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Steps to Becoming a Medical Coder

Ashley is a certified coding associate who was able to get into the healthcare field remotely with a self-study medical coding program.

Medical billing and coding has been of big interest to people who are looking to work from home or get into the medical field. It is a very promising field that is projected to continue to expand into more remote positions, and has an average entry-level starting salary of around $40,006, according to Salary.com.

That being said, there are many websites and blogs with a lot of information that get your hopes up about getting your dream job quickly. It can be hard to know what to believe or trust. So here are some tips on the process and how to get started from someone who actually went through it successfully.

What Does a Medical Coder Do?

A medical coder basically reviews medical records and documentation in order to assign a diagnosis code to the patient’s condition that is being treated. Codes are also assigned for different procedures that are performed, and what happened during a hospital or physician’s office visit. From there, the different codes are billed, and the hospital and/or physicians are reimbursed for their services.

Today, a lot of medical coding is run through software that makes the process more efficient. But through proper education and training, you will learn how to manually determine a primary diagnosis or procedure and find it in the appropriate code book. Once you know what you’re doing, it can actually be pretty enjoyable work. Things you will need to learn are the medical billing revenue cycle, medical terminology, and how to use code books, including the terminology and guidelines.

Have Realistic Expectations

There are many websites that promise you can get started right now with the perfect work-from-home job in medical coding. But to be realistic, that is not always the case. It’s not absolutely impossible, but most remote jobs in this field will require at least two years of experience before you can work from home.

The key is to get your foot in the door for a position with something related to medical billing first so that you can get some experience. That may mean working in a physical office for a time before you can transition to work from home. But if starting out at home is your goal, be patient, as it may take some time to find the perfect fit.

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One thing that many of us working moms are looking for is a remote job so that we can have our kids home with us. Unfortunately, most employers in the medical field will require you to sign an agreement that someone else will be taking care of your children during the day. No one mentioned that in the many articles I read before choosing this field. So you will need to make sure to have a plan for childcare during the workday when working as a medical coder from home.

A medical coder assigns a code to a patient’s diagnosis and/or procedures performed during a visit

A medical coder assigns a code to a patient’s diagnosis and/or procedures performed during a visit

Programs to Become a Medical Coder

You don't have to go into major debt or a four-year college to become a medical coder, which is great for adults looking for a career change or even students looking to get into the workforce faster. If you learn better in a physical classroom setting with an instructor, look into your local community colleges. You can get your associate's degree in about two years for medical billing and coding, or they may have faster programs where you can get an actual medical billing and coding certificate which is widely accepted.

If you're looking for an option entirely online, my personal experience was through CareerStep.com. It is completely virtual, self-study, and takes up to a year to complete. You can purchase an extension if needed, but if you stay on track, you can finish in eight to ten months, reasonably.

With this program, I felt very ready to take the national exam to become certified. At the time of enrollment, there was a 90% tuition discount in my state. So the $3600 course ended up being $360. This did not include the national certification exam after finishing the course, which is two to three hundred dollars depending on which exam you take. The discount was the only way I was able to afford to take this course, so make sure to speak with the Career Step representative to find out what education discounts are available in your state.

Certifications

After finishing your medical coding education through a community college or online course, you will need to take the national exam from either AHIMA or AAPC. AHIMA offers the CCA, and AAPC has the CPC exam. Do some research on the differences between the two and what is needed to work in inpatient versus outpatient facilities.

You may also want to look into the types of jobs you plan on applying for and which certifications they are looking for to help you make your decision. Of course, you can take both if you’d like, but you will have to pay for each, and they focus on different areas. After getting certified, you’ll also need to keep up the continuing education credits and renew so your certification doesn’t expire.

Before you finish your billing and coding course, get your resume ready and start getting your name out there! There are paid resources online that you can find to practice medical coding while job hunting so that you can accumulate some experience to put on your resume and keep your skills fresh. Future employers may be impressed with the effort you put in to gain that experience!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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