Healthcare is one of the fastest-growing industries for job seekers. Even if you have no interest in patient care, you can still work in the thriving healthcare field with a career in medical billing and coding.
Medical billing and coding fulfills an important administrative function within the healthcare industry.
As the overall healthcare sector continues to grow, careers in healthcare support occupations are also expected to expand.
Employment of medical secretaries, including medical billing and coding specialists, is projected to increase 22% from 2016 to 2026, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
This guide can help answer your questions about how to start a career in medical billing and coding. Discover what the job entails, how to find the right education and training, how to find a job in this field, and other information you need to begin your medical billing and coding career.
What Is Medical Billing and Coding?
Medical billing and coding workers use technology to help healthcare professionals update medical records and obtain payment for services rendered. People who work in this field assign standard codes for each diagnosis and medical procedure, and enter the codes into a patient’s health record. This information is also forwarded to insurance companies, so they can correctly process healthcare claims.
Medical billing and coding specialists work in all kinds of healthcare facilities, from medical offices and hospitals to rehabilitation centers and health departments.
This job is usually done in an office environment. Many medical billing and coding specialists work full-time, though part-time positions could be available depending on the employer.
Dress codes for medical billing and coding specialists can vary based on the employer and setting. You may be asked to wear the same type of scrubs as clinical staff, or you may wear traditional office attire.
How Much Do Medical Billing and Coding Specialists Make?
According to the BLS, medical secretaries earned a median annual wage of $34,610 as of May 2017. However, the salary for this position can vary based on a number of factors, such as where you live or what type of office you work in.
For example, BLS data shows that medical secretaries who work in the scientific research and development services field had the highest median annual salary at $42,780. Medical billing and coding specialists who work for state governments also had a higher median wage of $42,710 per year. The top 10% in the field earned more than $50,340 a year.
Attaining industry certification, such as the Certified Professional Coder (CPC®) credential from the AAPC could lead to higher earnings when paired with additional experience. According to the 2017 AAPC Salary Survey, coders with an average of 13 years of experience and the CPC certification earned an average annual salary of $54,106.
Medical Billing and Coding Job Outlook
Like most jobs in the healthcare industry, careers in medical billing and coding are growing. As previously noted, the BLS projects a 22% increase in employment of medical secretaries, including medical billing and coding specialists, by 2026. This rate is much faster than the average for all occupations, and amounts to roughly 129,000 new job openings in the coming years.
If projected job openings are an important consideration in your career search, medical billing and coding could be a good option based on the current job outlook. As the population ages, people will need more medical care. The increase in these services means a related increase in medical record updates and more insurance claims to process.
If you work in medical billing and coding, more healthcare claims can translate to a rising demand for your skill set. All of the data required to process each medical claim will need someone to organize and properly code it.
And since healthcare employers are increasingly using electronic systems to run their practices, they will need qualified people who know how to use this technology. Once you are a trained and certified medical billing and coding specialist, this occupation’s faster-than-average employment growth should bode well for your long-term job prospects.
What Classes Are Required for Medical Billing and Coding?
Medical billing and coding students take classes in a variety of subjects to prepare them for managing medical records, applying codes, submitting invoices, and assisting with other business procedures for the healthcare field.
The coursework for medical billing and coding programs includes a mix of technical knowledge, healthcare information, and business topics. Students will learn the necessary medical terminology, the cycle of healthcare claims, and the medical coding system.
This combination of subjects provides students with the foundation of knowledge they need to begin a career in medical billing and coding. Typical courses in a medical billing and coding program may include:
- Diagnostic Coding
- Procedural Coding
- Billing and Coding Application
- Introduction to Computers
- Introduction to Healthcare Communication
- Medical Terminology
- Medical Law and Ethics
- Records Management
- Healthcare Settings, Claim Cycle, and Claims Processing
- Anatomy, Physiology, and Pathophysiology
What Does a Medical Billing and Coding Specialist Do?
Medical billing and coding specialists are essential to all areas of healthcare. They organize health-related data and make sure that it is accessible for everyone at the healthcare facility. This position generally involves working with electronic data, though some offices also maintain paper files. Since much of the work is done electronically, medical billing and coding specialists should be comfortable using computers.
Another crucial part of this job is making certain all medical and billing information is accurate. Having correct data is essential to ensure that patients receive proper care and that insurers receive the information they need to process and reimburse claims.
Medical billers and coders must also verify that the patient data they deal with is secure at all times. Patient confidentiality is required by law, so medical billing and coding specialists must uphold security measures to make sure that all of the data they deal with is safe.
Knowledge of classification systems is one of the major requirements for medical billing and coding jobs. These specialists use universal codes to categorize all patient information.
This data is used to help healthcare providers get reimbursed by insurance companies for their medical procedures. The codes are also used to standardize patients’ medical histories and treatment data for physicians’ records. This is especially helpful when multiple team members and/or specialists are involved in diagnosing conditions and treating patients.
Job Duties for Medical Billing and Coding Specialists
Now that we’ve covered what medical billers and coders do, let’s dive a little deeper into the day-to-day responsibilities of this position. Some of the job duties will vary based on the employer’s needs, but here are some of the common responsibilities for those who work in medical billing and coding:
- Review medical data in a timely fashion.
- Keep data well organized at all times.
- Ensure medical records are complete and accurate.
- Input clinical codes into medical classification software so that providers and/or patients can get reimbursed by insurance companies.
- Enter healthcare records in the proper format required for medical registries and databases.
- Track patient outcomes for quality assessment.
- Maintain comprehensive electronic records so medical personnel can retrieve, analyze, and report on data when needed.
- Assure that patients’ data is kept confidential at all times.
- Review a patient’s medical records for any preexisting conditions and/or previous care to make sure that the data is coded the right way.
- Use the correct codes when a patient gets a medical diagnosis to help healthcare providers administer proper care, assist health statisticians in tracking population data, and ensure healthcare facilities submit the necessary information to obtain reimbursement from insurance.
- Liaise between the healthcare facility and insurance companies.
Is a Career in Medical Billing and Coding a Good Fit for You?
There are many things to consider when choosing a career path. If you are thinking about pursuing a career in medical billing and coding, be sure to do your research and ask relevant questions.
You will want to learn how much the job pays, what the work entails, and how the field is expected to grow in the future. But beyond the job outlook and work environment, there are other considerations that may influence your job satisfaction in a medical billing and coding career.
Ask yourself the following questions to determine if a career in medical billing and coding might be a good fit for you:
- Am I able to meticulously follow instructions?
- Can I maintain patient privacy and confidentiality?
- Am I comfortable using technology?
- Would I be able to work at a computer for many hours at a time?
- Do I work well with others?
- Can I stay calm during stressful situations like billing mishaps?
- Am I able to keep records well organized?
- Do I have the interpersonal skills to communicate well with coworkers, patients, and insurers?
- Am I attentive to even the smallest details?
If you answered “yes” to all of the questions above, you could be well-suited for a medical billing and coding career.
Job Options in Medical Billing and Coding
Careers in the medical billing and coding field could have a number of different job titles. They can vary based on the job responsibilities of the specific position.
Some roles may have the same general job duties but different titles according to the employer or the location. Management-level careers in this field may require additional education and/or work experience.
Some of the job options in medical billing and coding include:
- Medical Records Coordinator
- Medical Coding Specialist
- Medical Billing Specialist
- Medical Records Technician (or Medical Records Tech)
- Health Information Specialist
- Medical Records Clerk
- Health Information Clerk
- Medical Records Analyst
- Health Information Technician (or Health Information Tech)
- Medical Billing Manager
- Medical Records Director
How to Become a Medical Biller and Coder
One of the most effective ways to become a medical biller and coder is through formal training. Though it is possible get started in this field with on-the-job experience, most medical billing and coding positions require candidates to have specialized education. The particular job requirements may vary by employer.
The path to becoming a medical billing and coding specialist has a few education options. The fastest route tends to be through a certificate or diploma program, which may be completed in less than a year. Alternately, students may opt to pursue a degree, which can help graduates qualify for positions with stricter job requirements. An associate degree will typically include general education classes in addition to relevant healthcare, billing, and coding coursework, and usually takes less than two years to finish. Some employers may also expect candidates to obtain certification.
To decide which education option is best for you, consider your career plans. Since different employers may have different requirements to work in this field, check to see what the requirements are at some of the local organizations where you’d like to work.
If you are hoping to transition into a management-level position in the future, you may wish to consider an associate degree. In the event you decide to further your education to better position yourself for advancement, the credits you earn toward an associate degree could possibly transfer into a bachelor’s degree program—especially if your school maintains partnerships with other academic institutions that have agreed to accept the credits you’ve earned toward specific bachelor’s degree programs.
What Qualifications Do You Need to Work as a Medical Billing and Coding Specialist?
Medical billing and coding specialists may have different job requirements based on the needs of the employer. Most employers require a certificate/diploma or associate degree to work in medical billing and coding. Some may require you to have industry certification, as well.
Education requirements aside, medical billing and coding specialists should have certain abilities to help them perform the job well. According to the BLS, important qualities for medical secretaries include:
- Decision-making skills, which will help them analyze diagnoses and medical records to determine the best way to code them for patients’ medical records
- Attention to detail, which is required to accurately record and code patient data
- Good communication and interpersonal abilities, even in high-stress situations like billing discrepancies or rejected insurance claims
- Computer skills, such as word processing, spreadsheet, and database software, including electronic health record (EHR) systems and medical coding and classification programs
Technology Skills Needed to Work in Medical Billing and Coding
People who work in medical billing and coding are typically required to use technology to perform their jobs. The specific programs and applications may vary based on the employer, but the software generally allows users to perform a similar range of basic functions required for the position.
According to O*NET OnLine, a BLS database of occupational information, following are some of the technology skills that are typically needed to work in medical billing and coding:
- Accounting software
- Billing software
- Data-entry software
- Database user interface and query software
- Medical condition coding software
- Medical procedure coding software
- Word processing software
- Medical software
- Electronic health record (EHR) programs
- Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System (HCPCS)
Many of the technology programs and skill sets needed to work in medical billing and coding are likely to be covered during your education, though some might be learned on the job.
How to Choose a Medical Coding Program and Prepare for Certification
Before you begin a medical billing and coding program, take time to evaluate your options and determine the right one for your needs. You may wish to start by running a search for medical billing and coding jobs in your area to see what kind of qualification employers are seeking.
Once you know what the typical job requirements are, you should be ready to narrow down your medical billing and coding program options. Here are some questions to ask yourself to make it easier to choose between programs:
- What is your schedule like?
- Do you have time to commute to a nearby campus, or would online classes better suit your needs?
- Will the program prepare you for industry certification?
- Does the program offer personalized attention?
- Will the program help you develop the skills and knowledge you’ll need to start working as a medical billing and coding specialist?
- Does the program include hands-on practice with medical coding systems?
- Will the coursework cover topics that are commonly included on industry certification exams?
- Does the school offer resume-writing assistance and/or interview preparation?
- Does the school have job-search help available?
- What kinds of financial aid options are available for students who need it?
Once you have answered these questions and decided on a program, the next step is to enroll in your first classes and begin working toward your credentials.
How to Get Medical Coding Certification Online
If you intend to pursue medical coding certification, online education programs can help prepare you for the exam, much the same as campus-based training would.
However, while you can take classes and study for your medical coding certification exam online, most certifying bodies require the tests to be taken in-person.
For example, the Certified Professional Coder (CPC®) credential from the AAPC requires candidates to take the exam at an approved AAPC exam site and meet eligibility requirements. Many states host the exam in one or more major cities and on multiple dates, so students can choose the location and timing that best suits them.
How Long Does It Take to Become a Medical Coder?
How long it takes to become a medical coder depends largely on the path you take to get there. If you plan to pursue a certificate/diploma or degree, the length of time will be contingent on the duration of the program.
Many diploma programs can be completed in under a year. If you intend to enroll in an associate degree program, you should be able to complete your training and earn your degree in under two years.
If you are planning to pursue CPC certification, you would need to factor in additional time to take the certification exam and meet the eligibility requirements for CPC certification. If you pass the exam but do not have the necessary work experience required for full CPC status, you will receive the CPC Apprentice (CPC-A) designation until you submit proof of experience and/or education.
8 Steps to a Career in Medical Billing and Coding
A career in medical billing and coding can be within your reach if you are willing to devote the time needed to train and prepare for this role. The following steps can help you find the right school, get your certificate or degree, attain industry certification, conduct your job search, and land a position in this growing field.
Here are eight basic steps to help you pursue a career in medical billing and coding:
Research the specific job requirements in your area. Before you decide what kind of credentials to earn, you may want to look into the requirements for local medical billing and coding careers. Do most job postings specify a certificate/diploma is needed, or are local employers looking for candidates with an associate degree? Do they list industry certification as a requirement?
Choose between a medical billing and coding certificate/diploma or degree program. If you want to prepare for a career in medical billing and coding as quickly as possible, you may wish to enroll in a diploma program. If you’d like to enhance your credentials, consider investing the time to earn an associate degree. Don’t forget to factor in your long-term career goals.
Explore your financial assistance options. If you need help paying for school, you may want to seek out scholarships and financial aid programs that you may qualify for. The schools you’re considering will be able to provide more information; just look for the “Financial Aid” section of the website.
Enroll in the program of your choice. Once you choose a program and are admitted, you can enroll in classes and begin working toward your credential.
Graduate and take your certification exam. While you can apply for medical billing and coding jobs as soon as you graduate, if you’re planning to pursue CPC/CPC-A certification, it’s a good idea to take the exam as close to graduation as possible while the material is still fresh in your mind. Achieving certification may also help increase your starting salary.
Get your resume ready and start your job search. After your education is complete and you have your diploma or degree, you're ready to start looking for a medical billing and coding job. Find out if your school offers career services, such as help writing a résumé to showcase your new abilities and/or job search assistance to help you find and apply for local positions.
Go on interviews for medical billing and coding jobs. If prospective employers are impressed by your résumé and qualifications, they may invite you for an interview. Find out if your school’s career services include job interview preparation to help you practice your skills before you meet with employers. Once you’ve mastered practice interviews, you should be ready to excel at the real thing!
Get the job and start your career in medical billing and coding. When you accept an employment offer and begin your first job, make an effort to create a great first impression and then live up to the expectations you’ve set.
We hope this guide has helped answer your questions about the medical billing and coding profession. You may want to bookmark this page to help you throughout your journey toward a career in medical billing and coding.