Medical records are documents that have to be very precise. One error on a record can potentially be the difference between life and death. Every time a person visits a family doctor, specialist or a hospital it is noted on a record with a specific code. Medical records technicians or medical coders have the task of keeping up with all this information and correctly entering it into medical records. The classification system used for medical records is extremely complex and requires some level of higher education study to become proficient in its use. For those students who are very good at paying attention to the slightest detail and patient enough to sit for long periods of time entering information a distance learning degree in medical coding can be the first step to a rewarding career. Many schools offer online training in medical coding with the Associate degree being the preferred method of learning.
Medical Coding Associate Degree
For entry-level jobs in medical coding an Associate degree is needed. Records need to be coded correctly in order for insurance companies to know what procedure was done and how much needs to be paid by the company to the doctor. It is the job of the coding and billing personnel to enter the correct procedure codes to allow this to happen. Associate degrees teach students computer skills and specifics about medical insurance. State and federal regulations, medical office functions and coding procedures are taught to students. Upon graduating students become eligible to take the Certified Coding Associate (CCA) exam given through the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA).
Medical Coding Degree Requirements
Online degree programs take two years to finish and require 60 credit hours of study. The degree consists of general education classes, business management courses and specialized medical coding and billing classes. Using computers with internet access students complete assignments teaching them the following skills:
- Medical claim preparation
- Billing procedures
- Computerized billing
Students also use e-mail and message boards to interact with instructors and other students. Internships can sometimes be arranged in hospitals or private practices for additional experience.
Medical Coding Associate Degree Courses
Online courses in this field are very flexible and allow students to easily work them around work and family responsibilities. Full-time students take an average of three classes each semester in order to finish in two years. Some specialized medical coding classes students take are:
- Medical terminology
- Diagnostic coding
- Health information management
Medical terminology classes teach students about basic anatomy along wtih procedures and diseases. Different bodily systems such as nervous and skeletal are discussed as are suffixes and prefixes for medical terms. Diagnostic coding classes teach students about ethical and legal consequences of medical coding and billing and help them learn about the International Classification of Diseases Manual (ICD-9-CDM) which is the authoritative source for coding medical records. Health information management discusses the current healthcare system along with patient confidentiality and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA).
Medical Coding Associate Degree Careers
Graduates seeking entry-level positions as coders, billers and office clerks will find plenty of opportunities from which to choose. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics this field will see an average growth rate of 20% per year through 2018 as medical records become more complex and need skilled individuals for coding and billing. Average annual salaries for medical records clerks are just over $31,000. Specialty coding credentials are also offered to clerks and enhance their chances of being hired and promoted by their employers.