Medical Coding Degrees: Associate, Bachelor's & Online Course Info

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Associate and bachelor's degrees in medical coding can lead to careers as medical billing professionals and health information technicians. Get the truth about the requirements, courses and online options, and find out what you can do with your degree.
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Studying Medical Coding: Degrees at a Glance

Medical coders are health information technicians who translate patient diagnoses and treatment plans into codes for billing and insurance purposes. They might also be referred to as medical records technicians or coding specialists. You typically need at least a postsecondary certificate or associate degree before you can work as a medical coder, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Some states also require that certain types of medical coders, such as those who work with cancer patients, be certified. Bachelor's degrees are not required, although undergraduate programs in medical information technology can prepare you to take on an administrative or management role.

The BLS predicted that health information technicians would see a 21% rise in employment between 2010 and 2020. This higher-than-average increase will likely be attributed to the aging population who will require more medical procedures in the coming decade.

Associate Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? Individuals who want to become medical coders for healthcare facilities or insurance companies People looking to advance to leadership positions in the health information management field
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) - Health information technician ($33,000)*
- Insurance claims analyst ($35,000)**
- Health information services manager ($86,000)*
Time to Completion 2 years 4 years
Common Graduation Requirements - Courses in healthcare coding
- General education requirements
- Internship or professional training
- Foundation courses
- Core health information technology courses
- Possible capstone course
- Internship or hands-on training component
Prerequisites - High school diploma or its equivalent
- High school courses in anatomy, physiology, biology, mathematics and keyboarding
- High school diploma or its equivalent
- Prerequisites courses in math and computer information technology
Online Availability Yes Yes

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures), **Salary.com (September 2012 figures).

Associate Degree in Medical Coding

Associate degrees in medical coding are often offered as an Associate of Science (A.S.) or an Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) in health information technology, medical billing and coding or medical coding. These degree programs are designed to provide you with the specific skills needed to translate medical terminology into code. Many of these 2-year programs, particularly those that focus on the broader subject of health information technology, also provide you with an overview of healthcare delivery systems and basic healthcare office administration procedures. Some programs also include an internship component. Although an associate degree program can prepare you for a career as a medical coder, a certificate or diploma program could also prepare you for the career, in a shorter amount of time.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • An associate degree can prepare you for entry-level employment as a medical coder or billing specialist.*
  • Medical coding is a rapidly growing field.*
  • Many associate degree programs allow you to transfer your credits to 4-year degree programs upon completion.

Cons

  • You may need to gain certification to stay competitive in the workforce.*
  • If you want to advance to a managerial position, you will likely be up against candidates who have bachelor's degrees.*
  • Most medical coders make a below-average salary.*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Courses and Requirements

These associate degree programs combine career-oriented courses with general education requirements. You should learn some type of coding system, such as CPT coding or ICD-10 coding, through core classes. Some examples of common courses include:

  • Healthcare data
  • Health information management
  • Healthcare and computers
  • Medical terminology
  • Diseases and pathology
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Technology and healthcare

Programs may also include a required internship or supervised professional experience.

Online Availability

Some not-for-profit schools offer entire associate degree programs in medical coding online. Other schools offer free-standing online courses in medical coding that allow you to pick and choose which classes you want to take. You may want to check that your online program is accredited by an organization such as the Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education (CAHIIM).

Stand Out with This Degree

Although you aren't technically required to gain certification in medical coding, most healthcare employers prefer to hire certified professionals, according to the BLS. Several certifications exist in the field. For example, you might become a Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT) from the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA). To earn the certification, you must complete a CAHIIM-accredited associate degree program and pass an exam.

AHIMA also offers a Certified Coding Associate (CCA) designation, if you want to focus your career on medical coding. Earning the CCA designation requires that you hold a high school diploma or its equivalent and pass an exam. Another option you have is to earn medical coding certification from the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC). The organization offers certification in a number of different coding specialties, including outpatient hospital, interventional radiology cardiovascular and payer coding.

Bachelor's Degree in Health Information Technology

You likely won't need a bachelor's degree to become a medical coding specialist. However, bachelor's degree programs in health information technology or health information management can provide you with an in-depth understanding of how to use technology to transfer information between healthcare facilities and insurance companies. Such a program might prepare you for a career in healthcare management. Upon completion of the program, you should be able to not only use, but also develop systems for patient information retrieval and healthcare facility reimbursement.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • A bachelor's degree can prepare you for advanced positions in healthcare records management.*
  • You can expect to make an above-average salary in this field.*
  • Required internship component can provide you with hands-on experience and preparation for your career.

Cons

  • You may need to earn certification to stay competitive.**
  • A bachelor's degree will likely be overkill if you just want a medical coding position.**
  • You will need to earn licensure to work in healthcare management at a nursing care facility.*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **AHIMA

Courses and Requirements

Courses in these bachelor's degree programs cover core and foundational topics in health information technology, as well as general education and humanities topics. Some common core classes might include:

  • Medical terminology
  • Information technology and healthcare
  • Database design
  • Pathophysiology
  • Information management in healthcare
  • Health informatics
  • Healthcare systems design

In addition to instructional-based coursework, you'll likely participate in an internship or clinical practicum to gain-hands-on experience before graduating.

Online Availability

You can find some not-for-profit schools offering online bachelor's degree programs in health information management. Some of these schools only offer online course options to students who already have an associate degree in the field. As with associate degree programs, you will want to look for online bachelor's degree programs and courses that are accredited by CAHIIM.

Stand Out with This Degree

AHIMA offers the Registered Health Information Administrator (RHIA) designation for health information managers. Although this certification is not required in the field, it can help set you above the competition. Bachelor's degree programs may offer courses specifically designed to prepare you to pass the RHIA exam. To be eligible for certification, you will need to have completed a CAHIIM-approved baccalaureate program in health information management.

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
  • 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

  • La Jolla, CA

    National University

  • Yakima, WA

    Yakima Valley Community College

  • Moorhead, MS

    Mississippi Delta Community College

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?

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

National University