How to Become a Medical Coder in 5 Steps or Less

The medical field has become an exciting industry to enter in the 21st century. With the passing of recent historic healthcare legislation, jobs in medical coding have become even more important links in the medical chain. The purpose of this article is to provide a clear outline for becoming a medical coder – from the early stages of research, to an advanced career in the field.

Step 1: Make Sure Medical Coding Is Right for You

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There are a few skills and aspects of personality that you should posses if you’re considering becoming a medical coder. This profession is great for people who are very detail-oriented and good with numbers. A potential coder should also be comfortable with computer technology, as the essential software programs is updated often. Lastly, anyone entering the field should have a high level of interpersonal ability. Even though it’s been said that medical coders don’t have a lot of contact with patients, they will need to interact with physicians, health care administrators, and employees of insurance companies on a regular basis.

Step 2: Decide Where You Want to Work

Entry level coders have several job duties, whether they work in an office or from home. Most young professionals start their career in a hospital setting, although you could work at any place that deals with medical records and information, including – but not limited to – physician’s offices, mental health facilities, pharmaceutical companies and insurance agencies.

Home-based positions are rarely offered to entry level coders as most employers want remote workers to have at least three years of experience. If you are able to find a flexible employer, know that you’ll need to have at least a working knowledge of different specialties, such as radiology or urology. Fortunately, with specialized training often comes an increase in salary. For example, Certified Urology Coders (CUC) who work from home can expect to receive a salary in the $35,000 range.

Step 3: Prepare for the Certification Exam

Virtually all medical coding programs require students to have either a high school diploma or an equivalent educational designation, such as a General Equivalency Diploma (G.E.D.). AHIMA offers certification courses all over the United States, in both classroom and online settings. Whether you decide to take a class on a brick and mortar campus or go the online route, the financial costs are about the same. If you decide to sign up for a certification class, expect to spend between $1,000 and $2,000.

Even though a post-secondary degree is not required to become a medical coder, the coursework is comparable to that of an associate’s degree program. If you have not been in a post-secondary classroom in a number of years, you should probably prepare by taking a couple of adult education courses.

Step 5: Get Certified

Once you’ve completed the required coursework, you should make preparations to take the Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT) certification exam. As of this date, the testing fee is $229 for AHIMA members and $299 for non-members. During this 3.5 hour exam you’ll be answering 150 questions – 130 of which are multiple choice, the other 20 of which are part of a pretest. The pretest questions aren’t counted in the scoring of the test; instead, they’re used on a trial basis to potential be used as multiple choice questions in later editions of the exam.

If you choose, you can also prepare and sit for additional coding credentials, such as the Certified Coding Associate (CCA) exam after you gain six months of experience in the medical coding field. This particular designation denotes that the holder has gained a mastery of the different coding systems and the proficiency to work in different medical specialties. The CCA certification could also lead to an increase in pay.

Looking Forward

Once you’re an established medical coder, it’s important to keep up-to-date with advancements in the profession – including new software programs, additional credentials (if want to advance your career) and industry best practices. The most successful coders are those who take advantage of any on-site training offered by their employer, and getting re-certified when and where necessary to keep up with this fast-evolving profession.

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