What Do I Need to Become a Medical Coder?

Are you good with numbers? Want to work in the medical field but don’t want to deal directly with patients? Being a medical coder is gratifying, because you still get to help those in need. But what are medical codes? Medical codes are a kind of shorthand for insurance forms. Short alphanumeric sequences describe everything from symptoms and disorders to drugs and durable equipment, streamlining the exchange of data between providers and insurers. But accuracy is a must, so coding requires both clinical and clerical expertise. If you have a passion for science and business, becoming a medical coder could be just what the doctor ordered.

Who Becomes a Medical Coder?

Life is too short to hate what you do. You want to feel engaged and fulfilled in your job. However, it can be tough to predict what type of work you will find rewarding, so understanding which of your qualities and aptitudes drive career satisfaction helps. Medical coding will be an excellent fit if:

You are interested in medicine but do not want to provide direct care.

Healthcare is an exciting industry but working on the front lines is not for everyone. Some heroes prefer to serve behind the scenes. Without the help of billing and coding specialists, healthcare facilities would have no cash flow and work would come to a standstill. The job is not as glamorous as some in medicine, but it is just as necessary and something to be proud of.

You like detective work.

Medical coders research volumes of health information to find the details insurers want. You will also be troubleshooting rejected claims, cross-referencing codes and data to find errors. Electronic health records and practice management software make the task easier, but it can be like searching for a needle in a haystack and requires an investigative approach. If you enjoy data analysis and problem solving, you will thrive as a medical coder.

You believe journeys are as important as destinations.

Coders review medical reports, assigning sequences of letters and numbers to represent services performed. Each case is different enough to keep things fresh, and you will also have non-coding financial responsibilities to break up the routine, but the process is painstakingly consistent. For some people, it can feel like a race without a finish line. But if you believe the journey in life is as thrilling as the destination, coding is satisfying work.

Like an elephant, you never forget.

Medical codes are always accessible, if you forget one, you can look it up. But coding is fast paced, so the more you recall where to find the information you need most often, the more efficiently work gets done. It takes practice for everyone, but having a good memory is a plus.

You never get tired of learning.

Coding is a dynamic field. Systems are updated every six months to a year on average, and insurance companies update claims protocol frequently. Continuing education is part of life as a medical coder. If you like always having something new to learn, regular updates keep things interesting.

What Do I Need to Become a Medical Coder?

Getting a career-specific diploma is the most practical way to get into the field. Education is equivalent to years of on-the-job experience and demonstrates proven skills that make you a more attractive applicant to prospective employers. It is also a prerequisite for certification, the next step in most medical coders’ careers.

What Do I Learn in a Medical Billing and Coding Program?

Vocational school medical billing and coding programs prepare students for entry-level positions in the field with comprehensive clinical and administrative training. Graduates are work-ready and qualified for certification. Students learn about the three major coding systems and how they are used:

ICD-10

ICD-10, short for the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, 10th Revision, is the world’s oldest coding system, tracing back to seventeenth-century Britain. Used globally since 1977 to catalog medical conditions, codes are alphanumeric and are used both for billing and by the CDC for public health surveillance.

CPT

CPT, or Common Procedural Terminology codes, are five-digit numbers assigned to diagnostic and surgical procedures. Developed in 1966 by the American Medical Association, they are used for benchmarking and reimbursement.

HCPCS

HCPCS, or Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System, is a bi-level alphanumeric system developed exclusively for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Seventeen categories are used to code medical products and ancillary services for billing.

Other topics covered in a vocational school program include:

  • Electronic health records and practice management software
  • Medical Terminology
  • Pharmacology
  • Pathophysiology
  • Insurance and reimbursement models
  • Medical law and ethics
  • Privacy regulations
  • Customer service techniques

Students earn the knowledge they need to problem-solve in the classroom, practicing hands-on skills in the lab and off-campus during supervised externships. You will graduate feeling confident in your abilities and ready to grow as a professional. With experience and additional training, you can advance into more responsible positions.

Where Will I Work as a Medical Coder?*

Medical coders work in a surprisingly broad range of healthcare settings, such as:

Hospitals

Insurance companies pay most of the hospital bills in the United States. Claim forms must contain the information necessary for them to make quick coverage decisions.

You will work with a team of financial management professionals from auditors and documentation specialists to billing specialists and accountants. The environment is challenging and busy.

Doctor’s Offices

Doctor’s offices employ coders to manage insurance reimbursement. But because services are limited in scope compared to hospitals, the pace is a little more relaxed, and tasks are not as complex. It is an ideal setting for new graduates.

Medical Billing Services

The use of medical billing services is growing in popularity because they are efficient. In this environment, you will tackle insurance claims from dozens to hundreds of different practices. It is a busy environment, and more business than clinical-oriented, but you will have the support of peers and managers with significant coding experience. These jobs are ideal for number crunchers.

Insurance Companies

Medical coders working for insurers manage patient claims, verifying the accuracy of the information and making coverage determinations. Catching errors is the better part of the job, so being detail-oriented is essential.

Public Health Departments

Public health officials worldwide use coded data to analyze disease rates. Coders employed by the government collate and analyze data from providers and insurers so they can better understand illness trends in the community and how to address them. Working in public health is particularly interesting for clinically oriented graduates.  Other workplace options include:

  • Clinics
  • Urgent care centers
  • Colleges and universities
  • Long-term care facilities

Final Thoughts

If you are ready for a new career in a booming industry, a vocational school medical billing and coding program will have you out of the classroom and earning in months, not years. It is a clear path to a more secure and meaningful future.

Medical Billing and Coding Specialist Diploma Program

Ready to start working toward your medical billing and coding diploma? The Medical Billing and Coding Specialist Diploma Program is designed to prepare students to obtain entry-level positions in the medical billing* and coding field through a combination of both clinical and administrative training. Students will learn and practice how to use management software and electronic health records (EHR). They will further become proficient in medical insurance and billing using the ICD-10, CPT, and HCPCS II coding system manuals. The program is focused on preparing students for certification.

Ready to move from the classroom to a career? Florida Technical College is here to help. Contact us to learn more about completing the medical billing and coding specialist diploma program at Florida Technical College.

*These examples are intended to serve only as a general guide of possible employment opportunities. There are many factors that determine the job an individual may obtain and Florida Technical College cannot guarantee its graduate any particular job. Some positions may require license or other certifications. We encourage you to research the requirements for the particular position you desire.