Online Associate Degrees in Medical Billing & Coding
Online associate degrees in medical billing and coding prepare students for careers in the health information technology sector. Students develop techniques for efficiently collecting, maintaining, retrieving, and analyzing patient health information data. Core areas covered during training include basic medical knowledge, data management, and information technology.
An applicant to an online associate degree program in this field should hold a high school diploma, GED, or equivalent. Some schools will have minimum GPA requirements, especially for previous coursework in communication, mathematics, and sciences. Most associate degree programs require completion of 60 credits over the course of two years.
Throughout the associate degree program, students will take general education classes in addition to coursework in anatomy and physiology, coding, computerized accounting, insurance reimbursement, medical terminology, legal issues, and pharmacology. Students also learn about credit and collections, healthcare quality improvement techniques, integrated medical office software, office procedures, and records systems management. Students learn how to properly complete and file medical billing forms and they also learn how to perform third-party reimbursement.
Programs usually incorporate an internship component or practicum, which allows students to cement their practical skills. The practicum also enhances employment prospects by demonstrating candidates' professional skills to potential employers. Some associate programs also include a certification option, which is required by some employers.
Online Medical Billing & Coding Certificates
Medical billing and coding schools offer online certificate and diploma courses that explore the systems and programs used in medical billing and instruct students on the different fields and varieties of medical billing. Students interested in applying to a certificate program typically must have a high school diploma or GED. The school may request official transcripts and general college entrance exam scores as part of the application process. Most certificate programs can be completed in nine months to one year.
Medical billing and coding certificates include classes in clinical classification systems, coding practices, data security, computerized patient record systems, health data management, health services organization and delivery, healthcare confidentiality and privacy, information technology and systems, legal and ethical issues in healthcare, quality management procedures, reimbursement methodologies, risk management, statistical software, physician-based medical coding, hospital-based medical coding, medical billing and software, medical terminology, and physician-based chart auditing. Other courses in the program may include hospital case studies, classification of diseases, healthcare data quality and management, healthcare reimbursement, and healthcare information management and supervision. Professional experience is an essential component of the training required to become a medical billing and coding specialist. Depending on the program selected, some certificate completion requirements may include a practicum or internship to reinforce instruction.
Graduates from accredited medical billing and coding certificate programs will be prepared for entry-level positions as a medical billing clerk or specialist, a medical coder, or an insurance claims analyst at doctors' offices, clinics, or insurance companies. Some medical billers and coders choose to work as independent contractors and provide services from their home.
Educational Requirements for Online Medical Billing and Coding Programs
Medical coding & billing careers often appeal to those individuals who do not have the time, finances, or desire to pursue bachelor's degrees, as the requirements for admission to a certificate or associate degree program are minimal. Most programs require only a high school diploma or GED to be accepted. Basic keyboarding and word-processing skills, familiarity with technology, and a knack for details are also valuable skills for beginning medical coders. Students can complete their entire education online or at a community college, often on a part-time basis, in two years or less. Specialized professional schools often offer these degrees or training programs and can provide assistance to students who seek internship opportunities or career placement after graduation.
Medical coding & billing programs are characteristically hands-on and practical. Most associate degree programs will require core classes in mathematics, general sciences, and English. In contrast, online certificate programs tend to have a curriculum that is solely geared toward medical coding and billing. Students will take technology classes that help them learn to navigate electronic health record programs correctly. Some programs may also offer classes that deal in paper records, though this is far less common today. Medical billing and coding students develop a comprehensive understanding of healthcare information management systems and health informatics applications.
Basic courses in anatomy and physiology provide medical billing and coding students with a solid introduction to the medical field and help familiarize them with many of the terms they'll eventually come to know very well. Among the most essential classes students will take are those related to medical terminology and billing. Once students learn the medical codes associated with various services and treatments, they may use software to determine how much a patient or insurance company should be billed. There are several coding systems that students must learn, including those used for cancer, ambulatory calls, or long-term patient care. Students learn how to utilize diverse technologies to capture, analyze, store, and retrieve medical data, and they must be able to work efficiently with these systems while also maintaining the confidentiality of their patients' records.
The Importance of an Accredited Online Medical Billing and Coding Program
The US Department of Education recognizes several private, nongovernmental accreditation agencies as having the authority to evaluate the academic merit of colleges and universities, including those that offer medical billing and coding programs. When researching online certificate and associate degree programs, prospective students should narrow down their options by selecting programs offered at accredited institutions. Accreditation signifies that a school meets high academic standards, maintains current research, and hires highly qualified instructors to teach its courses.
The Council on Higher Education Accreditation is a nationally recognized association of accrediting agencies, and their database of accredited colleges and universities is available on their website. The Accrediting Commission of Career Schools is also recognized by the USDE and specializes in accrediting schools whose primary focus is occupational or career-oriented diploma and degree programs. They, too, offer a database of accredited institutions.
Certification Requirements for Medical Billing and Coding Careers
Though certification isn't legally required for medical coders in most states, it is highly recommended. An official certification designation on your resume can increase your job prospects and show potential employers that you are committed to the profession. The American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC) reports that, compared to noncertified coders, Certified Professional Coders (CPCs) earn an average of 20 percent more and have a greater chance of being hired.
AAPC offers three certifications for medical billing and coding specialists: Certified Professional Coder (CPC), Certified Professional Coder - Hospital Outpatient (CPC-H), and Certified Professional Coder - Payer (CPC-P). Additional credentials are also available for medical billers and coders to demonstrate superior knowledge in specialized areas such as cardiology, dermatology, pediatrics, emergency department, and internal medicine billing and coding. The requirements to sit for the CPC exams include current AAPC membership, two years of experience working as a medical billing and coding specialist, and 36 hours of continuing education units every two years to maintain the certification. An associate degree is not required, but it is recommended.
The Board of Medical Specialty Coding and Compliance offers a certification for Specialty Coding Professionals (SCP) with at least two years of specialty coding experience and Advanced Coding Specialists (ACS) with at least three to five years of specialty coding experience. To maintain either of these certifications, specialists must complete 20 continuing education units each year.
The Professional Association of Healthcare Coding Specialists (PAHCS) offers a Certified Basic Medical Coding Specialist (CBMCS) certification and specialty certification in many areas, such as pain management, podiatry, family practice, and obstetrics and gynecology. PAHCS does not require applicants to complete an academic program before they take the certification exam, but 24 continuing education units are required every two years to maintain certification.
The American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) currently has two certification options, and each of them is accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies. The Certified Coding Associate (CCA) credential is offered for coding professionals who have experience working in both hospital and physician offices, and applicants must have a high school diploma. The Certified Coding Specialist - Physician-based (CCS-P) credential is for coding professionals who have more experience specifically in outpatient clinics rather than hospitals. The CCS-P certification requires candidates to have either a prior credential, an in-depth coding education, two years of work experience, or a combination of one year of work experience and a prior certification. To maintain certification, AHIMA requires certificate holders to complete 20 continuing education units every two years.
Online Medical Transcription Degrees
Medical transcriptionists and medical billing and coding professionals both play an important role in the management of health information. While medical billing and coding professionals are responsible for assigning numerical codes to patient diagnoses, medical procedures, and other sensitive healthcare information for insurance and billing purposes, medical transcriptionists create written copies of audio recordings made by doctors and other medical professionals.
Online medical transcription degree programs teach students how to understand medical terminology, transcribe the results of medical tests, and work with voice recognition software. Programs are available at the certificate or associate degree level via community colleges and technical schools.
Online certificates in medical transcription are a solid training option for students who want to hit the job market as quickly as possible. These programs take approximately one year and prepare graduates for entry-level positions by training them in the transcription of a number of different types of medical records. Courses cover medical terminology, transcription formatting, and computer applications. Most programs require that students transcribe sample medical records from a variety of medical specialties so that graduates leave the certificate program with practical skills.
Two-year associate degrees in medical transcription cover the professionally oriented curriculum of the certificate as well as several general education classes. Associate programs introduce students to topics such as pharmacology for medical office professionals, word processing, medical terminology, business English, medical science, anatomy and physiology, and transcription methods. Online health information technician and medical transcription associate degrees often require an internship or professional practice experience in a medical office.
Medical transcription skills are often covered in health information technology (IT) associate degree programs, which discuss medical records management, medical billing, and medical coding, as well as transcription. Health IT professionals provide an array of administrative services in medical offices. These associate degree programs can be a good choice for those interested in coding who want a wider array of job opportunities.