Find Out How to Become a Certified Coding Specialist

Two of the fastest growing fields in the medical industry are medical billing and coding.  Medical coding and billing are separate but interrelated professions, and while they are often grouped together, most people will choose to do one or the other.  If you want to become a medical coder, you’ll need to become a certified coding specialist in order to get work.  Certification will demonstrate to potential employers that you are ready to embark on your new career and that you’ll be able to get the job done.

What is a Certified Coding Specialist?

certified coding specialist
Certified Coding Specialist

Before you plunge in head first, you probably want to think about whether this is the right career move for you.  What does a certified coding specialist do?  As a medical coder, it’s your job to translate the day-to-day business in a healthcare environment (like a hospital or clinic) into alphanumeric industry medical codes.  The reason that the medical industry uses these codes is that without them, it would be very challenging for health professionals to communicate.  Medical conditions are complex, as are the treatments that are used to heal patients and the tests which are used to diagnose them.  It can be difficult for doctors to have a consistent conversation about a patient without codes as reference points.  It can also be difficult to send out accurate bills and receive correct payments without the use of medical codes.  Insurance companies can easily interpret the codes to understand their financial responsibility.

A medical coding specialist is someone who is going to be able to streamline the activities in a healthcare setting by quantifying activities into these codes.  When you do this, doctors can communicate, administrators can solve staffing and equipment problems, and medical billers can send out bills to insurance companies and patients.  Sometimes coders work for insurance companies directly.  There are many environments where you can work as a coder, including your own home.  Billing and coding are two of the fastest growing work at home opportunities.

How to Become a Certified Coding Specialist

If you’re interested in working in this profession, then your first step is going to be to sign up for classes in medical coding.  The course you select will need to be sufficient to prepare you to take and pass the National Certification Exam for medical coding.  It is helpful to research these exams while you are researching training programs so that you choose something that is going to be useful to you from the start.  That way you won’t waste your money on a course which isn’t going to be sufficient.  There are three professional organizations that can administer the national exam, and only three.  Any other agency that claims it can give you the exam is not telling the truth; they can only prepare you to pass the exam.

The exam will be administered by the American Medical Billing Association (AMBA), the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC), or the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA).  If a school is operated by one of these three organizations, that school can administer the exam because it is already part of one of these organizations.  Taking classes directly from one of these three professional groups is a great option because you can be assured that your classes will be preparing you directly for the exam.

There are many good schools and many bad schools out there; unfortunately, since medical coding has become such a popular career move at this point there are a lot of schools which are scams, which is why you should check out reviews and ask for references (real people you can get a hold of and ask questions about the program).  If a school you contact doesn’t provide you with references, you should move onto another.  You’ll find a lot of price variation and time variation.  Any program that’s longer than two years is too long; a very short program which is shorter than a year is probably too short.  You want to be assured you’re getting a good deal for your money.  The program should give you everything you need to pass the exam but the school shouldn’t make you drag your feet.  The income level associated with the job only justifies a short educational course (in relative terms).

You can attend medical coding school online or offline.  Offline schools can provide you with hands-on experience that online schools cannot, but online schools can help you to save money and time and are great if you don’t have much of either.  Take your needs into account while you’re searching.  You may be able to take the certification exam online as well, though you might be required to go into a testing center.  This is something else you probably should try to figure out in advance before you get started, especially if you’re in a rural area.

Trying to get started in a new field like medical coding can be frustrating at first because it’s easy to become overwhelmed with the information out there and the number of choices as far as your education goes.  The professional organizations listed above offer excellent step-by-step guides and resources to becoming a certified coding specialist.  Use these guides as you are planning your education and you’ll be far less likely to make a misstep.  It may also help you to try and get in touch with someone who works in the field and ask him or her what steps he or she took to get into the position.

Once you have your certification you can start applying for medical coding jobs.  You’ll find opportunities online and in hospitals, insurance companies, clinics, and other settings.  There is a wide salary range, and you’ll probably earn more as you build up experience.  The coding profession is predicted to grow much more quickly than other professional roles according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), so there should be a great deal of opportunity in the future.

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