What Is a Medical Coding Specialist?

Medical coding specialists assign codes to each procedure and diagnosis recorded in a patient's file by a doctor. These codes are used to bill patients' insurance companies. Read on to learn about the job duties, educational requirements, certification options and career outlook for these professionals. Schools offering Insurance Billing & Coding Specialist degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Career Overview

Medical coding specialists code diagnoses and procedures in a patient's record as noted by a health care professional. The patient is assigned to a diagnostic group, which determines the amount the medical facility will be reimbursed for the procedures by Medicare or an insurance company if the patient has coverage. According to the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA), medical coding specialists transcribe the verbal descriptions of illnesses, injuries and procedures into a numeric designation. Job duties may include:

  • Reviewing patient records
  • Assigning codes to procedures performed
  • Assigning codes to a doctor's diagnosis
  • Assigning patients to diagnosis-related groups
  • Organizing data in medical files
  • Performing data entry
  • Compiling information into a report

Education Requirements

Educational requirements for medical coding specialists range from a certificate to an associate degree from a community college, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Students might enroll in a health information technology program that covers the following topics:

  • Statistics
  • Medical terminology
  • Health data coding systems
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Computer systems
  • Healthcare reimbursement

Certification

The BLS and AHIMA add that employers prefer applicants who have earned certification. AHIMA and AAPC (American Academy of Professional Coders) both offer several certifications. Some of AAPC's certifications include Certified Professional Coder, Certified Professional Coder-Hospital and Certified Professional Coder-Payer. Although AAPC recommends that candidates have an associate degree, they can take the exams with two years of experience in coding.

AHIMA has three coding credentials (Certified Coding Associate, Certified Coding Specialist and Certified Coding Specialist-Physician-Based) and offers multiple ways to qualify to take an exam. For example, one may qualify with work experience alone, with a combination of a previous credential and work experience or with a training program alone. AHIMA's Registered Health Information Technician credentialing exam requires an associate degree, and its Registered Health Information Administrator credentialing exam requires a bachelor's degree.

Job Outlook and Salary

Medical coders, who are grouped with medical records and health information technicians, are expected to see 22% employment growth over the decade spanning 2012-2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This growth is much faster than the overall occupational average of 11%, and the BLS expects certified professionals to have the best prospects. In April 2014, PayScale.com reported a median salary of $38,827 for medical coding specialists, with a 10th-90th percentile salary range of $25,810-$60,824.

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