Reasons to Become a Medical Billing & Coding Professional
Like most fields in the healthcare industry, medical billing and coding professionals are in high demand. Over the next ten years, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that there will be about a 9% increase in job openings across the country.
Medical coders and billing professionals are responsible for working behind the scenes to ensure that all patient data is appropriately input into the right electronic health record.
Getting Started: What You Need to Know
The job is not for everyone and requires anywhere from one to four years of schooling, depending on the intensity you intend to pursue it. Many people choose to enter the field after one year and continue to obtain education to further their progression and pay tier. Experience and education play a significant role in salary within the field of medical billing and coding.
If you are weighing changing careers, here are the steps to becoming a medical billing and coding professional.
Steps to Become a Medical Billing and Coding Professional
Step 1: Graduate From High School or Obtain a GED
All medical billing and coding professionals have a high school degree or a GED that allows them to apply for a medical billing and coding program. If you have not finished high school, it may help to take some computer science schools via a local community school or vocational program to help boost your coding skills. Any technical background will help enhance your resume and make the medical billing and coding training easier.
Step 2: Choose a Postsecondary Institute
Now that your high school education is finished, it is time to choose a postsecondary institute. It is important to realize that you have several options and pathways to becoming a medical billing and coding professional.
People generally either enroll in a one-year certificate program, two-year associate’s degree program, or obtain a bachelor’s degree and four-year education.
Which program you choose depends heavily on your goals, the amount of time you want to spend before starting a career as a medical billing and coding professional, and your desired pay level. The pay for medical billing and coding professionals varies greatly and depends heavily on experience and education.
If you choose a certificate program, it will usually take about a year to complete and will cover most basic disease processes, terminology, treatments and procedures, and how to code with ICD-10. These programs aim to teach students how to work with standard billing procedure software, medical office software, and how to stay in compliance with privacy laws. Following exams, students will be ready to enter the workforce.
On the other hand, an associate’s degree is usually earned in either health information management or healthcare administration. This is a great background for medical billing and coding professionals and covers all the certificate program’s factors while also adding a liberal arts education to the mix, which helps improve critical thinking and speaking skills.
This program takes two years to complete but makes a candidate more desirable to potential employers.
The longest pathway to medical billing and coding involves earning a bachelor’s degree in health information management or healthcare administration. It takes four years because, in addition to learning the soft skills of the above mentioned educational programs, a full bachelor’s degree offers a foundational look at medical coding as well as nuanced healthcare topics that are useful in many office settings in the medical world, including legislative compliance, human resources, data analytics, and project management.
While it takes longer to obtain a four-year degree, graduates of a bachelor’s program are highly sought after, have a higher entry-level salary, and tend to be hired directly into managerial and leadership roles.
Step 3: Earn the Right Credentials
Completing your degree is not the end of your pathway into a new career as a medical billing and coding professional. You need to take one of two credentialing exams that will increase your hiring aspects and also help improve your salary.
Both tests are available through the AHIMA but vary based on required experience.
Certified Coding Associate Exam
The first credential is obtained by taking the Certified Coding Associate exam. This is a nationally recognized credential within health information management, but before taking the exam, applicants must have at least six months of work experience or have completed an AHIMA-approved coding program.
If your certificate program is AHIMA-approved, you can bypass the work experience requirement. This test has between 90 to 115 questions and has a fee.
Registered Health Information Technician
The second certification provides applicants with the Registered Health Information Technician credential. It is also given by the AHIMA but does not require work experience. However, a certificate program will not be enough to earn this credential. Before testing, all applicants must have completed at least an associate-level CAHIIM-accredited program to become a medical billing and coding professional.
This exam also has an associated fee and between 130 to 160 multiple-choice questions.
Step 4: Build Your Work Experience
Unless you want to be stuck in an entry-level position forever, the goal of any new medical billing and coding professionals should be to get hired by utilizing program resources and contacts to start building experience. This is also a great time to change environments to see if you prefer to work in private practice or in a hospital setting which will help you identify what future credentials will help you advance your career.
Step 5: Consider Earning More Credentials
After working in the field for a year or two, medical billing and coding professionals can look at applying for several additional AHIMA credentials that can help them progress in their careers. Two of these certifications are the Certified Coding Specialist physician-based and Certified Coding Specialist certifications. Both exams have around 97 to 140 questions and eight different medical scenarios for which candidates must read and then choose the appropriate medical codes. Prior to taking the test, applicants must have one to two years of work experience or one year of work experience with another credential.
What Is a Medical Billing and Coding Professional?
Medical billing and coding professionals are the office workers tasked with taking patient information and medical diagnosis from physicians and then creating appropriate codes so that insurance companies can be billed. They are commonly responsible for helping healthcare facilities manage invoices, payments and insurance claims.
The job of a medical billing and coding professional generally takes place in the office, away from actual patients. This professional spends most of their day on the computer reviewing claims, entering data, coding, and updating all information to ensure that each bill is adequately processed and paid.
On any given day, a medical billing and coding specialist will need to do the following:
- to prepare, submit, and send invoices or bills
- track payments
- correct insurance claims that are rejected due to coding issues,
- code various procedures, services, treatments and diagnoses
How Much Can You Make, on Average?
The salary of medical billing and coding professionals in 2017 was $34,610, but once again, it can vary based on the level of experience a specialist has within the field and their level of education. The AAPC Salary Survey reported that coders with 13 years of experience and just the standard CPC certification could earn an average of $54,106.
What Personality Traits Are Needed?
Medical billing and coding is a very detail-orientated task which means that potential specialists should be incredibly organized, precise, and have a good eye for numbers.
They need to multitask and shift gears without missing a beat and be comfortable working in an office without too much interaction throughout the day. Most professionals spend the entire day in a cubicle working at the computer.
Is It a Good Long Term Career?
As mentioned briefly earlier, there is high demand for medical billing and coding professionals, and as the healthcare industry continues to grow due to aging baby boomers, there is likely to be an even higher demand for new medical billing and coding professionals.
If you are looking at changing careers, it may be time to apply for a medical billing and coding program.