Medical Billing & Coding Schools
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One healthcare career that demands accuracy and highly specialized knowledge is the medical billing and coding field. This is an especially attractive profession for those who want to work in healthcare but do not want extensive patient-facing responsibilities. Medical billers and coders occupy one subfield of health information technology. They ensure that health services, diagnoses, and clinical procedures are recorded properly in patients’ health records. It is important to note that health information technicians (HITs) are closely related and typically take on medical billing and coding as part of their jobs, among other responsibilities. Medical billers and coders’ important work requires a thorough and working knowledge of the unique codes used for patient care, insurance, and billing documentation. A mistake could have damaging medical and financial consequences for patients, healthcare providers, and insurance companies. Therefore, a comprehensive education in medical billing and coding is a must.
Medical billers and coders work in a myriad medical environments, yet according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2017), a sizeable majority report to hospitals and physicians’ offices. Because this is a computer-based profession, many medical billers and coders can even do their jobs from home. The same is true of their training: online medical billing and coding programs are abundant throughout the country. Regardless of their work environment, these professionals must exercise discretion to protect patient privacy. Other important qualities employers look for in medical billers and coders include:
Strong attention to detail
As important as these attributes are in today’s job market, education still has the biggest impact on one’s career potential. This article details the various medical billing and coding programs, including a discussion of online schools, accreditation, and professional certification in this growing career field.
Medical Coding & Billing Program Accreditation
Most medical billing and coding jobs require a postsecondary certificate or associate degree, as well as professional certification. According to the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA), a degree typically draws better employment and credentialing opportunities. Nonetheless, postsecondary certificates offer faster workforce-entry and may meet coding certification requirements. Additionally, the flexibility of online medical billing and coding programs make either option more accessible, especially for working professionals.
Potential applicants should note that some medical billing and coding programs are clearly titled as such, while others offer degrees in health information technology. Prospective students should research the applications of specific degrees so they do not limit their options unnecessarily. Health information and health informatics are related but distinct majors.
Prospective students weighing medical billing and coding programs should be aware of factors that impact program value and accessibility, including school accreditation status and, for online colleges, state authorization.
Future coding specialists looking for reliable, respected learning options should not overlook the importance of accreditation. Accredited online medical billing and coding degree programs have been reviewed by a third-party organization to confirm they comply with quality standards in areas like instruction and finances. Many admissions boards, credentialing organizations, and employers only consider candidates with accredited degrees. Medical coding and billing schools are subject to national, regional, and programmatic accreditation. National and regional accreditation are applicable to an institution as a whole while programmatic accreditation applies only to the medical billing and coding program. Schools publish accreditation information online, but it never hurts to verify accreditation status with the school directly. Following are some of the accrediting agencies one should look for when assessing programs:
- Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC)
- Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training (ACCET)
- Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC)
- Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
- Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
- New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC)
- Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC)
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
- American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA)
- Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education (CAHIIM)
- American Association of Professional Coders, now exclusively referred to as AAPC
Anyone considering an online medical billing or coding program should first research its state authorization status. All states regulate which schools can enroll their residents. Therefore, a student living in a particular state might be able to attend an online school based in some states but not others. States may make exceptions for public universities, regionally accredited programs, or other circumstantces. Online colleges usually list relevant state authorization information on their official websites. Students who cannot find such a page should contact the school directly before beginning the admissions process to verify that they will be able to enroll.
Medical Billing and Coding Programs – On-Campus
Medical coding training schools vary widely. Some institutions offer exclusively brick-and-mortar experiences rather than distance-based coursework. The following programs are some of those designed for face-to-face instruction. Each program listed below has been accredited by the CAHIIM, which may be critical for future employment, advanced program admissions, and professional certification.
Associate of Applied Science in Health Information Technology at Oakton Community College
Oakton Community College’s AAS in health information technology is just one of the many training options at public community and technical colleges. Oakton describes its HIT program as an intersection of the medical, computer technology, and information management disciplines. Courses emphasize many aspects of healthcare data, electronic health records, and the management of health information. Students can attend full-time during the day or part-time in the evenings. According to OCC, HIT graduates are familiar with ICD-10 and Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) coding systems and ready to pursue Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT) certification (more on this later). While the AAS in health information technology is primarily campus-based, students can complete some coursework online. OCC also offers a 16-unit medical coding and billing certificate.
- Locations: Des Plaines, IL; Skokie, IL
- Cost: About $137 per semester credit hour for district residents, $367 per semester hour for non-district Illinois residents
- CAHIIM accredited: Yes
Medical Coder/Biller Certificate at Sante Fe College
Santa Fe College’s medical coder/biller certificate is a postsecondary credential ideal for rising and entry-level professionals alike. According to SFC, MC/B students enrolled in this 34-unit program will feel just as comfortable with medical reference books as with a computer. Coursework includes topics such as anatomy, diseases, and medical billing software, plus practical instruction in two different disease classification systems. Students can choose between SFC’s one-year (full-time) or two-year (part-time) programs. All credits transfer to the institution’s AS in health information technology; an audit of the remaining 37 units of coursework is available online.
- Location: Gainesville, FL
- Cost: $77 per credit hour for district residents
- CAHIIM accredited: Yes
Bachelor of Science in Health Information Management at Coppin State University
Coppin State University’s HIM program gives students an opportunity to earn a bachelor of science (BS) degree while learning the fundamentals of medical billing and coding. Students pursuing its BS in HIM degree will master entry-level skills in the discipline at a higher level than an associate degree program would allow. For example, CSU says its students are specialists in managing patient data, verifying medical information is complete and confidential, and assigning health codes for insurance and research purposes. Coursework also prepares learners to enhance the quality of health information, support administrative decision-making, and devise procedures that improve information security, giving graduates more critical skills that can come in handy when seeking post-graduation employment. When CSU conducted a survey of program graduates, 100 percent of respondents said they were satisfied with the University’s HIM program.
- Location: Hagerstown, MD (near Baltimore)
- Cost: $395 per unit in tuition and fees.
- CAHIIM accredited: Yes
Online Medical Billing and Coding Programs
The computer-centric nature of medical billing and coding makes it a solid fit for online learning and, in turn, a flexible alternative for working professionals. Like campus-based schools, online colleges can vary considerably in areas like coursework, cost, content delivery, and more. Online medical billing and coding schools offer postsecondary certificates, associate degrees, bachelor’s degrees, and some master’s degrees. Many programs are accredited by the CAHIIM and designed with professional credentials in mind.
Online Associate of Science in Health Information Technology at Albany State University
According to Albany State University, graduates of its distance-based AS in health information technology include medical and clinical coding specialists but graduates have also gone on to work as health data analysts, patient information coordinators, and physician practice managers. To phrase it differently, ASU’s HIT degree can accommodate a wide range of career goals. The flexible, 100 percent online program prepares students for RHIT certification (addressed at length below). Coursework covers essential workplace skills like communication and computer savvy while exploring medical coding, health information systems software, quality assessment, and legal and ethical HIT standards.
- Campus location: Albany, GA
- Cost: $118 per credit for online programs
- Required campus visits: None, though area students can choose to take labs at an ASU location
- CAHIIM accredited: Yes
Online Bachelor of Science in Health Information Administration at Dakota State University
Dakota State University’s online BS in health information administration offers broad but thorough education in medical coding, analysis, and computer information systems. Much like like Coppin State University’s campus-based BS in HIT, DSU’s bachelor’s program prepares students for careers in medical coding, including administrative positions, as well as for RHIT certification. Instruction is delivered via webcasting and other online learning technologies while courses integrate common health information software. Though SDU’s HIA program is based online, the university works to provide networking and practical training opportunities. Dakota State warns the program is quite selective and requires prior health information technology study or RHIT certification.
- Campus location: Madison, SD
- Cost: $340.05 per credit hour
- Required campus visits: None; students can complete the program’s supervised professional practice close to home
- CAHIIM accredited: Yes
Online Certificate in Medical Billing and Coding from Drexel University
Drexel University’s postsecondary six-course certificate in medical billing and coding an accelerated program delivered 100 percent online. The University indicates the program is ideal for future and current medical information specialists looking for an edge in the job market. Students will learn how to use four different coding systems, including ICD-10. Graduates are eligible to sit for certification exams from the American Medical Billing Association (AMBA), APPC, and AHIMA, or can apply credits toward DU’s online BS in health information technology. Drexel notes that most participants can complete the program within one academic year.
- Campus location: Philadelphia
- Cost: $834 per credit
- Required campus visits: None
- CAHIIM accredited: Yes
Medical Billing and Coding Courses
Organizations like the AHIMA devise medical billing and coding curricular objectives that align with workforce needs and future training or credentialing opportunities. Most schools try to create programs that meet those recommendations, which creates some standardization across their curricula. This is true for postsecondary certificates and degrees, online or on-campus.
The following courses are a sampling of common medical billing and coding courses picked from real programs across the US:
- Anatomy for the medical office specialist: This foundational anatomy and physiology course is geared toward medical coders specifically. Many advanced HIT programs and certifications require formal anatomy training.
- Foundations of medical coding: Foundations of medical coding speaks to the core of medical billing and coding. In this course, students begin learning the ICD-10 and other common coding systems they will rely upon in the field.
- Medical billing software: Medical billing technology training is essential in the ongoing march toward fully electronic medical records. This course explores some of the most popular programs used to record charges, post payments, and design and generate reports.
- Physician- or Hospital-based coding: Setting-specific classes not only cultivate specialized, job-centered skills but also prepare students for career advancement and certification. Coursework focuses primarily on non-ICD coding systems graduates might encounter in the field.
- Certified Coding Associate (CCA) exam prep: Certified Coding Associate is an entry-level professional certification that verifies important skills and knowledge. Some CCA exam prep classes are a standard part of associate medical coding degree programs; others are optional or offered independently. The CCA and other common coding credentials are discussed in depth below.
Job prospects are bright for medical billing and coding specialists: the BLS projects that demand for these professionals will grow 13 percent between 2016 and 2026—nearly twice the national average for all careers, which stands at 7 percent (BLS 2017). The Southern California Health Institute (SoCHI) credits many factors for driving demand. Among them:
- Medical advancements: Improved medical care continues to lengthen lifespans and, in turn, the number of patients who are seeking medical care.
- An aging population: The sizeable Baby Boomer generation only adds to the already-growing patient population.
- Industry changes: Medical coding and billing specialists around the world use the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD) coding system. The ninth version of the ICD (ICD-9) was recently replaced by ICD-10, sparking demand for coders fluent in the system.
- Health care reform: Recent US health care reforms expanded the number of patients with health insurance. More access means more services, tests, and procedures.
- An existing shortage: SoCHI suggests all of the trends listed above only exacerbate an ongoing shortage of qualified medical coders and billers.
Resume-Builders for Medical Billing and Coding Specialists
Medical billing and coding specialists are in demand, yet some candidates enjoy better employment prospects than others. The BLS and AHIMA cite several variables that impact one’s employability and advancement potential. Among them:
- Professional certification: Employers are more likely to hire candidates with health information certifications like the Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT) credential.
- Education: Not surprisingly, more advanced degrees usually win more career opportunities and bigger paychecks. Professionally certified candidates with associate or bachelor’s degrees fare best in this field.
- Technical skills: The shift from paper to electronic health records demands greater computer expertise and fluency with ICD-10 and other coding systems.
- Continuing education: Medical billers and coders who invest in ongoing training show employers that they are serious about their work and will keep up with changes in the field.
Medical Billing & Coding Credentialing
Most employers only consider professionally certified medical billers and coders. Note that professional certification and postsecondary certificates are two different credentials: the former recognizes specialized knowledge in the field rather than education alone. In addition to its benefits to the healthcare system as a whole, health information certification is associated with better employment rates, higher earnings, and quicker advancement. Following are some of the most common medical billing and coding certifications available to qualified candidates.
Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT)
The Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT) certification is an advanced AHIMA credential accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA). Eligibility requirements are steeper than most certificates, which makes the RHIT more desirable than many other credentials. The RHIT recognizes HIT professionals who demonstrate professional and technical expertise in their respective fields; comprehensive knowledge of HIT medical, administrative, ethical and legal standards; strong management skills; and effective collaboration with colleagues from all levels of an organization.
- At least an associate degree from a medical billing and coding or health information technology program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education (CAHIM)
- A passing scale score of 300 (of 400) or better on the RHIT certification exam
Certified Coding Associate (CCA)
The Certified Coding Associate is an entry-level AHIMA-NCCA credential explicitly for medical coding specialists. CCA-certified coders are competent in all industry standards, in all healthcare settings, and demonstrate leadership potential.
- A high school diploma or equivalent
- A scaled score of at least 300 out of 400 on the CCA exam
NOTE: The AHIMA encourages CCA candidates to seek at least six months of direct coding experience or an accredited coding program before applying.
Certified Coding Specialist (CCS)
The AHIMA’s Certified Coding Specialist certification is a mastery-level credential for experienced coders skilled in classifying accurate medical information. Certified professionals are fluent not only in the ICD-10 but also in medical technology, disease prevention, and pharmacology.
CCS candidates must pass the official CCS exam with a score of 300 or better (out of 400). They must also meet one of the following conditions:
- Current RHIT or CCS-P certification (see below)
- CCA certification plus one year of direct coding experience
- At least two years of direct coding experience
- College coursework in: anatomy and physiology, pathophysiology, pharmacology, medical terminology, reimbursement methodology, and others
Certified Coding Specialist – Physician-Based (CCS-P)
The CCS-P is a mastery-level AHIMA certification like the CCS, but it is specifically designed for coders who work in physician-based settings like doctors’ offices, group practices, or specialty clinics. Certified professionals demonstrate in-depth knowledge of the Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) coding system and working knowledge of ICD-10 and Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System (HCPCS) – Level II systems.
All CCS-P candidates must pass the formal CCS-P exam with a score of at least 300 (of 400). They must also meet one of the following training or experience requirements:
- Current RHIT or CCS certification
- CCA certification + one year of direct coding experience
- At least two years of professional coding experience
- College coursework in: anatomy and physiology, pathophysiology, pharmacology, medical terminology, and reimbursement methodology, among others