What Does a Medical Coding Specialist Do?

A medical coding specialist is part of the the medical records billing department of a healthcare organization, such as a hospital or a clinic, classifying diagnoses and procedures to facilitate billing and reimbursement from Medicare or health insurance companies. Medical coding specialists must hold an associate's degree and certification in order to work. Schools offering Insurance Billing & Coding Specialist degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Career Overview

A medical coding specialist works in the medical records billing department of a healthcare organization, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov). The primary responsibility of a medical coding specialist is to assign a code to each type of treatment and diagnosis. The coding system tracks each patient's diagnosis and treatment and assigns them to a specific diagnosis-related group (DRG). Medicare and health insurance programs use the coding to reimburse hospitals. Typically, medical coding specialists work in a normal office environment and have 40-hour workweeks. In some hospitals with 24-hour health information departments, some coding specialists may also be required to work at night and on the weekends.

Education Required

Medical coding specialists must hold an associate's degree and receive certification. Many employers prefer candidates who are certified by the Registered Health Information Technicians (RHIT) organization. Community colleges in the U.S. offer two-year programs in medical coding. Generally, a program dedicated to medical coding will include coursework in:

  • Health data standards
  • Coding and abstraction of data
  • Quality improvement methods
  • Medical terminology
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Aspects of health information

Career Outlook and Salary Statistics

The BLS reports that employment of medical records and health information technicians is expected to increase by 22% between 2012 and 2022. The primary reason for this better-than-average growth is the demand for additional healthcare services as the population ages. The BLS additionally reported the median annual salary for such technicians as $34,160 in May 2012, noting that those employed by pharmaceutical companies made the most money, averaging $66,060 a year.

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