How to Become a Medical Coder – Steps, Requirements, Jobs & Certifications

A forecast by the U.S. Census Bureau indicates by 2030, one in every five US residents will be retirement age or older.  This may have a significant impact on the healthcare system. You can now work as a medical coder and become a part of the healthcare workforce. In this blog, we elaborate on what is a medical coder? How to become a medical coder and top medical coding interview questions.

What is a medical coder?

Medical coders translate the physician’s records into useful medical codes. They can work in different work environments and ensure all relevant information is coded precisely and consistently.

After treatment, insurance companies use the codes to understand what was done. A common language can be vague to give insurance providers use specific codes to define medical procedures.

How to become a medical coder?

Medical coding is rapidly growing and provides a vital behind-the-scenes role in healthcare. Becoming a medical coder requires you to get a certificate in medical coding or health information steps. Here are the details on how to become a medical coder –

  • You need to earn a high school diploma or equivalent.
  • You can be trained through professional associations like AAPC (American Academy of Professional Coders) and AHIMA (American Health Information management). Training is provided both online and offline and typically takes four months.

Coders can opt for higher education options in colleges, community colleges, certificate programs, and technical schools.

  • Try to get some hands-on work experience while training. These can be internships or volunteer experiences at healthcare centers.
  • You need to become certified after you have completed your training or degree program. You are eligible to take the certifications only after you have undergone training or gained significant experience.
  • After certification, you need to figure out where you will work. A medical coder can work in different work environments like medical or dental clinics, therapy centers, hospitals, urgent care facilities, and rehab facilities.
  • Look for opportunities to improve your skill. These may include bachelor’s or master’s degrees to help you advance further.
  • After you have gained some experience, you can consider additional credentials offered by AHIMA like the Certified Coding Specialist (CCS) or the Certified Coding Specialist Physician Based (CCS-P) certifications.

Medical coding interview questions

One of the ways to become a medical coder is to successfully clear your interview round. Below are a few typical medical coding interview questions.

What is medical coding?

Medical coding is the procedure of analyzing the clinical statement of patients and assigning them standard code as specified by the classifying system.

Government, private healthcare organizations, and international agencies use the information for studies and research. Insurance companies use the data to process and reimburse claims.

What are the different phases of clinical code?

The different phases of clinical codes are-

  • Abstraction – The coders read the complete records of the patient to learn what conditions the patient had? What caused it? How was it treated?
  • Assignment – Coders find the correct code for each procedure and enter it into the system.

Ideally, we need to assign codes to everything that is coded but avoid going overboard.

What are HCPCS codes?

HPCS or Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System has three levels-

  • Level 1 codes are CPT codes that identify the medical services and procedures ordered by the physician or licensed medical professional.
  • Level II codes are 5 character alphanumeric codes with one alpha and four numbers to identify products, supplies, and services not included in CPT.
  • Level III codes are local 5 character alphanumeric codes that begin with W, X, Y, or Z used when there is no Level I or II codes available to specify an activity or diagnosis.

What are HCPCS modifiers used?

HCPCS modifiers are used when we provide additional information about services and procedures performed on patients. The codes allow you to –

  • Specify the area of the body which went through the procedure.
  • If multiple procedures were carried out in the same visit.
  • If a procedure was discontinued for a reason.

What are DRG codes?

DRG or Diagnostic Related Group can classify hospital cases into one of the approximately 500 set groups. The code is used for inpatient claims. The DRG has a payment weight attached to it to include various factors like geographical locations and cost of living.

How to become a medical coder without experience?

To answer the question of how to become a medical coder without experience, you need to earn a Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT) credential. While this does not ask for the experience it calls for at least an associate degree in healthcare administration from a CAHIIM accredited college/university.

Medical coder training

Medical coders can earn core skills either through a college degree or certification. It is important to ensure the program is accredited. The training prepares students to work in different medical settings.

How long does it take to become a medical coder?

The duration to become a medical coder will depend on educational pathways.

  • Certification programs take 9 to 20 months.
  • Associate degree in healthcare administration takes 2 years.
  • Bachelor’s degree in healthcare administration or healthcare information management takes 4 years.

Irrespective of the education you need to complete certification programs. You can obtain accreditation available through the –

  • American Health Informatics Management Association (AHIMA)
  • The Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education (CAHIIM),
  • American Association of Professional Coders (AAPC).

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