Medical coding is one of the fastest growing industries in the job market right now. Work from home jobs and the ability to telecommute has drawn the attention of many individuals while the aging population has increased the need for skilled workers in this field. Once an individual has educated themselves on what medical coding is, and once they have decided this is the career option for them, the next step is to obtain a proper education.
Medical coding courses are offered by numerous organizations and establishments and the choice can become overwhelming. It is important to know that not all courses are created equal. If an inadequate course is chosen you may find yourself at a loss of money and time and no closer to your goal.
Many community colleges and continuing education schools offer “introductory” courses. These are usually short compact classes that may run for a few weeks or one quarter (or semester) in length. These type of classes are usually required for individuals seeking larger degrees, such as a nursing student or medical assistant.
Taking an introductory medical coding course is a good idea if you are new to this field and are not positive that this is the right career move for you. An introductory course should explain the basics of medical coding and perhaps the basics of medical billing. You should also understand how to use the medical coding books by the end of such a course.
Taking an introductory course should be avoided, however, if you are certain in your career choice. If a career in this field is what you are seeking you must obtain certification first, and an introductory medical coding course will not be enough to prepare you for this.
Coding certification is offered by many different organizations but there are only two that are nationally recognized by employers. An organization that states it offers “national certification” at the end of its course should be scrutinized a little. Although “national certification” sounds good it honestly does not mean much.
There are only two organizations (and two certifications) that are recognized by employers nationwide, these are the CPC (certified professional coder) offered by the AAPC (American Academy of Professional Coders) and the CCS (Certified Coding Specialist) offered by AHIMA (American Health Information Management Association).
While you do not have to get your education through these two organizations any education you do obtain should prepare you for their certification (the CPC or CCS). Looking through the local classified and seeing which of the two certifications the local employer’s prefer is a good place to start when deciding which certification to prepare for.
In addition to preparing you for either the CPC or CCS certification exam, medical coding courses should also include the following:
– Basic medical terminology and basic human anatomy should either be incorporated into the course or be a pre-requisite to taking the course
– A good medical coding course should be around 80 contact hours (or more), and should not be condensed into less than six months. There is a very large amount of material to cover and absorb, classes of less than 80 hours and shorter than six months do not usually produce as favorable of results.
– Medical coding courses should prepare the student completely for either the CPC certification through the AAPC or the CCS certification through AHIMA. Any other certification through any other organization will not be recognized in the medical coding community.
– It is of great benefit to have a coding course instructor who is a CPC-I, however, if they are not a CPC-I they should have the minimum of either the CPC or CCS.
– Many medical coding courses cover only two of the three medical coding books. Make sure all three coding books are covered in the course; this includes the ICD-9-CM, CPT, and HCPCS
– Timed examinations are important in preparing for certification since both certification exams are timed. Not having enough time to complete the exam is the largest complaint among examinees. Taking timed examinations in advance has been proven to increase success.
A good medical coding course should offer all of the above and run between $1,500 – $2,500. Most of these courses do not include the cost of medical coding books, AAPC or AHIMA membership, or examination fees. Also, once certification is obtained it is important to know that you will be required to earn CEUs (continuing education units) every year and pay an annual membership fee (to either the AAPC or AHIMA).