Medical Coding Classes – Types, Costs and How to Choose

Image courtesy of twobee / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of twobee / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Choosing to become a medical coder is a lucrative career choice that will afford you the luxury to work basically anywhere you’d like — even from home. But, before you can get hired, it’s important to take courses that prepare you for your journey as a medical coding professional. These courses provide the basic structure for your knowledge, teaching you the most up-to-date coding systems which will allow you to fit into your new job once you graduate.

What Types of Medical Coding Courses Are There?

In order to properly understand the track of courses you will be asked to choose from, you must first understand the types of coding titles you will attain upon their completion. For that, let’s take a brief look at the three types of systems currently in use in the medical field.

1. Current Procedural Terminology (CPT)

  • Managed, maintained and copyrighted by the American Medical Association (AMA)
  • Utilizes thousands of codes
  • New codes added and obsolete codes deleted each year
  • This update is completely implemented by AMA editorial boards who then distribute the new books, manuals and software
  • Important if you wish to work in private practices, hospitals and clinics

2. Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System (HCPCS)

  • Codes designed specifically for Medicare and Medicaid services
  • System is based on CPT codes
  • Ensures equality for all Medicare and Medicaid customers
  • Monitored by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS)
  • Important for working in areas that primarily deal with Medicare and Medicaid services

3. International Statistical Classifications of Diseases (ICD)

  • Created, maintained and copyrighted by the World Health Organization (WHO)
  • The National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), a part of the CMS, oversees modifications and changes in the United States
  • Creates a uniform system for the classification of diseases, their symptoms, any standout findings and their causes
  • The current standard is the ICD-10 though some areas still follow the ICD-9 due to slow implementations
  • New versions created when needed
  • ICD-11 drafted and distributed in late 2011 and is expected to get official WHO endorsement in 2015
  • Important for those who want to work in versatile settings

As you can see, there are quite a few systems in place, meaning there are different courses that will lead to proficiency in each. Here’s a look at what you’ll learn in the two major medical coding courses: the CPC® and the CPC-H®.

Certified Professional Coder (CPC®)

Considered the “gold standard” for medical coding professionals who work in a physician’s office, the CPC® credential is held by over 80,000 workers, who earn (on average) 20% more than non-holders. It not only increases your earnings, but also your chances of being hired and retained.

To become CPC® certified, you must take courses that prepare you for a strenuous examination that proves you can read medical charts and assign the correct ICD-9 diagnoses, the correct CPT procedure, and supply the correct HCPCS Level II code. During these courses, you’ll learn a variety of techniques and skills such as:

  • How to expertly review and assign medical codes accurately (including diagnoses, procedures and services)
  • How to be proficient in evaluation and management
  • Knowledge about anesthesia, surgical services, radiology, pathology and medicine
  • Compliance, reimbursement, coding rules, bundling issues, charge capture and coding regulations
  • Knowledge of physiology, anatomy and medical terminology

Certified Professional Coder—Hospital Outpatient (CPC-H®)

If you’re planning on working in an outpatient ambulatory center as a medical coder, you’ll want to take courses that prepare you for the CPC-H® exam. The current large healthcare push away from private practices and hospital groups means that this is the path many take, hoping to find jobs in the numerous Ambulatory Surgical Centers and hospital outpatient billing and coding departments around the country. These courses teach CPC® and ICD-9 coding skills, as well as a variety of other techniques that will help you land the job you desire upon certification, such as:

  • How to expertly review and assign medical codes accurately in the outpatient setting. This includes diagnoses, procedures and services during emergency department visits, outpatient clinic visits, same day surgeries, diagnostic testing and outpatient therapies
  • Knowledge about anesthesia, surgical services, radiology, pathology and medicine in an outpatient setting
  • Compliance, reimbursement, coding rules, bundling issues, charge capture and coding regulations for outpatient settings
  • Knowledge of physiology, anatomy and medical terminology
  • Capability to integrate coding and reimbursement rule changes for CDM changes, fee updates and FLs on UB04s
  • Ability to fill out a CMS 1500 for ACS services correctly, as well as UB04 for outpatient services (including correctly applying modifiers)
  • ICD-9-CM codes from Volumes 1 & 2

How Much Do Medical Coding Courses Cost?

While costs for classes will vary depending on which institution you choose, you can get a ballpark figure by deciding on which type of degree you will be attaining: a basic coding certificate, an associate’s degree, or a bachelor’s degree. Because of the fluctuation between institutions, we’ll list the averages for each complete degree rather than each individual course.

  • Certificate in Medical Coding: The AAPC and AHIMA both offer a package of courses for a basic coding certificate that range between $12,000-$18,000.
  • Associate’s Degree in Medical Coding: The average associate’s degree for medical coding courses typically hover around $32,000.
  • Bachelor’s Degree in Medical Coding: The amount of time, as well as the amount of money, it takes to get a bachelor’s degree is about double that of an associate’s degree, so expect to pay around $64,000 in total.

Which Courses Should I Take?

As you can see by the information above, the courses you take will be dependent on two major factors: where you would like to work upon graduation and your budget/time allotment. If you want to work in a private practice, CPC® coding courses and an associate’s degree should do. If you’d like to work in a hospital setting, consider the CPC-H® coding certification and a certificate or associate’s degree. If you’d like to enter the job field at a higher entry level, making more money and being more in demand, opt for the courses of your choice on the bachelor’s track.

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