Pros and Cons of a Career As a Certified Coding Specialist
Certified coding specialists are healthcare professionals who maintain records and health data through a system of codes that are used to categorize patient information. Read the Pros and Cons listed below to see if this is the right career choice for you.
|PROS of a Career As a Certified Coding Specialist|
|Considerable job growth is expected over the next decade for medical information professionals (22% growth between 2012 and 2022)*|
|Jobs exist in a number of healthcare settings*|
|A certificate is typically sufficient for entry-level work*|
|There are multiple types of certification credentials available for different types of health settings*|
|CONS of a Career As a Certified Coding Specialist|
|Overnight shifts may be necessary*|
|Sedentary job with many hours spent in front of a computer*|
|Little opportunity for part-time work*|
|Job responsibilities may change often as health information technology advances*|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Certified coding specialists use a system of coding to categorize patients and their ailments for the purpose of billing, record keeping, archiving and cataloging. Coders are also responsible for acting as a communication link between a billing office and a care-provider's office. They file and retrieve medical records and also review patient information for pre-existing conditions and other health concerns.
Job Outlook and Salary Information
In May of 2014, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) determined that medical records and health information technicians, such as certified coding specialists, earned a median annual salary of $35,900. The agency also projected a substantial amount of job growth in the medical information technology field. Specifically, the BLS projected a 22% increase in medical records and health information jobs between 20102 and 2022. The BLS noted that job opportunities should be best for technicians that have received certification.
A high school diploma is sometimes sufficient to be hired; however, students may complete two-year Associate of Applied Science degree programs to become health information technicians. Such programs typically consist of learning skills in health data management, medical billing practices, procedure coding, health record maintenance and information technology. Course topics include anatomy and physiology as well as medical terminology and ethics. These programs are designed to prepare students to work in a number of healthcare settings, including hospitals, clinics and medical offices. Graduates are prepared to sit for certification exams offered by the American Association of Professional Coders (AAPC). Additionally, for those who already hold a license or certification, such as nurses or medical assistants, there are shorter certificate programs designed to prepare them to sit for the AAPC certification exams.
What Employers Are Looking For
Most employers are looking for someone with some experience working with medical records. Different types of jobs may also require knowledge of different types of coding. For example, some employers may want an individual with knowledge of Medicare coding, while others are interested in someone who has done inpatient coding. Additionally, many employers prefer coders with good communication skills, good analytical abilities and excellent computer skills. Here are some real job listings that were found in April 2012:
- A family medical practice in Florida is interested in hiring a certified medical coder and biller. The practice prefers a coder with at least a year of experience working in a physician's office. The practice would also like an individual with knowledge of electronic health records.
- A Massachusetts medical practice is interested in hiring a certified medical coder who will also help with billing. The successful candidate will be responsible for checking patients in and out, collecting co-pays and general medical coding. Some evening work may also be required, and the practice prefers candidates who have previously worked with Vitera coding software.
- A South Dakota surgical institute is looking for a certified medical coder with a minimum of a high school degree. However they prefer a candidate with an associate degree or bachelor's degree. The successful candidate must also hold CPC certification and have at least five years of surgical coding experience.
How to Stand Out in the Field
Although certification is not required, most employers prefer to hire certified coding specialists. In order to obtain the Certified Professional Coder (CPR) designation, prospective coders must pass a 5-hour and 40-minute test that includes 150 multiple-choice questions. The test is offered by the AAPC, which offers coding certification in a number of areas in addition to the CPC credential. Additionally, learning different types of coding software and how to handle a variety of electronic health care records is also beneficial.
If becoming a certified coding specialist doesn't sound quite like the job for you, there are some other occupations you may want to look into. These jobs require similar skills and educational background but offer different types of opportunities and work.
Medical transcriptionists convert voice recordings into written reports. These recordings are usually from doctors and surgeons. Transcriptionists must be able to interpret medical terminology and transfer information to patient records and medical reports. As of May 2011, the BLS reported that transcriptionists earned a median annual salary of about $33,000. The agency also projected a six percent increase in transcriptionist jobs between 2010 and 2020.
Medical assistants take care of both clerical and clinical tasks in a physician's office or hospital department. Most assistants can obtain entry-level work after completing high school. However, many attend certificate or 2-year degree programs at a community college or vocational school. The BLS determined that medical assistants earned a median annual salary of about $29,000 in May 2011. The agency also projected a 31% job growth for medical assistants between 2010 and 2020.