Schools, Program Info and Expert Advice on Medical Billing & Coding
Most people see a doctor and give no further thought to the people who do the paperwork. But medical billers and coders, with their eye for detail and knack for detective work, play an important behind-the-scenes role in keeping patient records current and accurate, and bridging the gap between clinical care and administration. As the field becomes more specialized, schools are responding with programs targeted to serve changing industry demands. Take a look at what’s involved with careers in medical billing and coding, explore different programs, and get an expert’s take on the field.
Medical Billing & Coding Learning Center
Getting started in a career in medical billing or coding doesn’t have to be difficult, but it helps to know more about what it entails — from education requirements to salary expectations — before making a commitment. Learn more here about what to expect in a training program and on the job.
Top Medical Billing and Coding Programs
By earning a degree in medical billing and coding, students have been set on the path to begin a career in completing all the necessary behind-the-scenes that is crucial for the success of all hospitals. To meet the growing need for academic programs in this field, many schools now offer medical billing and coding programs. To help students find the best school for them, we've created a list of the country’s top programs, set apart by their excellence in terms of graduation rates, acceptance rate, and overall grade point average. Check out our list to find the best medical billing and coding programs below.
Central Maine Community College — located in Auburn, Maine — offers the lowest tuition of all the community colleges in New England. The school serves more than 3,000 students each year on its 135-acre campus, three auxiliary sites, and online programs.
CMCC offers an on-campus and online medical coding degree and certificate program. The associate degree curriculum consists of 62 credits completed over four or more semesters. Courses introduce students to medical terminology, healthcare information technology, and medical coding. A three-credit practicum provides work experience using these new skills. The certificate option requires 32 credits and takes a year to complete.
The program also includes science, math, and English courses that prepare students to transfer to a four-year college. CMCC offers transfer advising services, on-campus interviews with four-year schools, and application assistance. It also maintains multiple transfer agreements. The school allows students to earn up to 75% of required credits through prior learning assessments, exams, and credential review.
The program features asynchronous courses using discussion boards, chat, email, and multimedia technology. The school's rolling admission policy allows students to begin taking classes any semester. More than 75% of students receive financial aid. Veterans and their families can use their military educational benefits at CMCC.
The college maintains regional accreditation from the New England Commission of Higher Education.\n
Highland Community College opened in 1858 as the first college in Kansas. About 2,700 students attend the school at the main campus in Highland, Kansas, the five regional locations, or through the online programs. Academic offerings include 50 associate degrees and 15 technical programs.
HCC now offers an online medical coding degree featuring a clinical rotation and a professional practicum. The 65-credit, two-year associate in applied science degree prepares graduates for the Certified Coding Specialist and Certified Coding Associate exams offered by the America Health Information Management Association. These professional credentials demonstrate competency in clinical classification, reimbursement methodology, health records, and compliance.
The curriculum includes 41 major credits. Students learn about medical terminology, insurance compliance procedures, medical ethics, and legal requirements. The curriculum teaches the International Classification of Disease coding system used to bill for medical procedures.
HCC offers online courses in traditional 16-week semesters or accelerated eight-week sessions. All online students pay the same tuition regardless of location. Distance learners also have the option of renting their textbooks for $18 per credit.
Admission requires a high school diploma or its equivalent. The school welcomes transfer students and accepts up to 47 credits toward a degree. Students may also earn credit for prior learning or through competency exams.
HCC is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.\n
Fort Hood donated the land for Central Texas College's 560-acre campus, and the college opened in 1967 to serve the surrounding counties, state correctional facilities, and military servicemen and women. The school has a long history of serving military students. It established a European campus in 1974. Today, it serves military institutions across the country and in Europe.
CTC pioneered distance education, launching broadcast telecourses in 1970. It began offering for-credit classes via video conference in 1994, followed by its first online class in 1998. It soon partnered with the Army University Access Online project and launched fully online associate degrees in 2001.
CTC offers a flexible online medical coding degree, with distance learning and on-campus options. The 60-credit program requires two years of full-time study to complete. Courses include medical software applications, coding and classification systems, anatomy and physiology, and pharmacology. Students also complete a clinical internship in health information technology.
The degree includes general education courses that can expedite future completion of a four-year degree. The school also offers a 42-credit certificate in medical coding. This program requires fewer general education courses.
Many of the courses offer open-entry enrollment through the Career and Technology Education (CATE) Center. This facility offers the convenience of online class scheduling with the collaboration of on-campus courses. Competency-based courses allow students to move on to their next class when ready. This policy accelerates degree progress.
CTC holds regional accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.\n
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Online vs On-Campus Learning Opportunities
Students who attend a community college may still have an option to take credits either on-campus, online, or some combination of both. Neither format is inherently better. While in the past online schooling was sometimes considered inferior, efforts have been made to make it as rigorous as traditional education. Students should examine their own study style and other obligations, and make the choice from there. Below we take a look at some of the characteristics of each format:
- Flexible scheduling
- It can be difficult to commit to being a full- or even part-time student, but online options allow students to work within their own schedules and at their own pace.
- Students in online programs can often complete training while holding down a job to help pay for their schooling. Even if students choose to devote their time entirely to coursework, online programs are generally less expensive than those taken on-site at a college.
- Wide-ranging access
- Students are not limited by their proximity to a college to take on virtual learning. Medical billing and coding students in online programs have access to professors and experts around the world.
- Learning styles
- With lectures, video tutorials, hands-on work, hard-copy and digital textbooks, and the opportunity to email instructors with questions, online students can engage with material in many different ways.
- Structured learning environment
- Students learn the material within a specific time frame outlined by instructors. Tests and projects are completed, evaluated, and discussed in a structured setting that can benefit those who respond well to outside motivators.
- Interaction with professionals
- Being able to talk to an instructor face-to-face can be valuable, especially for students who are struggling with a particular area or need a little extra help. Students taking credits on-campus have more informal chances to approach professors to discuss problems or ideas.
- Interaction with peers
- The chance to speak with fellow students exposes on-campus learners to new points of view and engages them in a community of their peers.
- Approved outside learning opportunities
- Many colleges offer internships or other outside learning opportunities, and professors can connect students with reputable places to gain work experience. Also, working in a local environment gives students the chance to compare experiences with their peers.
Medical Billing & Coding Basics
Medical billing and coding careers serve to connect the clinical and business aspects of healthcare. Due in large part to factors such as aging baby boomers and federal legislation that has increased access to healthcare, the U.S. healthcare sector continues to grow. As it does, hospitals, doctors’ offices and other healthcare facilities are turning to medical billers and coders to handle specialized administrative duties. Although the job responsibilities of each can overlap – especially in smaller settings – each plays a specific role in the workplace. Here’s how the process typically works:
- Step 1: Patients see a physician or undergo treatment, anything from a simple annual checkup to a complex surgery.
- Step 2: Medical coders review diagnoses, test results, procedures, and other information, and assign them the corresponding medical codes.
- Step 3: Medical billers enter coded information onto bills in the proper order and form, and then submit them to insurance companies or individual clients for payment.
- Step 4: Insurance companies review the categorization of procedures or treatments, and reimburse providers according to the terms of the coverage plan.
Medical Billing & Coding Skills
After narrowing down their degree options, students should make sure that their programs of choice meet the following criteria:
While medical billers will be familiar with some medical codes and the process used to determine them, their primary function is to make sure that coding information is properly presented, that bills are correctly calculated and formatted, and to follow up and work with clients or insurance companies as necessary. Key skills in this role include:
- Communication skills: Medical billers may deal with any number of types of people in a day – from providers to patients to insurance representatives – and must speak the language of all of them. They should be comfortable with the shorthand and terminology of professionals, while being able to translate it into more accessible language for laypeople. They must also be able to clearly document diagnoses, procedures and treatments in written form.
- Financial and data analysis skills: Healthcare can be expensive, and when procedures are not correctly documented or billed, it can potentially cost a practice thousands of dollars. Billers need a thorough understanding of how the finances of a physicians’ office or medical facility are structured, as well as how insurance companies’ reimbursement policies work, in order to maximize returns.
- Ability to work as part of a team: Medical billers serve as liaisons between physicians, patients and insurance companies, and also work closely with medical coders and other administrative staff. Those who are cooperative, proactive, and solution-oriented usually get the best results.
- Understanding of Insurance: Insurance policies can be complex, and medical billers need a thorough understanding of how benefits are typically structured and what exceptions may apply. This helps them to correctly submit bills to insurance to ensure timely payment. They should also know how to read and interpret Explanation of Benefits (EOB) forms issued by insurance companies.
Medical Coding Skills
The jobs of medical coders dovetail with those of medical billers, although in general, coders tend to work more independently. While specific duties can vary depending on whether they work in a small private practice or a large hospital system, professionals in the field share several of the same key skills:
- Attention to detail: Tens of thousands of different codes comprise the ICD-10 system recently implemented in the U.S. It’s important to be familiar not only with these categories of codes and their key differences, but also with interpreting patient information in order to select the corresponding codes.
- Research skills: Choosing the correct codes for a patient’s records is not always easy or straightforward. Good coders are skilled at doing the necessary research about conditions, terms or treatments to get accurate information and make decisions accordingly.
- Knowledge of medical terminology: Complex medical terms are the everyday vocabulary of medical coders. They have a comprehensive knowledge of the language used to describe human anatomy, physiology, pathology and pharmacology, and can then translate medical conditions and treatments into the codes needed for record-keeping and billing.
- Organizational skills: Coders may have numerous cases to deal with at any one time, so they must be good at organizing their time, setting priorities, and juggling multiple tasks.
- Ability to maintain confidentiality: Because medical coders are privy to individuals’ personal health records and data, they have a responsibility to familiarize themselves with privacy laws that protect patients, as well as with ethical considerations in handling sensitive medical information.
Expert Advice from a Professional Medical Coder
Medical coder and auditor Richelle Marting shares her insights into the field.