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How To Become A Certified Medical Coder: 6 Step Guide


The demand for medical coders is at its all-time high with the number of coders in the U.S. set to increase by 13% by the year 2026.

This growing demand is credited to the rapid technological advances taking place in health care. Therefore, if you’ve always wanted to be part of the healthcare industry, this is your chance.

While the market is ripe with opportunities, it’s vital to note that they won’t be handed to you for free! Becoming a certified medical coder takes a lot of hard work and dedication. Keep reading to learn more about how to become a certified medical coder.

What Is A Medical Coder?

A medical coder is a professional who reviews medical records and assigns codes to the treatment procedures carried out on a patient. In other words, a coder translates medical services rendered to a patient into codes. Here is a six-step guide to becoming one.

Step 1: Have the Basics .

Anyone looking to delve into medical coding must first have a high school diploma or an equivalent. One benefits of this career is that no post-secondary credits are required for you to begin the learning process. However, you typically do need a comprehensive background check.

If you have a clean record, then there’s nothing to worry about. But if you’ve been convicted of drug or sex-related crimes, then your chances of getting hired as a medical coder are lessened.

Step 2: Enroll In a Medical Coding Program.

Even though you can skip this step as it’s not a formal requirement, getting yourself that piece of paper puts you one step ahead. Why? Well, unlike in the past, medical insurance, an essential area of medical coding, is now more complex than ever.

Enrolling in an academic program in medical billing helps you understand better the inner workings of medical insurance, as well as its future trends.

Also, due to the increasing complexity of such aspects, accuracy is the number one concern among most employers. Therefore, having an academic accreditation gives you a competitive edge in today’s job market.

In other words, employers will prioritize you over an individual who is not certified. Additionally, you get a better paying job as certified medical coders earn 20% more than those who are uncertified.

On that note, as an aspiring medical coder, you can either pursue:

A Certificate Program.

It usually takes less than a year to complete. The program covers the basic terminology, disease processes, treatment procedures as well as necessary coding. The program is designed to prepare you for immediate employment as it only covers the basics.

An Associate Degree.

An associate degree in medical coding includes all the areas covered by a certificate program as well as in-depth art education. Therefore, it takes longer to complete, usually two years.

A Bachelor’s Degree.

As expected, a bachelors takes longer to complete. However, every minute you spend pursuing it will be worth your while as it covers more concepts of healthcare management. Some of these include human resources, project management, legislative compliance, and data analytics.

In addition to giving you more exposure to healthcare management, it also gives you a competitive edge. When hiring, employers will choose you over a coder with a certificate or an associate degree. You’re also more likely to be assigned leadership roles and cash in a bigger medical coding salary.

Step 3: Go Beyond Your Classroom.

Another crucial step on how to become a professional coder is getting yourself on-the-job experience. Having hands on experience on what it’s like to work in the medical coding arena is especially vital as it helps you prepare for credentialing exams shown below. In respect to that, enroll in a facility that’ll help you find a real-world on-job opportunity to try on your freshly earned skills.

Step 4: Prep Yourself for Preliminary Credentialing.

All the programs listed above are to prepare you for basic credentialing exams offered by American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA). These are the Certified Coding Associate (CCA) and the Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT) credential. These two credentialing exams are proof of your competence.

They also help prove that you’re legally allowed to offer coding services. AHIMA recommends that you have at least six months of work experience before you take the first credentialing exam. This is, however, not necessary if you’ve completed an AHIMA-approved coding program.

This is why it’s critical that you don’t skip step 3 above. For the second exam, it’s vital that you’ve at least an associate degree.

Remember, these tests will act as verification to potential employers that you are a certified coder. Therefore, prepare yourself well for both exams.

Other than AHIMA, you can also take the credentialing tests through the American Academy Of Procedural Coders (AAPC). However, it’s vital to note that while both are national certifying bodies, the requirements are different.

For instance, AHIMA only requires six months of on-job experience, while AAPC requires that you’ve at least two years of experience. If this is inapplicable in your case, the other alternative is to sit for an apprentice exam first and then the experience comes later.

Step 5: Register for the Exams.

Once you feel you’re ready for the credentialing exams, then it’s time to put in your application. Registration depends on the certifying body you choose.

If you’ve chosen to go with AHIMA, visit their page and then explore the certification tab for more info on requirements and costs. If it is the AAPC, visit their page and again click on the certification tab to learn all you need to know about the test you plan on taking.

Step 6: Pursue Continuing Education.

While the credentials earned above are of the essence, they will not be valid forever. To ensure that there is top shelf excellence in the field of medical coding, AHIMA requires that you recertify bi-annually. Depending on the certification you’ve, you might be required to take 20 to 30 continuing education units, also known as CEUs.

For instance, coders with a CCA only, are expected to complete 20 CEU units with an additional of two yearly coding self-reviews. Those with the RHIT, on the other hand, should only worry about completing 20 CEUs.

If you’d taken both credentialing exams, you’re only required to complete 30 CEUs at the beginning of every re-certification period.  This set of requirements is different if you took your credentialing exams with the AAPC. You can find the list of what is expected on both AAPC’S and AHIMA’s website at the end of each re-certification period.

Continuing education will ensure that you’re in tune with the expected standard of excellence. It will also validate your credentials for a new period, ensuring that nothing affects your work cycle.

Benefits of Being a Medical Coder.

Other than making you an important part of the healthcare ecosystem, being a medical coder comes with a host of other perks. Here are some of the main benefits you enjoy when you pursue a career in medical coding:

Short, Flexible Training Time.

Unlike most professions, you don’t need to spend years in university or college. If anything, you can start your career in a matter of months based on the program you are pursuing. Also, you can start with a certificate program, look for a job, and start working while you pursue the other programs online.

Medical Coders Are In Demand.

As noted at the beginning, the number of coders is expected to increase by 13%. This will make the field one of the fastest growing job areas, hence opening up more employment opportunities. On that note, one of the benefits of being a medical coder is that your services will be in demand, meaning better salaries and easy job placement.

A Variety of Employment Opportunities.

Apart from your services being in demand, you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to employment opportunities. For instance, you can choose to work at a hospital or offer your services to private practices. You can also land a job at an insurance company, or even better, start your own business.

Utmost Flexibility.

Another perk of being a coder is that you can work on flexible hours. Coders are expected to work a maximum of 40 hours only a week. In addition to that, as you gain experience, you have the privilege of choosing your work schedule depending on your needs.

For instance, nowadays, an increasing number of health care providers prefer to outsource medical coding services. As a certified specialist, this offers you an opportunity to work from home. It also gives you a chance to enjoy an even better paycheck as you can fit multiple companies in your schedule.

Become a Certified Medical Coder Today.

A career in medical coding gives you a chance to pursue a better life. Apart from the career satisfaction, you’ll enjoy when you become a certified medical coder; you also get a platform to expand your social circle.

There are many opportunities in the medical coding domain that you can explore. Check out our page to get the latest news about medical coding today.