Study Medical Billing & Coding: Associate's Degree & Diploma Program Info

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What will you learn in a medical billing & coding program? Read about program requirements, the pros and cons of an associate's degree and diploma program and potential careers.
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Medical Billing & Coding Associate's and Diplomas: Degrees at a Glance

Medical billing and coding programs prepare students for careers in the health care field. Medical billing and coding professionals work in hospitals, clinics, doctor's offices and other health care facilities, dealing with paperwork and insurance forms. Additionally, they code medical procedures into the computer so they may be billed correctly.

Careers in this area are expected to increase faster than average in the near future as the population ages. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, medical records and health information technicians were expected to see a 21% increase in employment overall from 2010-2020, and this includes medical coders.

Diploma Associate's
Who is this degree for? People who want a hands-on introduction to medical coding and billing Students who want a deeper understanding of the field
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) - Medical secretary ($31,000)**
- Billing clerk ($33,000)**
- Medical records and health information technician ($36,000)*
Same as diploma
Time to Completion 9-15 months Approximately 2 years
Common Graduation Requirements - General education coursework
- Core coursework
- General education coursework
- Core coursework
Online Availability Some Some

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures), **O*NET Online (2011 figures)

Diplomas in Medical Billing & Coding

Diploma programs in medical billing and coding are offered at many community colleges, technical institutes and other continuing education facilities. These programs cover the basics of medical billing and coding, and often take a year or less to complete. A diploma program is sufficient to have the experience necessary to gain an entry-level position in these fields. Diploma programs may be offered at schools that also offer associate degrees in the field and may have curriculum in common.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Diploma programs do not require a large time/money commitment
  • Part-time work may be available
  • Potential careers are in high demand

Cons

  • Competing for positions against those with associate's degrees
  • May need to work nights or weekends
  • Potential careers may pay less than average for level of education*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Courses and Training Requirements

Some diploma programs may require general education courses, but typically the focus is on the billing and coding systems used by health care facilities. Courses tend to be hands-on, letting you get a feel of the computer programs that will be used in the field. Some schools may offer courses in the evenings to help students that have day-time commitments. Courses you may take include:

  • ICD-9-CM coding
  • Medical insurance and billing
  • Health care laws and ethics
  • Patient communications
  • Medical terminology

Online Degree Options

In general, online diploma programs are uncommon, though they do exist. They tend to be offered by schools that also offer an on-campus diploma program. Online programs teach the same information as on-campus programs, and are sufficient to sit for certification exams after completion. Online programs may be offered as an alternative for those who do not live near campus or cannot make a normal class schedule.

Getting Ahead With This Degree

Most employers prefer to hire someone who has earned a certification. Many diploma programs will prepare you to sit for the Certified Professional Coding (CPC) exam offered by the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC). The AAPC offers three different CPC certifications, including one for use in a physician office, one for use in a hospital and one for a payer coding credential. They also offer specialty credentials and one for those who have experience as interventional radiology cardiovascular coders.

Associate's Degrees in Medical Billing & Coding

Associate's degree programs in medical billing and coding typically take about two years to complete, and tend to be offered at community colleges. While some employers may accept students with a diploma or other training, others prefer students who have earned an associate's degree in the field. Associate's degree programs tend to be hands-on, with students coming out of the program able to complete the work necessary in a physician's office or other health care facility.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Degree programs are easy to locate and result in good opportunities for employment
  • May have opportunities to work from home
  • Can work in a variety of health care facilities including hospitals, outpatient clinics and physician's offices

Cons

  • May need experience with computers/health courses before admission
  • Some employers may require certification
  • Completing an associate's degree program may not give you an employment advantage over shorter programs, like certificate or diploma programs

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Springfield Technical Community College

Courses and Training Requirements

Associate's programs in medical billing and coding include courses about accounting, coding, billing and general health care topics such as biology. They also typically require some general education courses. Programs are usually completed over four semesters, without needing a summer session. Some programs may include courses that are taken as an externship or a co-op. Some courses may be offered online.

Courses you may take include:

  • Psychology
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Procedural coding
  • Health office basics
  • Electronic health records

Online Degree Options

While some programs may be offered completely online, it is more common for associate's degree programs to be offered as hybrid programs. In these programs, some courses may be offered online while others are offered on-campus. Completely online programs may be offered by schools that also offer on-campus programs. Online programs also enable you to be eligible for certification, just as on-campus programs do.

Getting Ahead With This Degree

Aside from the CPC certification offered by AAPC, other organizations also offer certifications. The American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) offers three: Certified Coding Associate, Certified Coding Specialist and Certified Coding Specialist-Physician-based. These have education and experience requirements, and an exam must be taken and passed. Additionally, the Professional Association of Healthcare Coding Specialists (PAHCS) offers a Medical Coding Specialist certification, and will allow coders with certifications from other associations to transfer their certifications over if certain requirements are met.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Herzing University

    Program Options

    Associate's
      • Associate of Science - Insurance Billing and Coding Specialist
      • Associate: Health Information Management
      • Associate: Healthcare Management
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Indiana Wesleyan University

    Program Options

    Associate's
      • A.S. General Studies - Life Sciences
  • Warren, OH

    Trumbull Business College

  • Fremont, OH

    Terra State Community College

  • Springfield, MA

    Springfield Technical Community College

  • El Paso, TX

    Southwest University at El Paso

  • CHESTER, VA

    Richmond School of Health and Technology

  • Renton, WA

    Renton Technical College

  • Yakima, WA

    Yakima Valley Community College

  • La Jolla, CA

    National University

Featured Schools

Herzing University

  • Associate of Science - Insurance Billing and Coding Specialist
  • Associate: Health Information Management
  • Associate: Healthcare Management

What is your highest level of education?

Indiana Wesleyan University

  • A.S. General Studies - Life Sciences

What is your highest level of education?

Trumbull Business College

Terra State Community College

Springfield Technical Community College

Southwest University at El Paso

Richmond School of Health and Technology

Renton Technical College