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How to Become a Medical Coder

If you have an interest in the medical field and like working independently, a position as a medical coder may be a good fit for you. Medical coders take medical procedures, services, equipment, and diagnoses and translate them into universal medical codes. Medical coders are responsible for coding the services patients receive and turning that information into a claim to be processed by insurance companies for payment. Hospitals, clinics, and doctor’s offices all employ medical coders.

A medical coder should know the ICD (International Classification of Diseases) and CPT (Current Procedural Terminology) codes, as well as government and insurance regulations regarding how those codes are sequenced in claims. Medical coders must also have excellent verbal communication skills, as they will often have to follow up with health care providers if there is insufficient or unclear documentation. Since medical coders usually work independently, the ability to be a self-starter is also essential.

Sample job description

[Your Company Name] is searching for a motivated and skilled medical coder to work in our clinic. The ideal candidate must have a good understanding of medical coding, as well as be able to ensure codes are accurately recorded per government regulation and state policy. The medical coder will work in close association with our team of medical staff, communicating to ensure accuracy in transcriptions and present information when required. The candidate should have previous experience in the medical coding field. This position will be full-time, and working during clinic hours will be required. The medical coder should be able to demonstrate competent typing ability and accuracy during tests in order to move forward with the application process. If you believe that you are well suited for this position, we look forward to hearing from you!

Typical duties and responsibilities

  • Comply with all legal requirements regarding coding procedures and practices
  • Conduct audits and coding reviews to ensure all documentation is accurate and precise
  • Assign and sequence all codes for services rendered
  • Collaborate with the billing department to ensure all bills are satisfied on time
  • Communicate with insurance companies about coding errors and disputes
  • Submit statistical data for analysis and research by other departments
  • Contact physicians and other health care professionals with questions about treatments or diagnostic tests given to patients regarding coding procedures 

Education and experience

This position requires a high school diploma or the equivalent. However, a bachelor’s degree is preferred.

Some employers also prefer candidates to have professional certification, such as the one offered by the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC).

Required skills and qualifications

  • Close attention to detail
  • Working knowledge of medical terms and human anatomy
  • Solid verbal and written communication skills
  • Excellent typing skills, with both speed and accuracy
  • Familiarity with ICD-10 codes and procedures
  • Self-starter, able to work independently

Preferred qualifications 

  • Experience working with our coding software
  • HIPAA certified
  • Ability to type over 60 words per minute
  • Strong written communication skills
  • Experience working without being managed

Typical work environment

A medical coder is required to transcribe, document, and manage medical codes. A medical code is the universal set of data that describes certain medical procedures, medications, and services. Because of this, medical coders must have the latest knowledge in the field and a competent understanding of government policy. Medical coders will also be required to have an intermediate to advanced typing speed and accuracy, as this position will oftentimes require the input of information into a digital database. Medical coders will have the common tasks of assigning codes to procedures, diagnoses, and client information. Other common tasks include verifying codes to ensure accuracy, communicating information with relevant staff and supervision, and ensuring that coding is up to date and accurate on a case-by-case basis. This position is often full-time and relies on clinical hours, and they may work from home, work in-office, or work in a hospital.

Typical hours

Many medical coders work 9 AM to 5 PM, Monday through Friday in an office setting. However, some who work in companies that operate 24 hours a day could work other shifts.

Other medical coders may work from home and set their own hours.

Available certifications

A medical coder is required to work in a highly technical field, so having relevant certifications in this field can be extremely useful. Some of the relevant certifications & degrees include:

  • Medical Coding Degree. Having an associate’s degree in medical coding or a similar level of knowledge will be crucial for a position in the medical coding field. Medical coders are required to stay up to date with the latest policies and medical coding regulations, so courses and certifications will teach this information as well as provide ways to access this information continually.
  • Certified Professional Coder (CPC). A certified professional coder is a certification and exam process for healthcare and medical-based coding positions. This certification, which is provided by the American Academy of Professional Coders, is a well-known and widely recognized certification that can lead to immense benefit for a professional medical coder. Because of this, this is one of the key certifications for the position and job of a medical coder.

Career path

Medical coder positions require at least a high school diploma or its equivalent. Some companies prefer candidates to have an associate or a bachelor’s degree, with some coursework or work experience in human anatomy, physiology, or other medical disciplines.

In some cases, candidates who have already obtained professional certification in coding, like the one offered by the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC), are more attractive to employers.

US, Bureau of Labor Statistics’ job outlook

SOC Code: 29-9098

2020 Employment81,400
Projected Employment in 203089,900
Projected 2020-2030 Percentage Shift 11% increase
Projected 2020-2030 Numeric Shift8,600 increase

The medical field is always evolving, including the systems in which medical coders operate. That means aspiring medical coders need to stay on top of trends in the field. The World Health Organization is expected to release the next update to the international medical coding standard in the next few years.

Another trend to watch for in medical coding is the increased use of artificial intelligence (AI) in coding. Some AI programs can now scan the text of a patient’s chart and suggest appropriate codes to medical coders to speed up the coding process. It’s still a new technology, but some coders say it helps make coding more efficient.