Medical Billing and Coding Careers

What does a medical biller and coder do? Get an overview of medical billing and coding careers.

It's a Growing Field

what does a medical biller coder do

As insurance companies and health care agencies require more highly detailed records of services provided to patients, the need for medical billing and coding career professionals has grown rapidly.

"It's become so specialized, with so many rules and regulations, it takes a lot of training to do it right," reported Linda McNeil, the president-elect of a Seattle chapter of the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPA).

"At the hospital where I work, we require certification within six months of employment."

Medical Billing Certification and Training

Certification allows new medical coding professionals to demonstrate their skills, even before they have experience in the field, and certified coders command higher salaries than those who lack credentials. Several levels of medical billing and coding career certification are available, all requiring formal training. Programs of study in medical coding take one to two years to complete. Additional specialty certification is available for coders already working in the field. Certified coders must earn continuing education credits each year to maintain their status.

Students aspiring to medical billing and coding careers take classes in several areas:

  • Writing and interpersonal communication
  • Computer skills and the conventions of the coding system itself
  • Anatomy
  • Disease
  • Pharmacology
  • Health care management
  • Biology, science and medical care

What Medical Billing and Coding Career Professionals Do

Medical coders assign alphanumeric codes to specific illnesses, injuries and medical procedures, under a system of medical coding that is used across the health care system, from doctors' offices and hospitals to insurance companies, federal agencies and international organizations. Hospitals and doctors use the codes for internal data collection and planning, while insurance companies and public agencies require the codes to reimburse health care providers.

Patience and Determination is a Must

Medical billing and coding career professionals need patience and the ability to focus on details as well as problem solve. "You have to be an investigator," said Madeline Garrett, a medical coder in a mid-size hospital. "You're solving a mystery to find this person's most important diagnostic." Her colleague, Linda McNeil agreed. "Coders have to be really aware when they translate from medical language to coding. You're a little detective, figuring out which part of a report is important for the coding," she said.

In smaller settings, where medical billing and coding positions may include contact with patients, families, doctors and insurance companies, the position demands determination. "You can't take no for an answer—you have to be aggressive," said Lisa Horton, a medical coder in a private physician's office. "You need to be understanding, but still authoritative, not too timid."

Growth and Change in Medical Billing and Coding Careers

McNeil anticipates continued growth and change for medical billing and coding careers. "It's growing very fast. Some codes change every year, and soon they'll upgrade all of the diagnosis codes. It takes work to keep up with what's current. Our organization (AAPA) provides newsletters, training, networking and meetings." She also notes changes in the medical coding work force. "A lot of women work in the field, but I see men breaking into it more."

Education and Career Guide