When we think of healthcare, we often think of the doctors and nurses, surgeons and x-ray technicians, and all the many clinicians working on the patient-facing side of the field. However, there are many dedicated professionals in the background that are vital for keeping the healthcare system afloat. Medical coders (sometimes referred to as medical billers and coders) are just one example of the many essential medical careers that do not require direct patient care.
What is a Medical Coder?
A medical coder is an administrative professional who helps to translate and transcribe important health documents for record-keeping. A medical coder’s job is essential to managing and protecting patient data, as well as ensuring that healthcare providers are paid for their services.
This is a high-level definition of a medical coder, but the role of a medical coder goes much beyond these basics.
Medical coders are specially trained in universal types of medical code – the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) and the Current Procedural Terminology (CPT). These codes are meant to standardize the way that medical records and reports are documented across all types of healthcare facilities. By having medical documents translated into standardized medical codes, there is a more seamless (and accurate) transfer of information, invoices, and results between facilities.
A medical coder utilizes their knowledge of these codes (and of medicine more generally) to translate any documents – physician’s notes, laboratory results, procedures, diagnoses, and more – into the ICD or CPT format. These transcribed and coded documents are then used by healthcare providers and insurance companies for billing and record-keeping.
So, let’s put this into perspective. If you’re a medical coder, you may come across a patient who received an x-ray and surgery for a broken arm. Their doctor also prescribed pain medication and a cast following the surgery. It is your job, as the medical coder, to analyze this information regarding the patient’s treatment, and translate it into the appropriate code. This code will then be used to bill the patient’s insurance company and ensure your medical office is reimbursed.
What Does a Medical Coder Do?
Now that you understand the overarching job of a medical coder, let’s discuss the day-to-day responsibilities of these professionals. What do medical coders do on a daily basis?
Medical coders usually begin their day at their computer, assessing electronic health records (EHRs) and using specialized software to code patient information. Being a behind-the-scenes job, medical coders enjoy flexibility in their work environment and workday. These professionals can work in clinical practices, hospitals, insurance companies, and health agencies – however, they also have the ability to work from home, if an employer allows.
Once logged on for the day, medical coders can be found carrying out any of the following tasks:
- Reviewing patients’ charts, which might include physician notes, diagnoses, treatments, and prescriptions.
- Taking notes on the information provided in each patient record.
- Assigning medical codes to this information, utilizing ICD-10 and CPT code books.
- Inputting this information into a database (typically used for record storage and/or billing).
- Ensuring documents are protected and stored confidentially.
- Periodically auditing documents to ensure codes are accurate and compliant.
- Assisting with billing processes, such as sending coding documents to insurance companies.
At the end of their day, medical coders can sign off and head back to their personal lives. Unlike other medical professionals, medical coders enjoy a predictable schedule. They are not required to work weekends or holidays, or to be on call or work overnight shifts. Medical coders enjoy a more typical office schedule, no matter where they work.
What Does It Take to Do What Medical Coders Do?
As you may have gathered, medical coders need training in order to launch a career. However, you may be excited to hear that it does not take years in medical school. A medical coder can complete a certificate program and enter the field in as few as 12 to 18 months. Some of these programs, including Goodwin’s Medical Billing and Coding program, can be completed entirely online.
The reason that medical coders need training is simple: They need to become well-versed in the ICD and CPT medical codes. Not only this, but they also need to have specialized knowledge in broader health-related topics, such as medical terminology and biology. They must have an awareness of how medical insurance works, how to manage a medical office and medical records, and how to comply with current laws and regulations in the field.
Are You Considering Becoming a Medical Coder?
Medical coders enjoy flexibility, autonomy, and pride in the work that they do. They are respected professionals who work hard to keep patient information accurate and up-to-date, and to safeguard the compensation of healthcare providers.
It is no wonder that medical coders, along with medical records specialists across the United States, are expecting employment growth. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that, each year, about 14,800 job openings for medical records specialists will become available between 2021 and 2031.
Now is the time to become a medical coder. If you are interested in getting started, you can always contact Goodwin University for more information. Goodwin’s Medical Billing and Coding program is now available in on-campus, online, and hybrid formats—and can be designed to meet your needs.