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MEDICAL CODER

If you want to fulfill a vital role in health care but don't want to be a doctor or nurse, becoming a health information coder could be a great way to go.

Medical Coder

Doctors and nurses aren't the only important people in health care. Without health information coders or other medical administrative support careers, hospitals and doctor offices everywhere may struggle with efficiency and the workflow process. Medical coders — who are also referred to as health information coders or health information technicians — are responsible for the following duties:

Reviewing patient records and information for preexisting conditions and other details.

Assigning the correct code when recording patient procedures and services.

Working as a liaison between billing offices and health care providers.

Because the position is so vital to health facilities, it's no surprise then that the salary is sustainable and the job outlook promising. Perhaps best of all, this career doesn't require extensive training or schooling. In addition, online medical coder classes are available to make it easy to gain necessary skills and knowledge from the comfort of your own home.

If you want to fulfill a vital role in health care but don't want to be a doctor or nurse, becoming a health information coder could be a great way to go.

College iconHow Much do Medical Coders Make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), medical records and health information technicians in the U.S. earned a mean annual wage of $38,860 in 2014, with the lowest-paid 10 percent earning an annual wage of $23,340 or less and the highest-paid 10 percent earning an annual wage of at least $59,160.

The type of industry you're in can affect how much you earn as a health information coder. The top-paying industries in the United States for health information coders as of May 2014 were:

  • Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing: $50,170 annual mean wage
  • Drugs and druggists' sundries merchant wholesalers: $49,520 annual mean wage
  • Legal services: $48,680 annual mean wage

Pay also varies among different locations. The top-paying states in the United States for health information coders as of May 2014, per the BLS, were:

  • District of Columbia: $69,100 annual mean wage
  • New Jersey: $59,740 annual mean wage
  • Hawaii: $46,350 annual mean wage

The top-paying metropolitan areas in the United States for medical coders as of May 2014 were split between New Jersey and California. They include:

  • Newark-Union, NJ-PA Metropolitan Division: $65,020 annual mean wage
  • Edison-New Brunswick, NJ Metropolitan Division: $59,610 annual mean wage
  • Santa Cruz-Watsonville, CA: $57,160 annual mean wage

Checkmark iconOccupational Requirements and Job Types

Medical coders need postsecondary education, but they don't necessarily need a degree. A certificate in medical coding or health information technology may be sufficient for many jobs in the field. Some coders prefer to earn an associate degree in health information technology in order to gain comprehensive skills or earn credits that could eventually be used for a bachelor's degree.

Beyond having the right education, medical coders should also possess the following qualities:

  • Analytical skills
  • Integrity
  • Technical skills
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Being detail-oriented

Professionals in the field who want to specialize may become cancer registrars, health information specialists who work exclusively with cancer care providers and patients.

Another way coders may distinguish themselves from their peers is to earn a professional certification. For example, the AAPC offers a number of credentials including Certified Professional Coder, Certified Outpatient Coding and a number of specialty coding certifications for areas such as internal medicine, dermatology and chiropractic.

Projected Career Growth for Medical Coders

Employment of medical records and health information technicians (the overall category that includes health information coders) is expected to grow much faster than the average for all occupations. According to the BLS, employment of medical records and health information technicians is expected to grow by 22 percent between 2012 and 2022 — that comes out to 41,100 new jobs nationally over the course of that decade.

In explaining the projected growth, the BLS states, "An aging population will need more medical tests, treatments, and procedures. This will mean more claims for reimbursement from insurance companies. Additional records, coupled with widespread use of electronic health records (EHRs) by all types of healthcare providers, could lead to an increased need for technicians to organize and manage the associated information in all areas of the healthcare industry."

State labor department data, collected by Projections Central, shows which states have the highest projected growth for medical records and health information technicians between 2012 and 2022. This list includes:

  • Utah (32.9 percent)
  • Texas (29.6 percent)
  • Louisiana (28.8 percent)

If you want to fulfill a vital role in health care but don't want to be a doctor or nurse, becoming a health information coder could be a great way to go. There are plenty of health information coding schools or health care administration degrees to choose from to start you toward that path, and many of them offer online education opportunities in additional to traditional on-campus programs.

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Sources

1. Long Term Occupational Projections for Medical Records and Health Information Technicians, Projections Central, http://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm
2. Occupational Employment and Wages, Occupational Employment Statistics, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, May 2013, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes292071.htm
3. Medical Records and Health Information Technicians, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Jan. 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/medical-records-and-health-information-technicians.htm#tab-1
4. Medical Coding Certification, AAPC, https://www.aapc.com/certification/medical-coding-certification.aspx