Medical coding is a job where you take complex information on a patient’s medical history, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment and care plan, and organize it into computerized records that help doctors and nurses plan treatments and allow patients to get proper insurance coverage. People who do it are a critical part of the health care management system in hospitals and physicians offices, and the records they create can help improve patient care and, in some cases, contribute to medical research studies. Job opportunities continue to grow in medical coding, in spite of the weak economy.
If you like the medical field, but prefer to work with patients’ data on computers rather than with patients directly, a medical coding job can give you an excellent point of entry into healthcare. In fact, some nurses like to do coding as a part-time side job, or as a second career after retirement, because it’s less physically strenuous than patient care. Workers in this specialty are variously known as health information coders, coder/abstractors, medical record coders and coding specialists. In all these jobs, you are likely to have a good deal of contact with doctors and nurses who need background information to plan treatments for their patients.
Succeeding As A Medical Coder
Keys to being successful as a medical coder include a good comfort level with computers and a strong attention to detail, since doctors depend on coders to make sure patients’ records are correct and complete. A knowledge of human anatomy is important, which is why it’s taught in most coding degree programs. Being patient about taking (often sloppy) handwritten notes from doctors and organizing them into digital records, and being able to deal with complex insurance issues are also a help.
There are several professional levels in medical coding, each with a particular degree or certificate requirement. Although it’s not absolutely required that you get certified in this field, it’s a good idea to take the certification test at your level from one of two groups: The American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) or the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC). You will probably attract more interest from the larger and higher quality medical facilities and offices if you have certification.
Complicated Degree Landscape
Getting a full-fledged degree in medical coding can put you at a career advantage, but it takes some research to figure out which type of degree to pursue. There is a wide range of bachelors and associate degrees available (2-year and 4-year) and coding is sometimes taught as a sub-specialty under the broad heading of “health information management.” While a bachelor’s degree is clearly the best option if you want a management position, you can start with a more basic degree and work your way up gradually. Any credits you get in an associate’s program will usually apply to a bachelor’s program you may pursue later on.
An option that can get you working in this specialty more quickly is to take a certification program, many of which are offered either through community colleges or online.
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