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What is Medical Billing and Coding?

What is Medical Billing and Coding?

kokopinto / Flickr / CC BY-SA

Let’s face it, when you think of healthcare, medical billing and coding is not what comes to mind right away. Doctors, nurses, and healthcare techs may be more recognizable in the healthcare field, but medical billing and coding professionals still play an integral role in the healthcare system. This fast-growing field is at the core of some of the biggest advances we’re seeing in healthcare today.

When Barack Obama talks about healthcare reform, it’s likely he’s talking about how medical billing software can reduce errors and save money. So what is medical billing and coding and why should you consider a career in it? There’s a lot to look at beneath the surface.

The Basics of Medical Billing and Coding

Folders are becoming a thing of the past as new technologies revolutionize medical billing and coding.

Folders are becoming a thing of the past as new technologies revolutionize medical billing and coding. Photo : SarahSphar / Flickr / CC BY-NC

Specialists working in this field have several key responsibilities. The first is to take handwritten notes from other healthcare professionals and translate them into data that can be entered into the system. In this capacity, their attention to detail is critical to ensure all of the information is transferred quickly and accurately.

Next, medical billing and coding specialists learn to manage and interact with complex electronic health records systems. They ensure that these systems function well and provide accurate information to the other healthcare professionals using them.

Finally, these professionals are responsible for the critical task of properly billing insurance companies and other organizations. There’s enormous responsibility here, as this is the source of most of a typical hospital or clinic’s revenue. If there are errors in billing, the problems can quickly grow.

Any medical billing and coding expert needs to have a laser-like focus on reducing costly errors like diagnosis and treatment mismatches, duplicate billing, or under coding. If they do their job well, the whole hospital, clinic, or other workplace benefits.

Where Do These Professionals Work?

In general, you’ll find medical billing and coding professionals working anywhere you have healthcare workers. That means hospitals, doctors’ offices, nursing homes, pharmacies, insurance companies, medical billing companies, and more.

You could end up working in a high-stakes ambulatory center or in a more relaxed nursing home. It also means there are many options when searching for a job since the field doesn’t rely so heavily on specialization.

So, for example, if you’re looking for medical billing and coding work in New Jersey, you’ll likely be able to find it close to home. For those looking to start a new career without necessarily having to relocate across the country, this is an enormous benefit to consider.

Should You Consider a Career in This Field?

At first glance, this may not seem like the most exciting field within allied healthcare, but in reality, it’s rapidly changing and at the heart of major reforms reverberating through the entire healthcare industry. Medical billing and coding specialists are on the front lines of the battle to reduce healthcare costs, create better outcomes, and in doing so, save Americans billions.

But this field requires a certain type of worker. First, you must be self-motivated enough to maintain diligence in ensuring that the records you work with are accurate and well-maintained. Next, you should have an eye for detail. A single incorrect code input can mean the wrong group or procedure is billed.

If you think you’ve got the right determination and disposition, there are lots of other great reasons to consider looking into how to become a medical biller or coder. However, there’s a lot beyond the type of work you’ll be doing: How do the salaries stack up?

Medical Billing and Coding Salary Information

Currently, the average entry level medical billing and coding professional earns around $30,000 per year. That average goes up to above $40,000 with experience and can rise into the $50,000+ range.

If you invest in certification, you can expect to eventually earn on the higher end of that scale. Regardless of the salary potential, getting certified is essential to finding a job. More and more employers are making it mandatory to be certified.

What about certification programs? How practical and affordable are they, and where are they available?

Medical Billing and Coding Certification Programs

Medical Billing and Coding Certification Programs

acearchie / Flickr / CC BY-NC

First, let’s point out that if you’re considering changing careers or just starting a new one without an extensive educational background, medical billing and coding is a fantastic option. Because entering into a certification program only requires a high school diploma or GED, for the vast majority of Americans, making a career shift here is easily manageable.

On top of that, there are some programs that can be completed in as little as 3 or 4 months. For example, the medical billing and coding certificate program offered at AIMS can be completed in 4 months. Graduates can then go for certification through AHIMA.

Due to the short duration of some programs, that means you’ll be able to continue working while you study. This makes medical billing and coding one of the most accessible allied health careers out there.

Most programs dedicate 70 – 80% of class time to lectures and lab work. The remaining 20 – 30 % is typically used for a clinical internship. Between the lab and clinical hours, students received a significant amount of hands-on training in many of these programs.

This means you won’t be spending all your time sitting in the classroom. But there are also other important considerations when it comes to certification programs: specifically, how well they incorporate vital ICD-10 Code training.

The Importance of the ICD-10 Code Set

One important thing to note is that any program you consider should focus on the recently implemented ICD-10 Code Set. What does this mean, exactly? It’s the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, 10th Revision of its classification of all diseases, symptoms, causes of injury, et cetera.

Essentially, if you’re a medical billing and coding specialist, this is your second language. Learning to use these codes comfortably is critical to working quickly and accurately to mark down the enormous variation of symptoms and circumstances within a set of electronic medical records. It’s your job to translate one into the other so any hospital or clinic in the world can easily understand a patient’s electronic medical records.

A good medical billing and coding program must teach the latest version of this code and teach it well. If your education isn’t up to date, you may find yourself re-learning information at your first job. Best to choose a program wisely and enter strong with the latest information at your fingertips.

Hiring Trends

This is one of the more exciting aspects of medical billing and coding. With electronic medical records and billing systems at the forefront of so many changes within healthcare, demand for this position is increasing rapidly. Currently, the National Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates demand to increase by 15% between 2014 and 2024.

That translates into about 29,000 new jobs. Considering the relatively short time required to obtain a certification in the field, there’s all the more reason to consider making a career change while demand is high.

According to the payscale.com article linked above, hiring for medical billing and coding is particularly high in Baltimore and Chicago right now (with higher-than-average starting salaries to match).

The biggest question really is, where in the US should you consider going to find the best training and opportunities?

Consider Medical Billing and Coding Schools in NJ

The greater tri-state area offers plenty of benefits for anyone considering beginning a new career in medical billing and coding. From access to great training hospitals to affordable and flexible training and certification programs, there’s plenty of reasons to look to New Jersey.

If you’d like to find out more, check out our medical billing and coding program and get in touch. We’re more than happy to answer any questions you might have about whether or not medical billing and coding is the right career move for you.

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