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Types of Degrees in the Medical Coding Field

A medical coding degree is also known as a medical records degree. Other names include health information technician certificate and medical coding specialist certificate. Degrees are available at every level for this profession, from a diploma or certificate to an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. Certifications include the CPC, or Certified Professional Coder, and it is recommended to have an associate’s degree in medical coding before taking the exam. Others include the CPC-H for those with a medical coding degree who would like to work in a hospital and other outpatient facilities. There are also two and four year degrees for medical coding, health information, and other related areas. A benefit to medical coding programs is that many courses can be taken online conveniently or at many facilities across the country.

Completion of a two year associate’s degree or accredited certification program are vital when becoming a medical coding specialist. At least a two year degree is highly recommended, but not always required.

You can also move up in your career by obtaining a bachelor’s or master’s degree or by seeking an advanced specialty certification in medical coding. The basic certification is the Certified Professional Coder given by the American Academy of Professional Coders. The AAPC is the nation’s largest medical coding training and certification organization, with over 93,000 certified medical coders and auditors. They also offer training and many other certifications. Other organizations include the Professional Association of Healthcare Coding Specialists and the Board of Medical Specialty Coding, each with their own certifications and resources. If looking to become a cancer/tumor registrar or get a medical coding degree in that area visit the National Cancer Registrars Association.

The Required Skills to Work as a Medical Coder

Insurance companies use medical codes to know how much to charge a patient and how much to pay doctors, hospitals, and medical facilities. Everything from private insurance to Medicare needs employees with medical coding degrees to learn and enter each code appropriately. They also assemble patients’ health information including history, symptoms, exams, lab results, imaging tests, treatments, and any other healthcare provider services.

Other skills necessary for a medical coding degree include:

  • Data entry
  • Spreadsheet software
  • Specialized billing and coding computer programs

With the current switch to electronic health records (EHR) medical coding technicians will be more in demand than ever before. These technicians will also be responsible for transferring of data securely and privately from paper records to electronic ones, and between digital databases.

Medical coding specialists also learn to code patient information for reimbursement from insurance, Medicaid, and Medicare. Several coding systems such as physician, long term, and ambulatory may be taught depending on the medical coding degree.

Careers in Medical Coding and Related Fields

Medical records and health information technicians held about 179,500 jobs in 2010 and the career is expected to grow faster than average, at a rate of 21% between now and 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. A majority of these positions, around 39 percent are found in hospitals. Someone with a medical coding degree can also be employed at a number of healthcare providers such as doctor’s offices, nursing care facilities, outpatient care centers, and even in federal government agencies.

Careers for those with a medical coding degree can include medical records coder, medical billing specialist, coding specialist, and medical transcriptionist. Health information technician is another common name for those working with a medical coding degree. There are even medical coding technicians who work specifically in cancer registry and are known as cancer/tumor registrars.

Checklist for Seeking an Accredited Medical Coding Degree Program

For a profession that requires as much attention to detail and concentration as medical billing and coding, most employers are looking for someone with a degree or certificate from an accredited institution of higher education. Since there are so many of those out there, it can be hard to decide which criteria are most important. The following are important traits to look for in a medical coding certificate program:

  1. Provides a Recognized Certification: Well-known and document certifications for medical coding and billing specialists include the Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT) certificate and the Certified Tumor Registrar (CTR) certificate.
  2. Accredited: The importance of accreditation cannot be overstated. A degree or certificate from an unaccredited program will not be respected by employers, and will be worthless in the job market.
  3. Fairly Priced: Because certification classes are essentially required for many professionals in the medical coding field, some programs think they can charge extortionate fees and get away with it. Do some online research or talk to an actual medical coding professional to determine what a fair price for an associate’s degree and certification in the field is, and don’t pay more than you have to.
  4. Up-to-Date: Computer technology and data-storage is changing so rapidly that the programs used to store and retrieve medical data this year may change dramatically in the next couple of years. Make sure that the program you choose teaches not only the current programs, but the fundamental skills needed to adapt to new technologies in this field.

Finding and applying to a good medical coding program can take awhile, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. Just follow the steps. Do your research, contact a few suitable programs, send in your applications, and never procrastinate when replying to official correspondence from the schools you’ve applied to. The sooner you get a degree or certificate, the sooner you can attain the job security and great pay and benefits that are characteristic of this career.

This site features only accredited online and hybrid campus-online colleges with medical coding programs. The lists here can be a good place to start if you’re looking to get back into school soon.