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Healthcare information is a growing field and qualified professionals are highly sought after individuals. There are several steps one must take to successfully become a medical insurance coder. These steps begin with training and certification.
Medical insurance coders process claims so that doctors and healthcare facilities can be properly reimbursed by insurance companies. They assign codes to various medical procedures to help control costs and minimize fraudulent claims. In many smaller facilities and doctors' offices, medical billing and coding are combined into one job, while in larger facilities there is often a team in place whose sole function is coding.
A person who wants to become a medical insurance coder should have a high school diploma and a basic understanding of computers at a minimum. A basic understanding of computer programs and keyboarding is extremely important in becoming a productive medical coder. Those who feel they are lacking in basic computer skills should begin by taking a few general office technology or keyboarding courses to familiarize themselves with the technology used by medical coders on a daily basis.
The next step to become a medical insurance coder is to locate a coding program that will result in earning a coding certificate. Typically, these programs take anywhere from 12-24 months to complete. Programs that offer very short completion times are generally not accredited. There is very little on-the-job training done in the medical insurance coding field, so a thorough education is vital to securing employment.
There are hundreds of coding programs available to choose from, both on-campus and online, but not all are accredited. In the United States, the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) maintains strict standards coding programs must abide by in order to earn and maintain their accreditation. It is advisable to choose an accredited program if at all possible, as it will open up many more career opportunities than graduating from a non-accredited program.
Joining a regional or national association can provide numerous networking and learning opportunities. In the US, there are several medical insurance coding associations such as AHIMA, the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC) and the American Association of Clinical Coders and Auditors (AACCA). Many of them offer student memberships, often at a discounted rate. When studying to become a medical insurance coder it may be very helpful to join one of these professional organizations or subscribe to their publications to get a better idea of what coding is all about.
Once a coding certificate has been earned, the job hunt begins. Facilities of all types and sizes have a need for medical insurance coders so there may be many options available to choose from when applying. Many coding programs and schools offer application assistance to their graduates, so it is always advisable to check with the program coordinator first. Many healthcare facilities promote from within, and medical insurance coders may be promoted to supervisory or quality control positions, or even other higher-paying healthcare documentation positions once a proven record of quality work has been established.