A medical coder is a person who transforms descriptions of medical diagnoses and procedures into universal medical codes (either numeric or alphanumeric). Different codes are used to describe different symptoms, acuteness, treatment procedures, and other aspects of a disease. A medical coder is granted the access to patients’ health records in order to make medical codes of the disease and the treatment procedures. This process is not only used for medical care, but for education and research purposes as well.
A coder is expected to have a vast knowledge about medical sciences, public health service, and medical coding itself. Although all medical coding-related books provide all the knowledge you need to know about this profession, learning only from the books is not enough as one has to be a CPC (Certified Professional Coder) to be able to pursue a career in this field.
Medical classification is not only about locating diagnoses and procedures in medical coding books then paraphrases them into code numbers. In order to be a good certified professional coder, one must master the knowledge about the disease processes and the techniques of the treatment procedures as well. Therefore, a CPC often works in a healthcare team to provide excellent medical care for patients.
As a matter of fact, education is really essential for aspiring medical coders. In order to pursue a career as a professional coder, you have to attend medical coding training classes. When you undergo a training program, you will at least learn the basic knowledge and science of healthcare including medical terminology, pharmacology, anatomy, physiology, insurance compliance, insurance abuse and fraud, as well as the healthcare laws and ethics. There are also several medical classification regulations and procedures you need to master such as pathology, radiology, ICD-9, CPT surgical, and CPT non-surgical classifications.
And of course, when you decide to make a living as a medical coder, education is important for your future. You will need to get an associate’s degree and pass an examination administered by the American Association of Professional Coders (AAPC) to be a certified coder. Those are only the basic requirements; for an advanced career, you need more than an AAPC certification. A master’s degree is a good investment for you; the higher your education level, the higher the chances of getting a better salary and position.
Different institutions offer different types of medical coding courses; they also offer different levels of education. Community colleges, vocational institutions, and online schools usually provide a one- or two-year course on medical classification. Upon completion of the course, you will obtain an associate’s degree. As mentioned before, you will only be certified if you take and pass an examination administered by the AAPC. If you decide to take online classes, make sure you pick a good, credible school before you apply to the program.
For an advanced degree, you can opt for a four-year undergraduate program or a graduate program. Although the program takes a longer time to complete, a bachelor’s or master’s degree often leads to a greater chance of career advancement or a wider range of career options. Career options include university or community college instructor, public information officer, chief compliance officer, and health information management consultant.