Medical billing and coding programs prepare students to become employed as medical records or health information technicians. These individuals work in hospitals, clinics, and private practice offices where they manage all patient data, including billing, while ensuring that all the information they record is accurate, easily accessible, and secure. While most will work predominately with computer software used in the field, some documentation and filing may still be done in paper form. While they can have other duties, health information technicians are responsible for working with patient records. They use classification systems to code and organize patient information regarding any illness, disease, or injury, and the required treatment for the ailment.
The coding data is then used for insurance reimbursement purposes, for health databases and registries, and to main a patient’s medical and treatment histories. The best online colleges for medical billing and coding will require that students gain work experience in the field before graduating, and should prepare the student specifically for earning certification in the field.
Medical Billing and Coding Course Work Basics
Most online medical billing and coding programs are offered at the undergraduate level, specifically in the form of certificate and associate degree programs. A certificate degree in the field is designed to provide students with knowledge of skills needed to gain an entry level-career in the field. These include basic courses in medical terminology, medical billing, and medical coding. Certificate degree level students may also take courses in anatomy and medical terminology, but rather than studying the subject as a whole, the courses focus on how the subjects relate to medical billing and coding in the work place. Online classes in medical billing and coding generally cover all introductory principles for medical billing and coding, and generally include the following:
- Medical Billing: This introductory course provides students with a knowledge of the principles of medical billing as it relates to proper claim preparation, submission, and payment processing.
- Hospital-based Medical Coding: In this course, students learn the principles of hospital-based medical coding as it relates to coding for in-patient hospital cases by gaining practice with main coding manuals.
- Medical Terminology for Medical Billing and Coding: Students in this course learn about medical terminology and anatomy from a billing and coding specialist’s perspective, which provides a foundation for more advanced courses in the subject.
- Medical Billing Software: This course allows students to build on knowledge gained in introductory medical billing courses, and apply it to billing software applications. Students learn to change entry, payment postings, and design and generate billing reports.
- Hospital-Based Case Studies: This course builds on prior student knowledge in billing and coding and allows the student to apply it to actual case studies that take place in an in-patient and out-patient setting.
In addition to certificates in the field, students can also pursue an associate degree as well. Online associate degree programs in medical billing and coding will apply medical billing and coding courses to a more well-rounded educational background that includes courses in mathematics, communication, and some business courses. Associate degree programs in the field can help set an individual apart when applying for jobs in a competitive environment. In addition, a medical billing and coding associate degree can also be a great option for an individual hoping to earn a bachelor’s degree in another medical discipline, as in most cases, courses can be transferred over.
Careers for the Medical Billing and Coding Graduate
The most common career for the graduate of a medical billing and coding program is as medical records technician, which can also be referred to as a health information technician. Depending on the size of the hospital, clinic, or medical office, some individuals in the field may hold other clerical duties, while others will work exclusively with billing and coding. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, most employers only require employees to have a certificate in the field, while some larger employers may require an individual to hold an associate degree. Regardless of degree level, almost all employers require employees to be certified. While a number of certifications are available for those in the field, one of the most common is the Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT) credential. This certification, awarded by the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA), requires that students graduate from an accredited associate degree program recognized by the AHIMA, and successfully complete an exam.
According to the BLS, medical billing and coding professionals earned a median annual income of $33,310 as of May, 2011, with the lowest 10% in the field earning less than $21,680 and the highest 10% in the field earning more than $55,170. Job growth within the field is expected to be strong, as the BLS predicts that employment will increase by 21% through the year 2020, which is faster than average when compared with all other occupations. Those hoping to gain a career in medical billing and coding will have the best chance of gaining employment by becoming certified, and possessing strong computer skills. The need for computer literacy within the field comes from the increased presence of heath record systems are used throughout the field.