How to Become a Medical Coder?

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A professional trained to review and process medical claims documents related to a patient's medical condition is known as a medical coder. Typically, medical coders are employed by a back office of medical practices or hospitals to get reimbursements from insurance companies who then evaluate information provided by doctors about medications, treatments, diseases and surgeries performed while providing medical care to a patient. A candidate for this position will need to have educational credentials in medical coding and basic computer skills.

Job Responsibilities of a Medical Coder

The job responsibilities of a medical coder include reviewing the medical history of a patient and processing the information in the required format for further submission to insurance companies. Candidates with a clinical background are preferred but not necessary. They also need to gather patients' information from doctors and other concerned people. They also need to coordinate and follow up with the insurance companies regarding claim reimbursements.

Medical Coder Job Requirements: Start from High School

A high school diploma is the minimum required to become a medical coder. If the educational program chosen allows for an internship at the end of your schooling, it will give you experience that is not available elsewhere. Also, if you are an active member of Medical Coders Association it will give a candidate an edge over other applicants.

The best place to start preparing to become a medical coder is when you are in high school. You will need to have a basic understanding of language and mathematics like algebra because you will work with alphanumeric codes. Another essential feature is to have a good, working knowledge of biology. Also, you should have strong typing skills and the ability to do data entry. Computer skills are important for this field to enter medical information for a patient. To be a medical coder, you can benefit immensely if you have taken classes in general office skills, anatomy and healthcare among others. Depending on the country, an Associate's degree will help you in getting employment.

The American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC) and American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) provides Certified Professional Coder courses. You can also participate in classes that will help you prepare better for certification tests. Trade schools and local colleges offer classes which are held over a time period of six months to a year. Online medical coding courses are also available.

Certifications Help in Career Advancement

Though formal certification is not mandatory to be a medical coder, but most healthcare companies prefer hiring someone who can prove his or her competence and coding knowledge. Salary surveys suggest non-certified medical coders receive less salary compared to those who are certified. A medical coder also has the option of working as an independent contractor for private offices. A person can also work for a law firm.

How to Get Started
  1. Start by getting on the job training. If you know about day to day operations, you will have a better understanding of what is required.
  2. Concentrate on networking with other medical coders. Most coding situations are subjective and will need feedback from other professionals in your field. The fact that other coders are also struggling just as you are will help you regain a sense of balance.
  3. Write a coding exam about your specialty.
  4. Know the relevant medical terms thoroughly.
  5. Conduct a detailed study of ICD – 9/CPT concepts.
Job Prospects and Salary

The job prospects of medical coders are expected to grow in the near future. Technicians with a robust background in medical coding are preferred by employers.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, an average medical coder earns a salary of $31,450. Those who are working in metropolitan cities, hospitals or pharmaceutical companies are earning $53,000. If you choose to be certified, you will notice a substantial increase in your paycheck.
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