What Are the Requirements for a Career in Medical Billing and Coding?


Updated January 6, 2023

We answer your questions about earning a medical billing and coding degree — career outlook, admissions, cost, and program information.

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Medical Billing and Coding Classes

Doctors and nurses who provide direct patient care are the most visible professionals in medicine. But there are thousands more whose behind-the-scenes efforts help keep everything running smoothly. These include medical billing and coding specialists who communicate with physicians, patients, and insurance companies. They ensure that information is documented and processed correctly. This article examines how students can find educational opportunities that prepare them for jobs in medical billing and coding.

Top Online Medical Billing and Coding Programs

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Medical Billing and Coding Core Curriculum

The best medical billing and coding courses cover clinical and clerical topics. Students learn the basics of anatomy, pharmacology, and medical terminology. They then combine those with business essentials such as records management. Professionals must stay up-to-date on changes within the healthcare system, particularly insurance billing procedures and privacy laws. Below are examples of classes that a medical billing and coding program may offer:

  • Medical Terminology

    From complex names for diseases to the shorthand for medical codes, the jargon used in a medical office can seem like another language to unaccustomed listeners. Students in these courses learn the fundamentals and origins of medical terms, as well as how to analyze, define, and create those terms.
  • Medical Office Procedures

    This class teaches students to perform typical administrative assistant duties including telephone call management, electronic and print mail processing, business letter writing, travel and meeting planning, and task management, all within the context of the medical environment.
  • Body Systems I and II

    In this series of classes, students gain practical knowledge of the human form and the medical terms associated with the body's operations. These include the musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, and respiratory systems. They also learn the terminology used in laboratory settings and pharmacology. The second course builds on the first, exploring more complex body systems and medical terms related to sense organs, oncology, and genetics.
  • Pharmacology

    Drugs can be lifesaving or catastrophic. It's vital to get the right name, dosage, and instructions on the label to prevent a healing agent from turning into a toxin. Students in this course gain experience with drug names — both generic and trade — as well as drug side effects and medication interactions. They also learn how pharmaceuticals correspond to body systems.
  • Medical Billing and Health Insurance

    This introductory course covers healthcare reimbursement and payment processes for various types of health insurance. Students learn payment systems, fee schedules, coding procedures, and the internal audit process.
  • Medical Contracts, Ethics, and HIPAA

    This course examines elements of managed care contracts and covered patient services, including preventive health services and office visits. The course also delves into ethics, addressing protected health information and disclosure under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). It also covers the electronic health record (EHR) incentives offered under the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act.
  • Coding for Hospital Applications/Hospital Medical Billing

    Medical billing and coding professionals often work in busy, fast-paced hospitals. According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2011 alone, U.S. emergency rooms saw 130 million visitors, a number that doesn't include patients admitted to other hospital wards. To keep up, students must learn the difference between inpatient and outpatient services and how to handle standard hospital billing claim forms. They also need to know how to submit claims and follow up quickly.
  • Coding for Medical Office Applications/Physician Medical Billing

    Medical offices can be just as fast-paced as hospitals and rely on the same standard codes. In this class, students acquire the skills to accurately complete medical claims forms both manually and electronically. They work with the CMS-1500 form (used for Medicare claims) and aim to understand why claims forms are delayed or rejected.
  • Basic Coding Using ICD-9 and ICD-10

    Each disease, condition, sickness, diagnosis and treatment has a shorthand, coded designation. These codes make it simpler for doctors and nurses track services that patients receive, as well as help medical billers process claims. Students in this class learn ICD-9 and ICD-10 coding. They also learn specialty coding for areas such as cardiology, pathology, and laboratory procedures.
  • Intermediate Medical Coding

    Building on the previous basic coding skills course, this class teaches students how to apply the CPT, ICD-9, and ICD-10 classification systems to code diagnoses and procedures.
  • Advanced Medical Coding Scenarios

    In the third tier of courses, students assign codes using CPT, ICD-9, ICD-10, and HCPCS in advanced medical coding scenarios. This class builds on the previous basic and intermediate courses to teach students how to interpret complex medical data. It also prepares them to take the CPC-A coding certification exam.

Medical Billing and Coding Education Options

While the nature of medical billing and coding itself depends on precision, the ways to learn it are more flexible. Some students acquire their skills through an on-site program offered at a community college. Others prefer studying online at their own pace. After schooling is complete, graduates can gain certification to demonstrate their skills and knowledge.

  • Community Colleges

    The best medical billing and coding programs usually last two semesters for full-time students. Classes cover computer basics, medical office terminology, and coding classes. They also include an internship for students to gain practical experience. The amount of credits needed to graduate varies according to the program — between 11 and 19 credits is standard. The cost of classes can be nominal — less than $1,000 — but students should be prepared that course materials may cost more than tuition. Students who live near a college with a medical billing and coding education program, and who want to work in their community, get the added benefit of having access to local experts within an easy commute.
  • Online Colleges

    Students taking online medical billing and coding courses can complete a program in ten months for under $800. Program participants need a computer and internet access. They may also need to purchase other electronic course materials. In addition to instruction from faculty members, classes can include videos, virtual labs, and simulated work experiences. Online education programs also prepare students to take coding certification exams.
  • Certifying Bodies

    The American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC) offers several certifications in coding and billing specialties, including the Certified Professional Coder (CPC) designation. This certification is widely recognized in physician's office settings, and proves a specialist's knowledge and experience with medical coding. Other certifications specialize in areas such as in-patient and out-patient coding procedures and risk adjustment.

    The American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) likewise offers various credentials that demonstrate coding proficiency. The Certified Coding Associate (CCA) designation is awarded to individuals qualified to work across settings, including hospitals and private practices. Other certifications are offered to those who specialize in one setting.

MOOCs, Resources and More

Before investing time and money in a medical billing and coding certificate or degree, it's worth exploring the basics online, through articles, videos, or MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). These introduce students to what's involved with medical billing and coding jobs. They also give them a firm foundation in the subject material before starting a formal educational program. This approach requires much less of a time commitment, and is also cheaper — some MOOC lessons are even free. Below is a list of MOOCs and other resources that can ease a potential student into medical billing and coding.


Typically lasting from several weeks to a couple of months, many MOOCs are comprehensive lectures or courses taught by professors from prestigious universities such as Harvard, Carnegie Mellon, and Georgetown. Here are examples of availableMOOCs relevant to medical billing and coding or related subjects:

  • Anatomy and Physiology

    Carnegie Mellon University offers a course on the human body that covers topics such as structure and functions, homeostasis, and the organization and integration of bodily systems.
  • Becoming a Resilient Person – The Science of Stress Management

    Optimistic thought and relaxation strategies are among the many techniques effective in reducing stress and illness. This Edx course from the University of Washington explains how stress exacerbates many health problems.
  • Healthcare Information Technology Foundations

    As an overview of healthcare, health information technology, and health information systems, this course from Carnegie Mellon University covers details of the medical office environment. Students learn about IT applications in the healthcare industry and the roles of medical professionals, examining topics like governmental regulations and medical record keeping.
  • Innovating in Healthcare

    Healthcare and the medical industry often conflict with private and public companies over quality, access, and cost. This free, nine-week EdX course from Harvard takes a look at how to improve healthcare structure, policy, and financing.
  • Positive Behavior Support for Young Children

    Many medical office personnel have trouble working with young children and infants. This EdX course from the University of Washington teaches supportive techniques for physical, social, and emotional development in children.
  • Principles of Human Disease

    This course from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology provides a modern understanding of disease and how the healthcare industry approaches illnesses like genetic disorders to cancer.
  • Regenerative Medicine: from Bench to Bedside

    Students taking this Massachusetts Institute of Technology course learn about the theory and practice of healing patients with degenerative diseases.
  • Take Your Medicine – The Impact of Drug Development

    As an introduction to pharmacology, this EdX course from the University of Texas looks at how drugs and medications influence modern illnesses and modern society.
  • Understanding HIPAA for the Medical Office

    This comprehensive video from Udemy explains HIPPA and how it aims to reform the healthcare industry by protecting patient information.
  • United States Health Policy

    Most Americans do not fully understand the shifting landscape of medical insurance and how it is connected to the government. This free Harvard EdX course prepares students to educate patients and other laypersons about the current state of medical insurance.
  • The U.S. Healthcare Industry: Changes and Opportunities

    The healthcare industry is constantly changing. This half-hour course from Udemy looks into the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, and the pressure to lower medical industry costs.

Other Resources

Aside from online degree and certificate programs and MOOCs, there are a number of other resources for medical billing and coding education, including recorded lectures or articles. Be sure to check out these other educational materials:

Innovations within the medical and healthcare industries are constant. Tami Rockholt of INFORM Software Corporation introduces new software and shares the basics of the medical billing and coding industry with current and prospective students. The AAPC offers numerous tools and aids to help with education and/or certification test preparation, including textbooks and learning modules, as well as networking opportunities. The AHIMA offers numerous educational and networking opportunities. They employ webinars, texts, and current articles to refresh and enhance professionals' knowledge of medical billing and coding. This free 10-minute video on YouTube helps prospective medical billing and coding students evaluate the potential courses and classes they will need to complete. The video is part of a series dedicated to advising prospective students on how to look for reputable online medical billing and coding education programs.

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