Are you tired of working an unfulfilling job? Do you want to work in a position with an opportunity for personal growth while helping save lives along the way? Starting a career in medical insurance billing and coding could prove to be a valuable opportunity for structured, analytical people who may not necessarily have the time to work toward a four-year degree.
Career titles within medical insurance billers and coders can go by many names: health information technician, medical record technician, and more. No matter the title or the business in which they work, their duties are generally the same. Medical technicians take medical codes and use them to document patient treatments and diagnoses.
Provided you have your GED, there are many different avenues to take if you wish to pursue a career in medical insurance billing and coding.
Going to college for an undergraduate degree might be valuable to those who want to learn more about their potential career and ease into the workforce. An apprenticeship under a professional working in the position is a great way to get a firsthand look at the day-to-day processes of a medical technician and network for potential jobs.
However, the most straightforward option is likely to study at a medical billing and coding school. It takes little time in comparison to other avenues of learning and is specialized to teach you exactly what you will be practicing in the field.
A common question is, “How long is school for medical billing and coding?” A career in medical insurance billing and coding is a particularly attractive option for people who have always dreamt of working in the medical field but for whom going to medical school or participating in a nursing program seems too complicated, too long a process, or too costly.
No matter the reason, this career path is a good alternative because it does not require a medical degree or even a bachelor’s degree in most cases. Typically, professionals only need six months to two years of training and are then able to jump right into the workplace and start earning money.
Upon completion of a medical billing and coding school, you will earn a certification that proves competency in the procedures within the field and marks you as an asset to any medical establishment. Medical billing and coding certification requirements vary depending on the accreditation you wish to achieve. However, most will last anywhere from six to 12 months.
Several different certifications can be acquired depending on the specific career you want to pursue:
- The Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT) by the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) is valuable to those who want to understand how to keep quality electronic medical records, use computer software to analyze patient data, and master coding diagnoses and procedures. Eligibility for the RHIT requires you to possess an associate’s degree in a Health Information Management (HIM) field or graduate from some other AHIMA-approved HIM program if you are foreign to the U.S.
- The Certified Coding Associate (CCA), also by AHIMA, keeps a commitment to coding and demonstrates explicitly how coding pertains to hospitals and physician practices. Acquiring this certification should land you a job quickly, as there is a shortage of coding professionals in the healthcare field. The CCA only requires a high school diploma for eligibility.
- The Certified Tumor Registrar (CTR) by the National Cancer Registrars Association (NCRA) examines the processes specified in the cancer registry field. This is the most specialized certificate within the career of medical billing and coding, so if you’re looking to start a job as a cancer registrar, gaining this certificate may give you a competitive advantage over your peers. The CTR requires applicants to possess an NCRA associate degree in combination with either possessing an NCRA-accredited certificate or one-year full-time experience in the cancer registry field.
As you can see by the requirements of the above certifications, deciding to go for an associate’s degree might be just the right amount of schooling for you to learn the ropes of the business, exercise the skills needed for the job, and separate yourself from others who have less experience and educational background.
Some colleges offer associate’s programs both onground and online depending on what best fits you. Choosing a school that offers the type of education you want, combined with how long you want to spend getting your education, is important. Vista College offers a robust curriculum that packs everything you’ll need to know to get started in medical insurance billing and coding that gets you career-ready in less than two years.
If you would instead like to seek out a diploma that can get you out in the workforce as quickly as possible, we also offer a diploma program that you can complete within a year.
The medical billing and coding education requirements are not as strenuous as most other medical careers and can earn you a great, meaningful living. However, you could consider a master’s degree if you are looking to advance your career more rapidly, and it is particularly valuable if you wish to move up to a managerial position in a medical field.
Job Duties and Responsibilities
Medical billing and coding careers are best suited for individuals who enjoy working alone or who are most comfortable in solitude. You’re able to keep to yourself during most of your time in the office and, in some cases, you can work from home.
If you’re someone who loathes the typical nine-to-five work week, there are plenty of opportunities within medical billing and coding careers that allow you to work remotely and on your own accord. Coworkers will typically send the coder data, and it will be up to them to code that information and relay it back to the sender, which leaves their physical location very flexible. Most health information technicians are full-time workers and, depending on the facilities’ hours, have evening or overnight shifts available.
Another added benefit of working in the medical field is the sense of pride and satisfaction of being able to say their work contributes to saving lives and improving others’ health outcomes. Being a reliable and efficient coder is hugely sought-after because medical coding errors can cause adverse effects to the patient and, in the worst cases, death. Accurate and timely recording of data keeps the information physicians need to do their jobs accessible and dependable.
Additionally, many medical practitioners explain that patient interactions can be one of the most challenging parts of the job. Working as a technician allows you to contribute to patients’ well-being while not having to be directly involved with them. If you are more of an introvert, this could be a perfect fit.
There are several traits that professionals tend to have in medical billing and coding careers:
- Careful attention to detail
- Persistence in dealing with repetitive tasks
- Ability to work well alone
- Integrity and a strong sense of ethics
A majority of medical information technicians start their careers as coders. Recently, an increasing number have found work as cancer registrars — a position for which qualified applicants are in high demand. Between these two paths, responsibilities under the medical billing and coding job description include:
- Reviewing patient records and screening for preexisting health conditions
- Using classification software to assign clinical codes used for reimbursement and analysis
- Applying diagnoses and procedure codes for patient billing and care purposes
- Coordinating with health clinicians and billing offices
Medical billing and coding specialists are an integral part of their organization’s hierarchy, as they play a vital role in keeping expenses down by limiting any mistakes made by the business by keeping an accurate medical record of the history of each patient.
Cancer registrars differ slightly by specializing in compiling information used to help detect cancer earlier, increase survival rates, and improve treatments. They also examine medical records to figure out a patient’s eligibility for being added to the cancer registry, and an information system used to manage and help diagnose those suffering from cancer.
Within five years of working in a field such as these, you’ll likely be in a position to take on more responsibilities and advance your career. A standard upgrade that many people working in medical billing and coding pursue is a Medical and Health Service Manager or Supervisor. This opportunity comes with more duties such as:
- Hiring and training your own staff members
- Developing goals and objectives to manage your team of physicians
- Ensuring the facility maintains compliance with laws and regulations
- Managing the finances of the medical facility, particularly patient billing
- Keeping a record of services and resources used throughout the facility
For those who are worried about the lack of interpersonal communication that medical billers and coders are used to in their day-to-day responsibilities, advancing to a managerial position in the future is an encouraging goal to help you stay the course. Communicating with medical staff, department heads, and executives become the forefront of your duties. Consequently, you must exercise your communication skills and be comfortable giving orders and managing other people on your team.
While the general career outlook is positive, there are also some negative connotations some professionals have quarrels about. If you don’t enjoy doing similar things each day, the job may prove to be slightly repetitive and monotonous. This type of career may not appeal to people who are very creative or who cannot deal with staying in one place for too long. Working on a computer most of the time throughout the day can cause eye strain, too, which is troublesome to some people.
The growth in employment for careers in medical billing and coding is very fast, growing at 22% between 2012 and 2022. Higher-paying managerial positions within the profession maintain that optimism as well, staying above 20%. Recent reforms to the healthcare industries have emphasized the importance of accurate electronic medical records, and medical billers and coders do precisely that.
The need for more health information technicians also stems from the quickly-aging world population. Older people need their health information recorded and processed as they retire and leave the workforce, which also creates more claims for reimbursement for insurance companies.
Electronics are only becoming more innovative and widely used, so the task of digitizing records and inputting them into new systems is only increasing in demand and importance. As more time goes on, the population will age while technology becomes more advanced, leading to many more types of illnesses being detected and dealt with later in life.
There are also plenty of opportunities for advancement within a medical biller and coders career and many different types of businesses in which you can work. Some of the places you may find yourself if you pursue this career include hospitals, doctors’ offices, and nursing homes. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 36% of workers find themselves in hospitals. Physicians’ offices make up for 19% of all medical technicians, while other service and nursing care facilities fall under 10%.
The highest-paid states in the profession include the District of Columbia, where professionals make $69,100 on average, New Jersey, with $59,740, and Hawaii, where residents trail slightly and bring home $46,350 on average. The lowest-paid regions all float around $31,000 and include places in the central United States such as Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana.
Some professionals in the field who are successful in this career move up to become medical health and services managers or supervisors. There’s also a strong sense of job security due to the high demand for the position.
The average pay of a medical biller and coder isn’t the easiest approximation to give because it varies based on how much education you’ve received, where and for which establishment you are working, whether you possess any additional certifications, and whether you already have any experience under your belt. With time and putting in extra work to better yourself as a professional, you will have the potential to move up much quicker and begin earning more.
The pay is quite competitive considering the selection of manageable education requirements. The median wage for medical records and health information technicians stands at $39,180 a year, as of May 2017. Those working in professional, scientific, and technical services tend to make the most, with a median of $42,420 per year.
If you see yourself moving up to a medical and health service manager or supervisor, the median salary is sizably better at $90-100K per year.
Deciding on Your Future
Many who once aspired to become nurses and doctors find themselves within the field of medical billing and coding. If your interest in the medical field centers around the desire to help people by using your analytical skills to examine records and data, this career is likely the perfect fit for you.
The key things to consider are whether you enjoy staying put and working on similar projects or whether you are a social butterfly who likes to stick their hand in many pots. If you are the latter, this career may not be the best fit — but it would still allow room for you to grow and more opportunities for you to tackle down the road. If you are interested in starting a career in medical insurance billing and coding, check out our associate degree and our diploma program at Vista College or contact us to learn more.