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How to Become a Medical Coder: A Step by Step Guide for a Promising New Career

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Are you interested in a career in the medical field? But, you don’t want to work a job that is patient-facing? 

If so, then a career as a medical coder may be right for you. Medical coders work behind-the-scenes to help patients and to help medical facilities run smoothly. 

And, best of all, unlike many other medical careers, it doesn’t take years and years of schooling to become a medical coder. 

But, what does it take to become a medical coder?

Read this step by step guide to learn how to become a medical coder. 

What is a Medical Coder? 

Before we dive into how to become a medical coder, let’s first talk about what exactly a medical coder is. 

As we said, medical coders work behind-the-scenes to help patients and medical facilities. 

The main role of a medical coder is to make sure patient data is accurately logged into their electronic medical health records. Once they know this information is logged accurately, they code the records for billing and insurance purposes. 

Without medical coders, there would be no way of knowing what to charge for each procedure and insurance companies would not be able to properly cover your care. 

Now that you know the basic responsibilities of a medical coder, let’s dive into how to become one. 

Step 1: Complete Postsecondary Education 

All medical coders must first receive a high school diploma or a GED. After completing high school, aspiring medical coders have three different options for continuing their education: getting a bachelor’s degree, getting an associate’s degree, or completing a certificate program. 

Certificate Program 

If you want to become a medical coder as quickly as possible, the best option is the certificate route. The certificate program takes a little under a year to complete. And, it is much more affordable than the other two options. 

During your certificate program, you will learn medical terminology, body systems, treatment processes, disease processes, and of course, basic coding in ICD-10. 

You will learn about medical billing software, billing procedures, and compliance practices. 

These programs are designed so that once completed, you are prepared to take certification exams and then start applying for jobs. 

Associate’s Degree 

An associate’s degree is a 2-year program in which you will learn all the necessary information for your medical coding certification exam. And, you will also receive a well-rounded liberal arts education where you learn to improve your critical thinking skills, writing, and speaking. 

While an associate’s degree takes more time and is costlier, employers are often more inclined to hire those with advanced degrees.

Bachelor’s Degree 

Last but not least, you can also earn a bachelor’s degree in order to become a medical coder. 

While there is no 4-year degree in medical coding, you can receive a degree in health information management or healthcare administration.

A bachelor’s degree will make employers especially inclined to hire you, as you will learn about health policy, human resources, legislative health issues, project management, and data analytics. 

Of course, you will still need to take the necessary medical coder certification exams in order to receive a job in this field. 

Luckily, the job growth in the medical coding field is high, so whether you have a certificate, associate’s, or bachelor’s, you should be able to find work. In fact, these jobs are expected to see a 13 percent growth through 2026. 

Step 2: Credentialing Exams 

After you’ve completed the required education, it’s time to prepare for your credentialing exams. 

There are two options for your medical coding exams, both of which are taken through the AHIMA. 

Certified Coding Associate 

The certified coding associate exam is the first option you have. Before taking this exam, the AHIMA recommends that you have 6 months of work experience. This exam is comprised of 100 questions, all multiple choice. 

If you are a member of the AHIMA, the exam will cost you $199. If you are not a member, the exam will cost you $299. 

Registered Health Information Technician Exam 

The second option is the Registered Health Information Technician exam.

While this exam does not require that you have any previous work experience, it does require that you have at the very least an associate’s degree in health information management. This associate’s degree must be from a CAHIM accredited program. 

This is a 3 and a half hour exam that also consists of all multiple-choice questions, but this time 150. If you are an AHIMA member, you will be required to pay $229 for the exam. Non-AHIMA members will be required to pay $299 for the exam. 

Step 3: Apply for Jobs and Gain Work Experience 

After you’ve passed your medical coding exams, it’s time to start applying for jobs. 

If you are looking to have an edge over the competition, it can help to join medical coding-related organizations, such as the AHIMA or the AAPC. 

Before applying for jobs, think about the different types of settings you would enjoy working in. Not all medical coders work in hospitals. Some work in physicians offices as well. 

Step 4: Ongoing Education 

After a couple years working in the medical coding field, you have the option to continue your education with additional certifications. 

The two certifications offered by the AHIMA are the Certified Coding Specialist Physician-Based (CCS-P) certification and the Certified Coding Specialist certification. 

The CCS-P certification is for those who have specialized in working in physician settings. The CCS certification is for those who have specialized work in hospital settings. 

Both exams show you have mastery-level skills in your field, which can lead to promotions and increased pay. 

Lastly, to make sure you are maintaining your skills, the AHIMA requires medical coders to recertify every two years. 

If you hold a CSS, CCS-P or CCA, you will be required to complete 20 continuing education units as well as coding self-reviews throughout the process of each recertification cycle. 

How to Become a Medical Coder: Are You Ready to Start Your New Career? 

Now that you know how to become a medical coder, it’s time to start your journey. 

If you have any questions about becoming a medical coder, please leave a comment below. 

If, however, the idea of sitting at a desk all day doesn’t sound like the right career for you, then maybe you want to consider a career up in the sky. 

Click here to learn how to become an airline pilot. 

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