Medical Billing & Coding

What Is a Medical Billing Career?

Record-keeping completes the health care process. Whenever a patient visits with a doctor or nurse, a technician makes a record of treatment, intervention, observations, diagnoses, and outcomes. Some technicians specialize in the presentation of this information, which contains everything from the patient's own description of symptoms to x-rays and charts. A medical billing career-or medical coding technician-entails work in synthesizing this data for record-keeping, insurance, and evaluation purposes.

Medical Coding Salaries and Security

In 2006, RHITs earned a median salary of about $28,000. Medical coding salaries ranged from under $19,000 to over $45,000. The best pay came through general medical and surgical hospitals, though the median in various fields-hospitals, nursing care facilities, outpatient care centers, and physician's offices-only had about a $5,000 difference.

Medical Coding Jobs

Technicians with the above-mentioned specialization variably go by the names of health information coders, medical record coders, coder/abstractors, or coding specialists. These technicians rely on their knowledge of disease processes to categorize each diagnosis and procedure according to a code. They use software to assign the patient to one of several hundred diagnosis-related groups (DRGs). The DRG determines the medical billing aspect of the procedure, determining the amount of reimbursement for the hospital based on the diagnosis, code, and policy of the insurance provider. Coders use other systems that pertain to ambulances, offices, and long-term care, in addition to those specifically for hospitals.

Some technicians and medical record coders specialize as cancer or tumor registrars, helping maintain databases of cancer patients. As with other coders, those in this aspect of a medical coding career record diagnoses and treatments. Physicians and other healthcare professionals can consult these databases to help structure their treatment and survival predictions. In all aspects of a medical coding career, the medical billing side of things involves being a liaison with and information provider for the insurance company.

Training for Medical Coding Jobs

Medical coding jobs begin in a community or junior college. The entry-level requirement across the board is an associate's degree; in fact, obtaining any higher education makes a candidate overqualified, at least at the outset. As well, employers favor applicants for medical coding jobs who are also Registered Health Information Technicians (RHITs). For training in both of these cases, preparation for medical coding careers can usually be accomplished on a flexible course schedule or through distance learning. While the only opening requirement is the degree, it is by no means easy to break into the field of medical billing careers. The associate's degree for a health information technician includes courses in medical terminology, anatomy, physiology, legal implications and processes, data standards, coding and abstracting data, statistics, database usage, quality improvement, and computer science. With such a hefty course load, applicants hoping for eventual medical coding jobs should start in high school. Chances of admission are improved by taking biology, chemistry, and health courses, as well as classes in math and computer science. When time does come for postsecondary education, applicants should seek a program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education (CAHIIM). There are about 245 accredited programs nationwide.

Certification for Medical Billing Jobs

The American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) certifies all RHITs by offering and evaluating a written exam. The exam is only offered to those who graduated from a CAHIIM-accredited program, so it pays to do homework when looking for medical billing jobs. In addition to certification, other qualifications such as communication and experience help the application to medical coding job opportunities. RHITs often work as liaisons between healthcare and insurance providers.

Advancement in Medical Coding Job Opportunities

Advancement comes usually through specialization or promotion to management. There are no formal degree programs in coding, so on-the-job learning and experience are prized when promotions are considered. The American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC) specifically offers certification for medical coding, but in general, advancement comes through performance. If a coder later obtains at least a bachelor's degree in medical records and health information administration, he or she could be promoted to be a senior supervisor of records at a large facility. In smaller facilities, an associate's degree usually suffices.

Prospects for Medical Coding Job Opportunities

In 2006, about 170,000 medical coding jobs were in place; 2 of 5 of these were in hospitals (this encompasses medical billing jobs and insurance liaisons in this field as well). It is predicted that this figure will grow by 18% in the next decade, faster than the average job market. The demand for accurate records is on a steady rise.