Medical coding is one of the fastest growing careers in the health care field, with a positive job outlook even in tough economic times. As insurance becomes more complicated, physicians have less time for record keeping, and insurance companies spend more time looking for fraudulent claims, medical coders can make a steady living, either working in a clinic, hospital, or office setting, or by working at home. While certification is not an absolute requirement, it is frequently a consideration in hiring. Certification programs come in many varieties, some taking as little as nine months to complete. There may be shorter programs, but they are not considered up to standard. The gold standard is an associate degree with Registered Health Information Technicians (RHIT) certification.
To become a medical coder, you will need a firm grounding in anatomy, medical coding, computer software and technology, medical terminology, physiology, data requirements and standards, and database security. Applicants who study biology, math, chemistry, health and computer science in high school will have a better chance of being accepted into the best programs. Credentials improve your chance of being hired and promoted. Credential programs usually require recertification and continuing education to stay certified.
As a medical coder, you will be expected to maintain patient records and ensure their quality, accuracy, and completeness. You will also be responsibility for data security. You will interact with doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals to get further information and make sure that you understand diagnoses. It is important that you have good computer and typing skills, and understand symptoms, test results, treatment methods, and other basic medical information. Your basic job will be to assign codes to diagnoses and treatments using classification software. You may have to know more than one classification system based on the type of facility you work in. Coders are the go-between for health care facilities and insurance companies, so good oral and written communication are a must.
Medical coders usually work a 40 hour week in a health care setting. Overtime may be required, and coders in a hospital may have to work day, evening, night, or weekend shifts. There are some part-time positions available, and some coders may set up as freelancers working from home or may be allowed to work from home for an employer. There is no direct patient care involved.
Jobs in this field start at $8 to $10 per hour and can go up to $30 to $40 per hour. The median annual salary in 2008 was $30,610. The highest paid coders earn up to $50,000. The pay often depends on who your work for, with hospitals and the federal government paying the most and physician's offices and outpatient care centers paying the least. There are many advancement opportunities in the field, especially if you go on to get a bachelor's degree or advanced speciality certification. Advancement opportunities include medical and health information managers.