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What Does a Medical Coder Do? A Behind-the-Scenes Look

Nov 30, 2016 | Harrison College

What Does a Medical Coder Do? A Behind-the-Scenes Look

Healthcare is such a broad field that it can feel overwhelming from the outside looking in. Hundreds of healthcare roles exist, specializing in all aspects of human health and everything that goes along with it. The lifesaving work the healthcare industry provides is in demand and projected to grow much faster than all other industries.

If you’re hoping to make a change in your career and capitalize on healthcare industry growth, consider the important but often-overlooked role of the medical coder. These healthcare professionals work behind the scenes to help support healthcare staff each time you visit your doctor’s office.

But what does a medical coder do and how do they fit into the healthcare system? Keep reading to learn more about this in-demand, entry-level healthcare career.

What is medical coding?

When you visit your doctor, you might come in contact with a medical assistant, a nurse and a doctor. But there is more going on behind the scenes that you may not realize. Whenever you go in for a checkup or visit a hospital, your medical insurance company receives a bill detailing what procedures were performed or what conditions were diagnosed. This ensures that healthcare providers are properly compensated for the services they provide.

But before the bill is sent off for processing, it must first be coded. That’s when medical coding comes in. Medical coders are healthcare professionals who review physicians’ medical notes and translate them into medical codes: Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) codes and International Classification of Disease (ICD-10) codes. There are thousands of these codes representing different medical procedures and diagnoses.

What are some daily duties of medical coders?

Now that you have a basic understanding of what medical coding is, you may be wondering what a typical day is like for a medical coder. The day-to-day work of medical coders tends to be independent in nature. They begin each shift by reviewing the medical notes from the previous day that need to be coded. They review the medical notes one by one, reading each patient’s documentation to get a better understanding of the procedures that were performed or the conditions that were diagnosed.

Medical coders then translate the physician’s notes into both CPT and ICD-10 medical codes and enter those codes into the billing system. Most medical charts are rather straightforward, but sometimes a medical coder will run into more complex physician notes and may need to do a little investigating. In these cases, coders need to consult coding guidelines, medical staff and online resources to ensure they use the correct code.

The types of procedures or diagnoses medical coders come across depend largely on their type of employer — whether that’s a large or small facility, a medical clinic or area of specialization. Regardless of the work environment, the daily duties of a medical coder typically involve: reviewing charts, taking notes, translating them into medical codes and entering them into a billing system.

Where do medical coders work?

Medical coders are an essential piece of the healthcare puzzle, which is why they have such a favorable job outlook. Jobs in this field are projected to grow 15 percent through 2024, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is more than twice the average rate for all occupations!

The reason for this promising forecast is that every medical facility that bills insurance providers relies on medical coders to complete the process. They are employed at hospitals, doctor’s offices, surgery centers, clinics and just about every healthcare facility imaginable. Some medical coders even execute their work remotely from the comfort of their own homes.

While their work location may determine which type of cases they code, the medical coder’s role remains relatively standard wherever they work.

How do you become a medical coder?

If you’re intrigued by what medical coders do, you may be wondering what it takes to become one. Unlike some healthcare careers, you can start working in this in-demand position fairly quickly.

To become a medical coder, you’ll need to enroll in and graduate from a medical coding program. You have options here — both diploma and degree programs cater to medical coding. A medical billing and coding diploma can generally be obtained in less than two years.

No matter which path you pursue for your education, you should also consider earning your medical coder certification. This will show potential employers you’re serious about your profession and committed to going the extra mile in the field.

Now what?

So, what does a medical coder do? Now you know the significant role these professionals play in the healthcare system.

Does this behind-the-scenes healthcare profession sound like the change you’ve been looking for? Capitalize on the growth in healthcare and the growing demand for medical coders by checking out our Medical Billing and Coding page to learn more.

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