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. Among these are medical billing and coding specialists who communicate with physicians, patients, and insurance companies to ensure that information is documented and processed correctly. This article examines how students can find education opportunities that will prepare them for jobs in medical billing and coding.
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Medical Billing & Coding Core Curriculum
Medical billing and coding courses cover a range of topics, both clinical and clerical. Students learn the basics of anatomy, pharmacology and medical terminology, and then combine them 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 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 136.3 million visitors, a number that doesn’t even include patients admitted to other hospital wards. To keep up, students must learn the differences between inpatient and outpatient services; how to handle standard hospital billing claim forms, and how to submit claims and follow up in a timely fashion.
Medical offices can be just as fast-paced as hospitals and rely on the same standard codes, but they may have individualized processes in place. In this class, students acquire the skills to accurately complete medical claims forms both manually and electronically, particularly the CMS-1500 form (used for Medicare claims); to understand why claims forms are delayed or rejected; and how to file a secondary claim.
Medical Billing & 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 opt to 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.
Medical billing and coding programs usually last two semesters for full-time students. Classes cover computer basics, medical office terminology, coding classes, and 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, would get the added benefit of having access to local experts within an easy commute.
Students taking online medical billing and coding courses can complete a program in ten months for under $800. Program participants must have a computer and Internet access, and may 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.
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, while other certifications are offered to those who specialize in one setting.[Design: side-by-side boxes]
MOOCs, Resources & 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, and 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 the field of 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 available MOOCs relevant to medical billing and coding or related subjects:
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.
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.
Behavioral medicine is the science of healing through changing habits. Students taking this free EdX course will learn basic behavioral medicine concepts and explore the benefits to healthy lifestyle changes.
As an overview of health care, 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 ranging from governmental regulations to medical record-keeping.
A machine is more than just the sum of its parts, and so is the human body. This course from Open2Study addresses how body systems work together, interact with each other, and coordinate their processes, from the cellular level up.
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, technology, financing, and more.
Through lecture, self-study and exercises, students in this free EdX course learn about global health challenges and how different global health organizations approach them.
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.
Emphasizing the cellular and molecular basis of human disease, this course from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology addresses modern understanding of disease and how the healthcare industry approaches illnesses ranging from genetic disorders to cancer.
Students taking this Massachusetts Institute of Technology course learn about the theory and practice of healing patients with degenerative diseases.
As an introduction to pharmacology, this EdX course from the University of Texas looks at how drugs and medications have influenced modern illnesses and modern society.
This comprehensive video from Udemy explains HIPPA and how it was designed to reform the healthcare industry by protecting patient information.
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 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.
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:
The ABCs of Medical Billing and Coding
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.
The Audio Educator Institute offers this webinar to help medical billing and coding specialists improve and stay current with the 10th revision for coding released by the International Classification of Diseases (ICD).
Online Medical Billing Courses
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.