How to Become a Medical Billing and Coding Specialist

What Does a Medical Billing and Coding Specialist Do?

billing and coding specialist in office

The medical billing and coding specialist is at the center of the health care revenue cycle. By creating precise service and billing records, these specialists allow health care providers to concentrate on caring for patients; permit insurance companies and other payors to efficiently process claims; and offer reassurance to patients that their statements are accurate.

To accomplish these objectives, the medical billing and coding specialist:

  • Keeps detailed records of all healthcare services provided to the patient
  • Maintains current files of the patient’s demographic, insurance, and account information
  • Translates all of these records into codes that reflect the patient’s medical history, diagnoses, tests, and treatments
  • Uses the coded data to create invoices or claims that accurately and confidentially report services provided and the patient’s conditions

A proficient medical billing and coding specialist performs these duties well, and contributes to the smooth functioning of the business of health care.

Workplace Details

Medical billing and coding specialists enjoy an array of career opportunities with a variety of employers. Many find positions in medical facilities, such as clinics, hospitals, private practices, or other health-related facilities. Insurance and outsourcing companies also hire medical billing and coding specialists, as do government services such as Medicare and Medicaid. In most instances, employment is full-time, in an office environment, during normal business hours; however, 24-hour medical facilities may offer or have requirements for evening and weekend hours. Opportunities to work from home are increasing in number.

Salary and Job Outlook

State
Average Wage
California
$41240
Texas
$36460
New York
$41520
Florida
$34790
Pennsylvania
$36470

Hover over any state to explore local income and job growth data.

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ALABAMA
Median Salary: 
$30,700
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $22,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $42,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 17%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 260

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Birmingham$25,400$33,400$44,690
Huntsville$21,750$32,490$44,600

ALASKA
Median Salary: 
$41,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $30,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $58,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 12%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 40

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Anchorage$30,920$40,210$56,370
Fairbanks$23,600$39,750$59,500

ARIZONA
Median Salary: 
$33,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $24,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $46,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 23%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 540

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Phoenix$23,800$34,430$46,940
Tuscon$25,800$32,900$39,250

ARKANSAS
Median Salary: 
$29,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $21,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $40,900

2014-2024 Job Growth: 16%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 150

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Little Rock$25,000$33,060$47,320
Fort Smith$21,200$27,320$36,500

CALIFORNIA
Median Salary: 
$37,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $24,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $57,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 17%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 2,240

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Los Angeles$23,280$36,590$55,320
San Francisco Bay$28,840$46,340$63,680
San Diego$24,570$36,100$51,160
Sacramento$25,280$40,540$54,640

COLORADO
Median Salary: 
$38,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $27,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $54,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 30%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 290

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Denver$31,520$40,860$55,540
Colorado Springs$26,660$34,940$47,980

CONNECTICUT
Median Salary: 
$42,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $30,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $60,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 10%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 170

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Hartford$31,850$41,620$58,360
Bridgeport$29,970$44,430$60,710
New Haven$28,120$45,230$66,800

DELAWARE
Median Salary: 
$36,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $25,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $49,900

2014-2024 Job Growth: 11%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 80

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Wilmington$26,280$37,290$52,000
Dover$21,920$32,430$45,120

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
Median Salary: 
$51,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $31,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $78,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 10%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 30

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Washington DC$28,590$42,230$62,640

FLORIDA
Median Salary: 
$33,100
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $24,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $46,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 26%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 1,540

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Miami$23,910$34,400$47,600
Orlando$25,220$31,450$46,980
Tampa$25,800$33,010$44,600
Jacksonville$23,700$32,750$43,440

GEORGIA
Median Salary: 
$33,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $23,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $49,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 22%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 590

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Atlanta$25,030$35,400$53,210
Augusta$22,520$29,360$39,530

HAWAII
Median Salary: 
$38,100
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $26,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $49,900

2014-2024 Job Growth: 9%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 50

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Honolulu$26,620$38,480$50,540

IDAHO
Median Salary: 
$32,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $23,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $43,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 20%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 1,120

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Boise$25,600$34,070$44,690
Idaho Falls$21,370$29,320$45,210

ILLINOIS
Median Salary: 
$35,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $25,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $51,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 9%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 500

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Chicago$26,290$36,920$54,210
Rockford$27,250$37,260$48,920

INDIANA
Median Salary: 
$32,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $23,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $47,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 15%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 380

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Indianapolis$25,570$34,530$49,210
South Bend$25,560$34,540$44,370
Fort Wayne$25,580$33,700$45,540

IOWA
Median Salary: 
$34,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $25,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $47,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 16%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 180

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Des Moines$29,440$38,720$49,080
Cedar Rapids$26,280$33,330$49,810

KANSAS
Median Salary: 
$33,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $23,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $46,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 11%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 190

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Wichita$22,230$30,350$40,190
Kansas City$26,850$36,020$49,060

KENTUCKY
Median Salary: 
$32,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $22,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $45,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 22%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 440

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Louisville$23,960$34,140$46,650
Lexington$25,890$33,740$47,580

LOUISIANA
Median Salary: 
$30,700
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $22,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $45,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 10%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 190

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
New Orleans$24,580$32,370$46,170
Baton Rouge$24,470$34,240$48,680
Lafayette$23,020$30,560$47,850

MAINE
Median Salary: 
$33,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $25,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $45,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 7%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 80

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Portland$27,570$36,520$47,610
Lewiston$25,330$31,030$43,980

MARYLAND
Median Salary: 
$37,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $25,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $55,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 25%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 340

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Baltimore$26,610$37,800$53,630
Frederick$23,170$38,460$59,580

MASSACHUSETTS
Median Salary: 
$39,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $28,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $57,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 5%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 290

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Boston$30,370$42,080$59,750
Worcester$24,890$36,950$49,490
Springfield$26,170$38,320$55,520

MICHIGAN
Median Salary: 
$34,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $25,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $47,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 10%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 460

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Detroit$25,470$34,860$47,810
Grand Rapids$26,120$35,250$48,490

MINNESOTA
Median Salary: 
$36,700
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $27,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $49,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 7%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 290

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Minneapolis - St. Paul$28,390$37,860$51,470
Rochester$27,420$35,680$48,800

MISSISSIPPI
Median Salary: 
$29,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $20,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $43,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 11%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 110

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Jackson$22,890$30,350$43,280
Gulfport$19,530$32,400$44,790

MISSOURI
Median Salary: 
$33,100
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $23,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $47,900

2014-2024 Job Growth: 10%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 330

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
St. Louis$25,990$35,550$49,570
Kansas City$26,850$36,020$49,060

MONTANA
Median Salary: 
$32,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $24,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $46,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 17%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 60

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Billings$27,190$34,960$44,510
Missoula$21,200$30,080$52,020

NEBRASKA
Median Salary: 
$33,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $25,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $46,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 12%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 110

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Omaha$26,170$34,690$47,720
Lincoln$22,040$32,190$44,020

NEVADA
Median Salary: 
$36,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $24,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $49,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 27%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 150

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Las Vegas$25,430$36,570$49,030
Reno$24,640$36,170$49,390

NEW HAMPSHIRE
Median Salary: 
$36,700
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $27,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $48,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 13%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 60

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Manchester$27,380$36,140$48,040
Nashua$30,640$36,350$46,700

NEW JERSEY
Median Salary: 
$38,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $28,100
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $54,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 12%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 680

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Newark$30,840$39,670$58,630
Trenton$26,960$38,740$49,770

NEW MEXICO
Median Salary: 
$32,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $21,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $47,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 11%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 60

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Albuquerque$21,960$33,720$49,670
Las Cruces$20,440$27,030$36,660

NEW YORK
Median Salary: 
$37,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $25,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $58,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 20%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 1,370

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
New York City$25,620$39,340$59,720
Buffalo$26,330$34,790$47,800
Rochester$23,150$32,990$48,850
Albany$26,950$36,480$48,850

NORTH CAROLINA
Median Salary: 
$33,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $24,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $47,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 17%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 570

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Charlotte$25,870$37,040$51,100
Raleigh$28,830$37,270$49,220
Greensboro$23,590$29,950$43,120
Winston - Salem$25,170$34,650$47,080

NORTH DAKOTA
Median Salary: 
$34,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $24,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $47,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 14%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 40

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Fargo$23,950$34,100$49,270
Bismarck$25,520$33,780$45,850

OHIO
Median Salary: 
$34,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $25,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $47,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 12%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 820

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Cleveland$25,210$35,290$50,080
Columbus$26,010$35,710$48,060
Cincinnati$25,960$36,110$48,090
Dayton$25,630$33,970$48,020

OKLAHOMA
Median Salary: 
$31,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $22,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $47,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 13%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 160

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Oklahoma City$24,530$32,510$46,920
Tulsa$22,790$33,960$49,520

OREGON
Median Salary: 
$36,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $26,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $50,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 19%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 250

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Portland$27,360$37,670$53,040
Salem$28,200$37,490$48,270

PENNSYLVANIA
Median Salary: 
$34,700
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $24,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $50,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 9%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 800

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Philadelphia$26,600$37,210$53,900
Pittsburgh$24,480$33,840$47,330
Harrisburg$26,560$35,250$47,800
Allentown$25,970$35,250$50,690

RHODE ISLAND
Median Salary: 
$37,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $27,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $50,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 7%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 40

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Providence$27,010$37,250$50,730

SOUTH CAROLINA
Median Salary: 
$31,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $22,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $44,300

2014-2024 Job Growth: 14%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 230

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Greenville$23,370$31,500$42,310
Columbia$22,140$31,520$45,880
Charleston$24,590$34,170$47,330

SOUTH DAKOTA
Median Salary: 
$27,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $21,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $37,900

2014-2024 Job Growth: 9%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 30

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Sioux Falls$21,910$28,670$38,670
Rapid City$21,920$28,610$37,540

TENNESSEE
Median Salary: 
$31,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $22,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $45,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 30%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 600

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Nashville$26,350$34,830$48,130
Memphis$23,440$32,800$46,570
Knoxville$21,340$28,800$39,630
Chattanooga$23,620$30,500$42,570

TEXAS
Median Salary: 
$34,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $23,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $48,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 26%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 2,020

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Dallas - Ft. Worth$25,740$35,790$49,730
Houston$26,570$37,160$53,030
San Antonio$24,420$32,120$43,330
Austin$26,220$36,410$50,420

UTAH
Median Salary: 
$32,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $23,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $44,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 35%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 230

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Salt Lake City$25,310$33,700$45,820
Ogden$25,850$33,050$43,390

VERMONT
Median Salary: 
$35,100
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $25,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $47,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 5%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Burlington$26,580$36,060$48,860

VIRGINIA
Median Salary: 
$36,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $25,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $51,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 17%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 440

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Virginia Beach$25,480$32,420$45,580
Richmond$25,810$35,950$49,860

WASHINGTON
Median Salary: 
$38,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $26,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $54,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 18%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 460

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Seattle$27,560$40,950$57,470
Spokane$25,480$32,180$45,300

WEST VIRGINIA
Median Salary: 
$28,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $20,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $40,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 3%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 50

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Huntington$20,780$28,370$38,540
Charleston$25,520$36,100$48,470

WISCONSIN
Median Salary: 
$35,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $24,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $48,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 9%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 220

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Milwaukee$25,520$36,100$48,470
Madison$31,410$39,920$60,270

WYOMING
Median Salary: 
$34,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $26,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $47,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 9%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Cheyenne$25,460$34,230$45,740
Casper$27,960$37,850$49,280

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for all billers (including medical billing and coding specialists) is $36,150 per year. The lowest 10% earn a median salary of $25,450 and the highest 10% earn a median of $52,150. In doctors’ offices and hospitals, these specialists earn average yearly salaries of $36,890 and $37,380, respectively.

Billing and coding specialists with certification enjoy the greatest job outlook. Overall, the BLS projects an average job growth of 6% for these professionals between 2014 and 2024. Recently, however, some companies have begun outsourcing medical transcription and records processes. Whether this becomes a growing trend remains to be seen in the coming years. As more people are expected to seek medical care in coming years, there should be a growing need for billing and coding specialists.

Compare Salaries by City

New York City NY Median Pay

$39340 Per Year

$18.91 Per Hour

Los Angeles CA Median Pay

$36590 Per Year

$17.59 Per Hour

Steps to Become a Medical Billing and Coding Specialist

1

Earn your high school diploma.

High school students interested in medical billing and coding can increase their job prospects by taking classes in medical terminology, biology, anatomy and physiology, information technology, and office operations. Also, definitely take advantage of any work placement programs your school offers.

After earning their high school diploma, some medical billing and coding specialists are able to train exclusively on-the-job. One strategy is to get a clerical job in a physician or hospital billing office and work your way up.

Another tip is to find a registered apprenticeship in medical coding. These yearlong training programs pay entry-level billing and coding professionals to learn on the job. You’ll also earn a certificate of completion that’s recognized around the country.

2

Enroll in a certificate program or obtain an associate degree.

While there are no formal educational requirements for this career, it’s true that many employers will only consider job applicants with a postsecondary education. Certificate programs and associate degree programs are available, such as from an accredited community or technical college. Coursework in biology, chemistry, computer science and math will strengthen a resume.

Show Me Schools »

3

Train on the job as well.

Most employers provide on-the-job training, but the employee must prove his or her mastery of nationally recognized billing and coding standards developed by business, government and the health care industry.

4

Get certified.

Although not required, most employers prefer candidates with certification. Becoming certified, while strictly voluntary, increases your likelihood of securing a higher paying position. The American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC), the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) and the American Medical Billing Association (AMBA) – among others – all offer recognized certification options for medical billers and coders.

5

Consider opportunities for your career to evolve.

Most medical billing specialists begin their professional career at the front desk, sharing reception and coding responsibilities. After gaining some experience, the specialists are promoted to positions of higher responsibility, where invoicing and key operations of the office or agency take place. With additional education and experience, a specialist can attain further advancement to the role of office manager, billing administrator or supervisor.

Explore Educational Paths

CERTIFICATE PROGRAM IN MEDICAL CODING

6 months–1 year

Coding is among the most difficult skills that medical billing professionals must master. You can often increase your skills, job prospects, and earning potential with a medical coding certificate.

You can find certificate programs through community and technical colleges, career schools, and the healthcare professional associations AAPC and AHIMA. Many programs offer self-paced and online options.

A word of warning: many for-profit colleges have jumped into the medical billing and coding business. Many of these schools charge you a lot of money (and can therefore get you in a lot of debt). You won’t necessarily get a better education for this cost. In fact, the quality of some of these programs is quite poor.

When choosing a medical coding certificate program, start with AHIMA’s list of approved programs, which includes many online options. Working coders and employers can also be a great resource.

Once you’re enrolled in your certificate program, expect to spend a lot of time learning about:

ICD coding

Use the International Classification of Diseases to describe medical conditions and the circumstances that contribute to them.

CPT coding

Gain experience in the coding systems used to describe and classify physician diagnoses and treatments.

Reimbursement methodology

Study how insurance companies and other payers use coded health information to calculate payments.

Healthcare data content and structure

Understand how electronic health records are used in patient care and healthcare data analysis.

ASSOCIATE DEGREE

1-2 years

There are several good reasons for medical billing and coding specialists to consider an associate degree. First, this is the minimum level of education preferred by many healthcare employers. Second, you should be able to transfer some or all of your credits if you later pursue a bachelor’s or graduate degree. And finally, a degree tends to boost both your short- and long-term earning potential.

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Many community colleges and career schools offer AAS degree in subjects like medical office administration and medical coding and billing. However, if you choose this route, proceed with caution. There’s no formal accreditor performing quality assurance for these programs. As a result, for-profit colleges have embraced the field enthusiastically. Again, talking to employers and working coders can help you determine which programs are worth it.

Another option for medical billing and coding specialists is an AAS in health information management (HIM). This degree is a bit broader, covering topics like privacy, data analysis, clinical documentation improvement, and information governance.

HIM associate degree programs are well regulated. Before enrolling, ensure that your chosen school is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education (CAAHIM).

Associate level coursework in medical billing and coding covers:

Medical terminology

Learn the vocabulary of medicine, including root words, prefixes, suffixes, and pronunciation.

Anatomy and physiology

Study the organization of the human body at the cellular, tissue, organ, and system levels.

Introduction to CPT coding

Practice applying the most common coding system used to describe physician services.

Revenue cycle management and reimbursement

Gain experience processing insurance claims, referrals, and preauthorizations.

Associate degree programs often include a work experience component. These practical training hours count toward the experience requirement for coding certification.

Keys to Success as a Billing and Coding Specialist

Necessary Skills and Qualities

Empathy and good communication

The specialist must be able to explain charges and invoices to patients and their families, often under stressful conditions.

Good ethics

Specialists must have high ethical standards due to the confidential nature of patient information.

Ability to work well independently and with others

Billing and coding specialists may land in a position where they work and interact with many other people, but they may find that they work by themselves as well.

Certification Options

There’s no law that says medical billing and coding specialists have to be certified. The choice is completely up to you, but many employers do prefer billing and coding specialists with the following coding credentials:

Both AHIMA and AAPC offer many credentials in clinical specialties (like nephrology) and healthcare settings (like outpatient care).

While AHIMA and AAPC are the most widely recognized credentialing organizations in the coding field, they’re not the only ones. To find out if there are additional certifications that can help your career, talk to your employer, academic advisor, or working coders.

A couple of organizations also offer voluntary certification in medical billing. There are no education or experience requirements for the following credentials. Candidates must hold a high school diploma and pass an exam.

The CMRS certificate process takes nine to twelve months to complete and covers basic knowledge in physiology, anatomy and the sciences. Other important components of the certification include:

  • Medical terminology
  • Computer database management
  • Billing and coding procedures
  • Insurance procedures

AHIMA also offers two HIM credentials. Candidates must graduate from a CAHIIM-accredited degree program and pass an exam.

Karen Ewing, CPC, COBGC

Karen Ewing is a medical coding specialist working out of Madison, Wisconsin. She holds certifications as a certified professional coder, certified OB/GYN coder, and medical technologist. Karen has earned undergraduate degrees in biology, medical laboratory technology, and health care management.

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