionals as medical records and health information technicians. This profession is expected to grow by up to 21 percent, faster than average for all occupations, between 2010 and 2020 nationally. As the population grows older, demand could rise for medical tests, treatment and procedures, as well as the corresponding insurance reimbursement claims. More types of illnesses are treated later in life, so an aging populace could spur an increase in record-keeping such as cancer registries (bls.gov).

In May 2012, the BLS reported a median annual wage of $34,160 for U.S. medical records and health information technicians, with the highest 10 percent earning more than $56,200 and the lowest 10 percent earning less than $22,250. Medical billing and coding salary can vary depending on factors such as location, education and experience. Employment opportunities may be strongest for those with certification and computer skills (bls.gov).

List of Related Careers

Students interested in medical coding can seek related career options as well. Related healthcare occupations may require additional experience or training:

  • Medical Transcriptionists: Transcribe medical professionals' voice recordings into written reports.
  • Medical Assistants: Provide support for medical professionals, potentially including clinical as well as administrative tasks.

Links to Sources and Associations

Websites such as these offer more information on medical billing and coding careers:

American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC)

American Health Information Management Association

World Health Organization: International Classification of Diseases

Medical Records and Health Information Technicians, Occupational Employment and Wages, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012

Medical Records and Health Information Technicians, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012

National Cancer Registrars Association