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The Healthcare Industry's Best-Kept Secret: Medical Billing and Coding

What if you could have a healthcare career without long years in medical school? And what if you never had to work the night shift at a hospital or clinic to get your foot in the medical door? In fact, you can have the gains of an in-demand career in the medical sector without the pains of years of study and dues-paying–if you study medical billing and coding, the healthcare careers that defy expectations.

Around 170,000 medical billers and coders were employed across the country in 2006, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The growing healthcare industry needs proficient medical records technicians, and career training programs are rising to meet the demand. But who are these healthcare workers, and why are they so vital to the industry?

Medical Records and Health Information Technicians
You’re not likely to see medical billers and coders on a trip to the doctor’s office. They won’t take your temperature or help you schedule your next appointment. However, these trained technicians play an essential role in your overall treatment. Consider how many of the following facilities are in your area:

Medical records and health information technicians are necessary to keep all of the above healthcare providers running. In larger facilities, it’s not uncommon to have an entire department of billers and coders devoted to patient records and procedures.

Distilling Paperwork into One File
Take a standard visit to the emergency room. A man arrives with a broken leg, and before the patient is even seen by a doctor, his health insurance and other information is recorded by the front desk. Drug allergies and symptoms are recorded by the medical assistant, who sends an x-ray request to the laboratory. The doctor confirms the break on the x-ray, and makes sure that the leg does not require further stabilization. Materials for a cast are ordered, the leg is set and cast by a different assistant, and the patient is sent home with a prescription for pain medication.

Each step of the process is recorded, translated into Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) code, and organized so that procedures, physicians, assistants, and materials can be properly compensated. Remove this process, and hospitals would become a mess of paperwork, overcharged patients, and slow service. Without the streamlining effect of accurate billing and coding, the patient with the broken leg might have to wait days for care.

Accurate Billing Is a High Priority
When the coding and billing process is completed incorrectly, patients, hospitals, and insurance companies may be overcharged or underpaid. According to the consumer advocate group Medical Billing Advocates of America, patients with $2,000 or more in out-of-pocket expenses are twice as likely to discover errors in their billing statement. Consequently, medical billers with a reputation for accuracy are sought-after and valued.

Accurate billing and coding procedures are necessary to streamline the process, reduce patient frustration and overbilling, and alleviate the burden already placed on the healthcare industry. One improper bill can lead to years of frustration and even lawsuits. So, billers and coders need solid technical training to fulfill their duties effectively.

High Technician Salaries Reflect Training
Courses in medical billing and coding take from nine months to two years to complete. During that time, students learn medical terminology, legal aspects of health information, health data standards, database management, and more.

The reward for this technical training is a career profile increasing faster than the average for all careers through 2016, very good job prospects, and the potential for a stable salary. Here are the median annual salaries for medical records and health information technicians, as reported to the BLS in 2006, organized by the type of institution employing the technician:

While no training program can guarantee a particular career or salary, hiring managers in the field generally prefer or require employees to be formally trained prior to hire.

Advancement and the Home Office
For medical billers and coders, career advancement requires people skills, excellent organizational ability and the desire to learn new skill sets. Technicians with these qualities may move into management positions. With the right credentials, the following positions may be available:

Management positions for former technicians are most likely to be found in smaller facilities. In large hospitals or clinics, directors typically hold a bachelor’s degree in medical records and health information administration. Further technical specialization is also an option for experienced technicians, who may receive career training in the following fields:

Advanced medical billers, coders, and transcriptionists may even have a chance to work from home. Transcriptionists, who listen to dictated medical recordings and transcribe them into medical reports, are most likely to telecommute.

The Appeal of Technical Training
The BLS notes that many employers prefer to hire medical billers and coders with Registered Health Information Technicians (RHIT) certification. Part of this process requires graduation from a 2-year associate degree program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education (CAHIIM).

If you already have an employer or school in mind, ask about their accrediting and hiring standards before enrolling in a course. Smaller facilities or those in high-need areas may not hold the same accreditation standards for potential employees.

Training Enhances Your Career Profile
Degree and certificate programs in medical billing and coding are a popular choice for both on-campus and online career training programs. Students who value face-to-face interaction may consider finding a local campus, while self-motivated students with other time commitments may prefer the asynchronous aspect of online learning.

The BLS observes that, while hospitals sometimes advance health information clerks to jobs as medical records and health information technicians, the practice may grow less common in the future. Training in medical billing and coding not only gives you the skills you need to complete the job proficiently, but it can impress hiring managers looking for skilled employees.

Publish date: June 24, 2008