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How to become a medical coder : Explore jobs and career paths

You’ll rarely hear of medical coders in your day to day life unless you know one of them in person. However, they fulfil an essential role to enable health care workers all across the UK.

Medical coders carry out accurate input into electronic health records (EHRs). Which means they are responsible for your medical information.

A detail-oriented approach and a specialized skill set can be considered as basic job requirements for a medical coder. Electronic health records (EHRs) have become a widely accepted solution which means that medical coding has a higher demand than the average occupation. Moreover, it’s a chance to play a role in the medical industry without facing patients directly.

While it is true that you can work as a medical coder with as little as one year of postsecondary education, it still requires you to be fluent in coding systems i.e. International Classification of Diseases (ICD), the Current Procedural Terminology (CPT). 

If you think you have the motivation to become a medical coder we’ve got you covered!

Table of Contents

What Does a Medical Coder Do?

Well first off! As a medical coder, you work in the billing department of a physician’s office, hospitals, laser treatment clinics or other medical facilities and services. Medical coders convert the information of healthcare claims into universal medical codes for insurance reimbursement procedures. 

To be effective at the job of a medical coder, you need attention to detail and a solid grasp of medical terminology, filing procedure and visit authorizations, and insurance procedures. Even though employers prefer certified coders you can always start by shadowing professionals. Your employer may have you supervised when you submit your first few claims.

Different Places a Medical Coder Can Work

While it might occur to you why medical coders is a unique designation in the healthcare industry. It’s because medical coders essentially convert and document patient records and procedures for filing insurance claims. Which naturally makes medical coders work in doctors’ offices and hospitals, but those options are only two of many. 

Instead of having an in house coder, some medical facilities carry out work through coding agencies. These agencies in turn employ medical coders. Government healthcare agencies also employ medical coders to handle clients claims. 

Medical coders can also find work on the Insurance companies end for processing requests and verifying the accuracy of claims. Experienced medical coders can also take up teaching in post-secondary medical coding and billing programs. 

Duties and Responsibilities of a medical coder

While it may sound straightforward, a medical coder has to carry out many complex responsibilities. The most basic duties of a medical coder are,

  • Receive, review and convert patient charts and documents 
  • Use currently active codes
  • Report incomplete documents or any other inconsistencies
  • Keep document lists up to date
  • Input accurate charge entries
  • Act as mediator between insurance resolutions and coding questions
  • Manage co-pays, charge posting and balances
  • Adhere to coding guidelines and legal requirements to ensure compliance with government regulations

Requirements and Qualifications

Even after completing preliminary education, medical coders face a series of professional credential opportunities that can distinguish a coder from the rest. Apart from certification credentials, medical coders need a full range of professional skills to do their jobs properly. 

While licensure is not typically required by most employers, specialized medical coders in oncology may have to earn a Certified Tumor Registrar (CTR) credential to work in the field.

To become a medical coder you need to meet the following requirements,

  • High school degree or equivalent; Bachelor’s degree in a related field is also preferred. 
  • Medical Coding Certificate; 
  • Maintain coding certification and attend in-service training as required
  • Two (2) years of medical coding experience
  • Understand medical terminology with basic knowledge of anatomy and physiology
  • Strong computer skills in data entry and coding. i.e. Electronic Medical Record software; Microsoft Office Suite
  • Accuracy and attention to detail
  • Multitasking, prioritizing, and time management
  • Excellent communication skills

How Do You Become a Medical Coder?

For the most part, employers have varying requirements when recruiting medical coders. Aspiring medical coders may either complete a medical coding certificate program or earn an associates degree in medical billing. These programs provide hands-on experience with medical billing software and help you understand the different billing codes associated with insurance claims.

Many employers will agree to provide on-the-job training by starting medical coders as billing department assistants. As an assistant, you will learn to navigate through insurance claims procedures and the proper ways to translate and file medical services into code. 

As a general guideline, you can stick to the following steps to become a medical coder.

5 straightforward steps to become a medical coder

Medical coders play an important role in the healthcare system. Each time you walk in for a doctor’s appointment, the physician or nurse records notes about you visit i.e. what procedures took place, what was diagnosed. Medical coders take medical records and code them for billing and insurance purposes using their knowledge of medical codes, payment policies and government regulations. Here are the steps to becoming a medical coder.

Step 1. Meet the basic prerequisites

First of all, to become a medical coder, you will need a high school diploma or equivalent certification. Usually there is a need to pass a background check. Applicants with a criminal record involving drug abuse or sexual crimes are usually not considered for the job.

Step 2: Complete medical coding training

The next step is to start training. In the UK there are no formal education requirements you need to  become a medical coder. Most employers prefer candidates with a postsecondary certificate, with some requiring an additional Associate’s degree.

Putting in the time to earn a Medical Coding Certificate is a smart step for those who want to enter the field with proper knowledge. Gaining practical training and a solid understanding of the field means you can make the most of the first opportunity you get. There are tons of online option s to get the certification so don’t worry about your busy schedules

Medical Coding and Billing Course
Medical Coding and Billing Course

Step 3: Obtain your medical coding certification

Graduating from a Medical Coding Certificate program is an achievement in and of itself. It is not quite the end of your journey. To make your employment legally sound you need to earn a practising license for medical coders.

This credential displays to employers that you’re a dedicated individual who has acquired all of the important skills for the job. However the choice to specialize is ultimately yours.

Step 4: Brush up on in-demand medical coding skills

Before you start searching and applying for jobs, it’s recommended that you find out exactly what your employers may want in a medical coder. It is quite obvious that being a medical coder requires a balance between hard and soft skills. Here are some essential skills from different categories for medical coders.

Technical skills for medical coders:

  • Health information technology (HIT)
  • ICD-10
  • CPT coding
  • Inpatient/Outpatient coding
  • Customer billing
  • Anatomy & Physiology
  • HCPCS coding
  • Medical terminology

This list may seem especially demanding at first glance. However, you can rest assured that these are precisely the types of skills taught in a Medical Coding and Billing program. You will need some additional skills that are not exactly dedicated for medical coders job but are helpful nonetheless,

Transferable skills for medical coders:

  • Communication
  • Organization
  • Collaboration
  • Attention to detail
  • Microsoft Office
  • Computer literacy
  • Research

If you are positive of having some of the traits above, you might as well be a natural fit for the job. 

Step 5: Find a job

The last and biggest step to becoming a medical coder is to land your first medical coder job. Due to the growing demand it can be easier for a job seeker like yourself than you might think. Regardless of the arrangement, you start off in your goal should always be to better yourself in the position of a medical coder. 

Once you land an interview the rest is on your capabilities of persuasion and professionalism. While medical coders rarely meet patients in person it is still important to show empathy and dedication towards the job. After you get the job, make sure you work closely with an experienced mentor who can guide you through the nooks and crannies of the work.

To summarise

The process of becoming a medical coder varies greatly, depending on the employer requirements and the specific route you choose to take. To describe the whole matter briefly, you must earn a high school diploma or equivalent. While some may continue their education by completing a medical coding certificate program at a vocational school or at community college. 

Since certification is not required, you can work to learn the trade however having a certificate only makes it easier to land a job in the first place. You can choose to work entry-level positions right after graduating high school. The most common path is being recruited as a billing department assistant, then move into medical coding once you are capable of handling billing information on your own.

Salary

Payscale puts the average salary for medical coders at £21,247 per year. Whereas Glassdoor puts the annual earnings a little higher at £23,415.

Ending Notes

When you’re interested in medical coding jobs, it’s important to keep in mind the type of environment you’d be comfortable in. Whether you prefer the bustle of a busy hospital or the relative serenity of a physician’s clinic will affect how you approach the job. There are plenty of options to start off a medical coding career. 

Why wait now that you’re more familiar with the path to becoming a medical coder? There’s no better time than now to join as a medical coder in the growing medical field and enable yourself to help others.

June 9, 2021

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