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How to Become a Medical Coder: What is It (and 5 Easy Steps of Becoming One)

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Maybe you always wanted to pursue a career in healthcare, however, you’re not keen on the demands of the jobs offered in it. Yet, you’ve stumbled upon an interesting job prospect—being a medical coder.

Maybe not a lot of people have knowledge about the ins and outs of this career. On top of that, you don’t know how to get started.

Don’t worry, we’ll guide you through the specifics of this job and the requirements you need. We’ll also teach you the steps on how to become a  medical coder.

An Overview of Medical Coding: A Primer

According to labor statistics, there are over 34,000 medical coders employed in the USA in 2021. Additionally, job opportunities are projected to grow by 7% over the next eight years.

A medical coder works closely with a healthcare provider. Their primary responsibility is to translate medical reports into uniform medical codes. Additionally, they need to familiarize themselves with three different coding systems.

The first and the most widely used is the ICD-10 coding system developed by the World Health Organization. They provide detailed information about a patient’s medical condition, diagnoses, and procedures done to the patient.

The second one, the HCPCS Level II codes, identifies equipment, supplies, and drugs. It also contains specific medical procedures.

The last system of coding is the CPT Category II coding. Although these are not widely used, they contain codes to track quality measures observed within a health facility.

Sometimes, a medical coder is mistaken for a medical biller. A medical coder processes information on each patient and assigns alphanumeric codes on the specifics of their medical cases.

Meanwhile, becoming a medical biller involves using the file provided by medical coders to process insurance claims and billings for their accounts.

Further, medical billers work with insurance companies, while medical coders work with healthcare providers.

How Much Do Medical Coders Make?

Working as a medical coder can provide you with a stable income. To give an idea, entry-level medical coders can earn as much as $36,000 annually.

Those who choose to advance their career paths can earn up to $75,000 a year.

What You’ll Need to Become a Medical Coder [& Associated Costs]

A medical coder working on a computer in the office

Becoming a medical coder is a lucrative yet uncommon side gig. If you want to become one, you can achieve that objective in three ways.

  • Enroll in a training course: These programs cover the basics of medical coding responsibilities, such as analyzing medical records, classifying different coding procedures, and learning and assigning ICD-10 medical codes.
  • An associate degree: Aside from medical coding basics, you’ll learn advanced skills like inpatient and outpatient care as well. You’ll be trained to improve your interpersonal skills, including writing, speaking, and critical thinking.
  • A bachelor’s degree in Health Information Management or Healthcare Administration: With a bachelor’s degree, you’ll also be proficient in project management, data analytics, and human resources. 

When applying for a job, bachelor’s degree holders are prioritized by employers. Further, you can be promoted to senior roles and receive higher salaries.

How Much Does it Cost to Become a Medical Coder?

If you decide to pursue a career in medical coding, understand that there are upfront costs. However, once you get your certifications and land a job, the influx of income makes it rewarding.

In case you wish to go the easiest route and earn your diploma, take a medical training course—online or physically in trade schools.

Doing it online will cost you about $800 while enrolling in trade schools can amount from $1,000 to $2,500.

If you wish to take an associate degree, expect to spend around $8,000 to $19,000.

Finally, as the most extensive route to being a coding professional, earning a bachelor’s degree can fetch up to $29,000 annually.

On top of the educational expenses, certifications will also cost you $199 to $499.

Is it Hard to Become a Medical Coder?

Becoming a medical coder can come with its own set of challenges, but not impossible. You have to possess knowledge of pharmacology, physiology, and analogy. 

On top of this, you need to have keen attention to detail, competitive computer proficiency, and a willingness for continuous learning.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Medical Coder?

Different educational institutions provide varied timelines for finishing up education to become a medical coder. 

According to BestColleges.com, online training programs can take 4–15 months to complete and earn medical coder certifications. These include 60–80 hours of online coursework.

The American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC) also offers intensive courses that’ll guide you into earning your first certificate.

Meanwhile, earning an associate degree with 60 credits can take up to 20 months. Finally, earning a bachelor’s degree will take up to four years of continued education.

How to Become a Medical Coder in 5 Simple Steps

Once you decide to become a medical coder, you can do the following steps to land your dream career:

1. Earn a Secondary School Education

The basic requirement for a medical coding job is a high school diploma or GED credential. 

Although getting further education and certifications can work to your advantage, you can secure a job even with your high school diploma.

Your duties will more likely be as an assistant, helping out a skilled medical coder to organize and maintain patient records. Additionally, you may be tasked to schedule appointments or handle basic coding duties.

2. Determine Your Career Path

The different levels of continuing education offer different work settings and allow for various positions. You must weigh your options and decide which professional route you want to take.

If you’re set on entry-level positions such as coding clerk or assistant, you can get into a coding program. With this qualification, you can work in basic healthcare settings such as hospitals and physician offices.

If you would like to become a medical analyst, medical record technician, or medical coding specialist, getting an associate degree in Medical Coding or Medical Office Administration could work for you.

Aside from hospitals, you also have the option to work for a government agency, an insurance company, or a long-term care facility.

Finally, suppose you like advanced opportunities working as a medical coding supervisor or HIM director. In that case, you have better chances if you earn a bachelor’s degree in Health Information Technology or Healthcare Administration.

3. Get Primary Credentials

Although it’s not a requirement to take certification exams to get into the medical coding field, getting one shows that you have obtained professional competencies fit for the job.

The most basic certification you can get is the Certified Professional Coder (CPC) Certification. 

While you don’t need a formal education to pursue this certification, having a basic knowledge of medical coding guidelines, medical terminology, and anatomy is recommended.

Another primary certification that only requires a high school diploma or GED credential is the Certified Coding Associate (CCA) Certification. You can take the exam even without prior coding experience.

Note that these certifications are offered by the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC) and the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA).

4. Get Work Experience

After you earn your first certificate, you can now acquire a position as a medical coder. There’s a high demand for this role across the USA, and you have many options on where you may get started.

To kick things off, you can explore open posts in hospitals, physician clinics, and outpatient clinics. Even though most healthcare providers typically handle overnight jobs, working as a medical coder offers you a great work-life balance.

This position usually calls for a regular daytime schedule, so you’re free to plan your activities outside of work hours. Once you gain enough experience, you can even work from the comfort of your home.

5. Earn Additional Credentials

If you want to improve your career prospects, you can gain additional certifications after earning enough experience.

To take exams for advanced certifications, it’s recommended to have at least two years of working experience in the field you wish to pursue.

Advancing through the medical coding hierarchy also gives you more opportunities for increased earnings.

For instance, let’s say that you want to pursue a career as a medical auditor. You’ll be working not only in auditing but also in documentation and compliance. 

A young male programmer working in office

Thus, you’ll have to take the examination to become a Certified Professional Medical Auditor (CPMA) or a Certified Coding Specialist (CCS).

The National Healthcareer Association offers a similar examination which will give you the Certified Billing and Coding Specialist (CBCS) Certification.

Another example is becoming an inpatient coder, where you can get paid as much as $53,000 a year. To achieve this position, you’ll have to take the Certified Inpatient Coder (CIC) examination.

It’s not required for you to gain additional credentials while working as a medical coder, but developing your skills and qualifications can reward you with better compensation.

Reasons to Consider Becoming a Medical Coder

Now that you know the basics of being a medical coder, and we’ve explored the steps to becoming one, here are a few reasons to pursue a career in this field:

  • Decent Salary Potential: Being a medical coder could be a demanding job but the rewards are worth it. It’s a stable source of income, even for those who didn’t acquire formal education for it.
  • Career Growth and Development: The hierarchy of careers within a medical coding organization contains a vast spectrum of roles, and you can climb up the ladder with very minimal job experience. 
  • Multiple Job Opportunities: Working in the medical coder field offers you a lot of opportunities to work in a hospital setting, a clinic, government offices, and even in health insurance companies.
  • Flexible Work Environment: Working as a medical coder gives you the freedom to work either full-time or part-time. You can also offer online medical billing services and remote work once you’ve gained enough experience.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Highest Paid Medical Coder?

The highest-paid medical coder positions are coding managers and hospital coders. Landing these positions can have a medical coder earn up to $75,000 annually. 

While you can qualify as a hospital coder with a certification, you must have a bachelor’s degree to become a coding manager.

What is the Hardest Part of Being a Medical Coder?

For a beginner medical coder, it would take some time to familiarize with all the codes, since ICD-10 codes in the USA has at least 70,000 codes and are regularly updated. 

Similar Gigs to Check Out

Now that you know how to become a medical coder, you might want to explore these other opportunities:

  • How to Become a Travel Nurse: There are times when certain areas need more nurses than usual. That’s when travel nurses come in. Read this guide to learn more about this exciting opportunity.
  • How to Become a Medical Scribe: If you want to work closely in the healthcare field without the gritty demands of most jobs, maybe becoming a medical scribe could work for you. 
  • How to Become a Technical Writer: Technical writers translate complex medical journals, manuals, and documents into text that can be read more easily. If this sounds like a thrilling opportunity for you, head on to this tutorial. 

Wrapping Up

Being a medical coder could be a highly detail-oriented job while giving you different career opportunities.

Depending on the amount of time you can invest in continuing education, learning how to become a medical coder can open doors for you for a lifetime of rewarding experiences.

If you think this guide gave you something to think about, let us know in the comments. Share this article with your family and friends if you liked it!

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