Online Medical Billing and Coding Courses
Not all great jobs require years of training. Medical billers and coders are in demand and may have the potential to earn solid salaries without any college training at all, though professionals who invest in voluntary diplomas or certificates may reap heartier earnings and advancement potential. These programs can be completed in a matter of months (or less), and thanks to the prevalence of online programs, without any classroom instruction. Read on to learn more about what medical billers and coders do, how (and why) to become one, and what to expect once you do.
What medical billers and coders do
Medical billing and coding is a relatively quick-entry, but highly specialized field. According to The College Board, these professionals serve as a sort of liaison between medical offices, patients and insurance companies. In practical terms, medical billers and coders review patient medical records and assign codes to to diagnoses and procedures for billing and insurance reimbursement purposes. These codes are usually derived from an internationally standardized database called the International Classification of Disease, or ICD, translating what can be highly complicated medical information into a simple code recognized the world over. This streamlines insurance billing and medical record keeping significantly.
Medical billers and coders must have a working knowledge of medical diagnoses and procedures and know their way around a computer. Some even specialize in certain areas of health care, like obstetrics, general surgery or ambulatory care. They can work in hospitals, physicians' offices, outpatient and specialty medical centers, or even out of their homes. Because health care information is sensitive, these professionals have to understand and adhere to strict privacy and security requirements. Mistakes can be costly and, depending on how the coding data is used, dangerous. This is precisely why both the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the American Health Information Management Association report employers may prefer to hire formally trained and certified medical billing and coding specialists.
Benefits of choosing an online billing and coding program
Medical billing and coding may be one of the most under-appreciated fields in the country. Most people know very little about it, which is a shame, because medical billers and coders have a major role in ensuring health care services run smoothly and efficiently. The job is precise and technical and requires concentration and attention to detail, but successfully completing an online billing and coding program can carry some serious perks. Among them:
- A booming job market. The BLS projects that demand for health information technicians -- including medical coders and billers -- will grow by 22 percent nationally between 2012 and 2022, or double the 11 percent national average for all occupations. The trend earned these professionals earned them the no. 12 spot on the U.S. Department of Labor's CareerOneStop's list of the fastest-growing occupations in the nation for workers with some postsecondary training.
- Low unemployment. Sometimes fast-growing fields do not always translate into solid job security because the number of job seekers keeps pace with market demand. Not so for medical billers and coders, especially when certified. A 2013 salary and employment survey from the American Academy of Professional Coders found that only 1.7 percent of certified medical coders were unemployed. The BLS-reported national unemployment rate for the same period: 7.4 percent.
- Higher-than-average earnings. Medical coders and billers can make solid earnings, especially when compared to other jobs with similar educational requirements. According to the same 2013 AAPC salary survey noted above, respondents earned an average of $46,847 nationally in 2013. Experienced and certified specialists can earn even more. For instance, earnings jumped to $48,925 after just two years of experience, and to $56,667 with 15 years. Professionals with Certified Professional Biller (CPB) certification earned $61,667 that year.
- Quick entry into the workforce. Unlike many jobs with similarly optimistic earnings and career prospects, medical billing and coding does not demand years of training. Some employers hire candidates right out of high school and train them on the job, but according to the BLS, most prefer to hire specialists who are formally trained, certified or highly experienced. Trends vary, but future professionals who do opt to enroll in medical billing and coding schools can typically complete earn a postsecondary certificate or diploma within a year (often less).
- Job flexibility. High national demand means medical billing and coding professionals can find work in most job markets, but this is just the tip of the flexibility iceberg. The AAPC reports that many medical billers and coders telecommute full time, though keep in mind that your home office will need to meet strict security and technology requirements. Medical billing and coding also lends itself well to part-time work, especially when completed on a freelance basis.
The benefits of receiving your medical billing and coding education through an online program in particular are numerous, and include:
- The opportunity to attend a medical billing and coding program, even if one isn't available in your town.
- The ability to study on your own time, at your own pace, while managing other aspects of your life, including family and current job responsibilities.
- The opportunity to connect with teachers and other students via message boards, personal messaging, chat and email. Rather than waiting until class or office hours to connect with your professor, you may be able to communicate faster via online options.
- The option to revisit course materials, including videos, PowerPoint presentations, class discussions, classmate comments and more, in order to reinforce lessons and capture points you may have missed the first time.
- Possible money-saving opportunities not available with on campus learning. This could include commuting costs, childcare costs, physical textbook costs and more.
- Those who have a hard time sitting and/or concentrating for a whole class may be able to break an online learning session into smaller chunks.
- Most schools offering online programs have comprehensive technical help for students who may have tech issues when trying to access online learning materials.
How online medical billing and coding schools work
Medical billing and coding programs could be a solid option for students who have little to no training or experience in medical billing and coding but wish to embark on a health care career. According to the AAPC, online medical billing and coding courses can help students advance their education even when juggling full-time work or family obligations.
Many online medical billing and coding programs are asynchronous, meaning students can access materials on their own schedule rather than logging on to classes at a specified time. Students typically log into an online course management system of some type where they can view audio and video lectures, access and submit assignments, and complete quizzes and exams. Some, but not all, programs may require students to report to designated testing centers for proctored exams.
Online medical billing and coding students typically take the same or similar courses as those reporting to classrooms. According to the AHIMA, courses may include:
- Healthcare Delivery Systems
- Medical Terminology
- Anatomy and Physiology
- Computer Basics
- Pathophysiology and Pharmacology
- Healthcare Data Content and Structure
- Reimbursement Methodology
- Professional Practice Experience
- Medical Office Procedures
- International Classification of Disease Basics
Online students must be motivated, organized and self-directed, but remember that online education is not an all-or-nothing affair. Some medical coding and billing students opt to take some courses at a local campus and the rest online. Research prospective programs near you to learn more about your options.
Online medical billing and coding certification classes
Professional certification for medical billers and coders can be useful for both new and seasoned specialists. They are usually offered by organizations like the AACP and AHIMA and certify that candidates have certain coding and billing skills They can range from entry-level credentials, like the AHIMA's Certified Coding Associate, or CCA, credential, to more advanced certificates, like the Certified Coding Specialist (CCS) credential. As with online medical billing and coding schools, online certification prep courses tend to be self-paced. Professional certification courses are technically voluntary, but usually require only a few days of study (or less -- especially for experienced billers and coders).
Where to begin
Clearly now-and-future medical billing and coding professionals who want to invest in formal training have a myriad of options to choose from, but no single path or program is right for everyone. We suggest researching a number of schools or classes before choosing yours. Professional organizations like the AAPC and the AHIMA are an excellent starting place, but be sure to research programs independently. Request more information online or through an admissions representative to get started.
"Medical Records and Health Information Technicians," Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/medical-records-and-health-information-technicians.htm
"Career: Medical Billers and Coders," bigfuture, The College Board, https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/careers/health-technology-medical-billers-coders
Overview, About Online Education, American Health Information Management Association, http://www.ahima.org/education/onlineed/about
Certification, American Health Information Management Association, http://www.ahima.org/certification
Medical Certification Overview, Certification, American Academy of Professional Coders, https://www.aapc.com/certification/index.aspx
2013 Salary Survey: Coder Employment on the Rise," American Academy of Professional Coders, September 30, 2013, http://news.aapc.com/index.php/2013/09/2013-salary-survey-coder-employment-on-the-rise/
Fastes-Growing Occupations, CareerOneStop, U.S. Department of Labor, 2012. http://www.careerinfonet.org/oview1.asp?next=oview1&Level=edu5-6&optstatus=101000000&jobfam=&id=1&nodeid=3&soccode=&stfips=00&ShowAll=no