Choosing a Medical Coding School – Options and Considerations

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Pursuing a career as a medical coding professional starts with finding the right school. In order to do this, you’ll have to take some things into consideration and perform the necessary research, in order to pursue your higher education goals and beyond. Finding the right school will allow you to develop the essential skills necessary to make you a qualified candidate for any job opening. Plus, having a base of knowledge at your disposal will make you even more desirable to potential employers.

There are many things to consider and options to weigh before choosing a medical coding school, such as attending school online vs. on campus, obtaining industry certification upon completion of the program, and many others. With each of these, a decision will need to be made (by you!) and the impact on your future career can be significant. The purpose of this article is to introduce these options and hopefully help make your decisions more clear.

Selecting an Accredited School

Nowadays, employers often only consider applicants that have graduated from an accredited medical coding school. These schools must pass stringent requirements in areas such as the quality of their programs, faculty and education. These schools are continuously evaluated to make sure these rigorous standards are being upheld. They also offer specialized curriculum that ensures graduates are up to date with the latest techniques and information in the industry. Employers know that job applicants coming from such reputable institutions are going to be knowledgeable, reliable and in the end, hirable.

Additionally, should you need to change schools for any reason, your credits are more apt to be transferable between accredited schools since the courses are regulated by one of the following two organizations:

  • American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA)
  • AAPC (previously known as the American Academy of Professional Coders)

Additionally, regional institutional accreditation will also allow you to obtain certification. These accrediting associations include:

  • Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools (MSA)
  • New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC)
  • North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (NASC)
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS)
  • Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges (NASC)
  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC)

Levels of Education

Depending on where you would like to work and at what level of job/pay you would like to enter the field in, obtaining the necessary education is essential. There are a few different options available (diploma, certificate, associate’s degree and bachelor’s degree) so take the following bits of advice into consideration:

  • Look for schools that offer your specific choice of degree, be it associate’s, bachelor’s, certificate or diploma. Understand that certain employers will only hire graduates who have obtained a specific level of education. Do some research into the types of jobs you want and find out who they’re hiring.
  • Look for programs that offer RHIT (Registered Health Information Technician) or equivalent qualification. This, along with program affiliation with the CAHIIM (Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education) or AHIMA, will help you land the job you want after you graduate.

Once you’ve discovered the types of jobs you’d like and the schools around you that offer relevant programs (i.e. beneficial to your career), it’s time to decide which level of education you are going to pursue. Keep in mind that higher levels of education are often accompanied by greater costs and time commitments; however, the rewards gained upon completion of school (e.g. job selection, pay rate, etc.) are typically greater as well.

Medical Billing and Coding Diploma:

  • Can be completed in ten months to a year
  • Focus is on fundamental medical records management and insurance processing skills
  • Learn how to process healthcare claims and medical records effectively, apply ICD-9 diagnosis and coding procedures, and accurately code medical and surgical procedures
  • Courses include: Medical Basics, Healthcare Claim Cycle, Healthcare Settings and Claims Processing and Medical Practice Management Systems

Associate of Science in Medical Billing and Coding:

  • Can be completed in 18 to 24 months
  • Features the same core Medical Billing and Coding courses as the diploma program, but also covers essential business, communication and healthcare topics
  • Core curriculum includes: English Composition, Critical Thinking and Problem Solving, College Math, General Biology and Sociology
  • Electives include: Introduction to Healthcare Computer Information Systems, Patient Relations and Interpersonal Professional Communication

Bachelor of Science in Health Information Management and Health Care Administration

  • Can be completed in four years
  • Features the same core Medical Billing and Coding courses as the Associate’s program, but also covers health information management strategies, business administration principles, information technology applications, ethics law and privacy mandates and compliancy issues
  • Core curriculum includes: English Composition, Critical Thinking and Problem Solving, College Math, General Biology and Sociology

Choosing an Online Program

Next, you’ll want to decide if you want to attend a medical coding program online or on a campus. Many people decide to choose an online program because their life, job, family, etc. interferes with the schedule of a campus setting. Online programs accommodate busy schedules by allowing you to complete coursework at your own rate and at your own leisure. Depending on the school, you may still have to come onto campus for things such as advisory meetings and internships, but the flexibility of learning from home allows many to pursue their dreams when other obstacles would normally prevent them.

Of course, you should keep in mind that online courses don’t afford you the companionship and peer support that many find indispensable in college. Similarly, you may not have as much access to your teachers as questions arise. Lastly, you will need a strong work ethic and an ability to meet your own deadlines. Many people can’t overcome these obstacles and wind up never finishing an online program. As such, it is important that you be wary of your own limitations and needs.

Find Out More

For more information about medical coding schools, including answers to commonly asked questions, please read Top 10 Frequently Asked Questions About Medical Coding Schools.

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