When most people think of the healthcare field, they imagine doctors, nurses, and other care providers. They envision surgery, pediatric checkups, and vaccines. The truth is that all this hands-on care is supported by a hands-off field: medical billing and coding. It should be no surprise, then, that online education is a viable—and increasingly common—route to becoming a medical biller and coder.
Online programs are legitimate learning platforms, says Robyn Korn, MBA, RHIA, CPHQ, an adjunct instructor of medical coding at Purdue University Global who teaches in an online program. “The question is not whether or not online education is worthwhile; it’s whether or not it’s a good fit for you as a learner.”
In an online program, you’ll cover the same education required in the classroom. The difference lies in the delivery of that education.
Online programs offer the flexibility for many students who continue to work, care for family, and maintain other responsibilities outside school.
How Do Online Programs Differ from Traditional Programs?
In general, online programs are just as thorough as traditional ones. You’ll cover the same topics remotely as you would in person.
Beyond the basics of what you’ll learn, though, online and in-person programs diverge. While in-person programs fit the traditional mold of higher education—pick your classes, show up to lectures, hand in homework—online programs are more flexible.
Unlike in-person programs, online programs:
Offer digital instruction:
- Lectures and lessons may be pre-recorded or offered live.
Collect assignments and assessments online:
- Homework and exams are completed or turned in via digital platforms.
Are available anywhere:
- Students can enroll in online programs, regardless of where they live.
What are the Pros and Cons of Online Programs?
“Students can certainly learn medical billing and coding online,” Korn says. “It’s up to students to find the type of program they can learn best in.”
To determine if an online medical billing and coding program is a good option for you, consider the pros and cons of these attributes.
Walk through courses at your own pace
Pros: While most medical billing and coding online courses map out deadlines for assignments and dates for exams, you have control over how best to fit the work into your life.
Cons: This independence can cause some students to struggle if they’re used to the outside accountability of doing coursework at a pre-determined time.
Fit classes into your own schedule
Pros: Have you ever wanted to take a class, but the timing didn’t work with your other commitments? Many online courses are time-independent, which enables you to take the courses you need—regardless of when you can fit them in.
Interact with peers and instructors
Pros: Contrary to what you might expect, many students find they actually communicate more with instructors and classmates than they would in a traditional classroom setting. Message boards, live chats, and discussion threads often widen the number of people you connect with.
Cons: People who struggle with making connections online, and who prefer face-to-face interaction, may not enjoy digital discussions.
Choose a program based on fit, not geography
Pros: Many schools offer online courses in medical billing and coding. When you attend online, you can choose the school that seems best for you instead of picking between programs that are nearby.
Cons: The sheer number of options can feel overwhelming to someone picking an online program.
Access education from anywhere
Pros: When you learn online, you can attend class and complete assignments wherever you have an internet connection. You can take your studies with you while you travel—or when you want the option of studying from the café or couch.
Cons: The ability to learn on the go can make it hard to focus on your education. If you try balancing too many things—travel, school, other responsibilities—you may spread yourself too thin.
What Degrees Are Available Online?
Online programs for medical billing and coding are increasingly common. This is enabling more people to enter the field and help meet the increasing demand for billers and coders in the healthcare industry.
All types of programs—diploma or certificate, associate degrees, and bachelor’s degrees—are available online. Some are offered from schools or programs that have a main in-person location. Others are entirely online.
Which type of online medical billing and coding degrees you want to pursue depends on several factors. You’ll weigh how quickly you want to finish, what positions you want (e.g., entry level vs management), your finances, and the range of career options you’d like.
Diploma or Certificate
A medical billing and coding program that offers a diploma or certificate isn’t technically a “degree.” That said, this quick option can help you start working as a biller or coder in as little as nine months. It will prepare you for taking an exam that can lead to credentials that will help you be more competitive in the job market.
Prerequisites: High school diploma or GED, meet minimum scores on standardized tests such as ACT or SAT
Courses/curriculum: Anatomy and physiology, medical terminology, patient privacy, disease classification, and coding
Time to complete: Nine to 12 months
A middle-of-the-road option, an associate degree, takes longer than a diploma or certificate but less time than a bachelor’s. Like shorter programs, you’ll learn the practical skills needed to work as a biller and coder. You’ll also take additional courses to better understand the healthcare industry.
Prerequisites: High school diploma or GED, minimum GPA (often 2.0 or above). Some require prerequisite coursework such as anatomy and physiology.
Courses/curriculum: Medical terminology, pharmacology, diagnostic coding, procedural coding, ethics.
Time to complete: Two years
A bachelor’s degree takes the longest of these options but also offers the most flexibility for your career path. You will learn coding and billing skills as well as other know-how that can transfer to other jobs, such as a medical data analyst or medical records technician. If you’re interested in this route, look for online bachelor’s degree programs in health information management or healthcare administration.
A bachelor’s degree can help set you up to pursue management positions after you earn needed experience.
Prerequisites: High school diploma or GED and minimum scores on standardized examinations such as ACT or SAT. The application process may also include essay questions, recommendations, and interviews with admissions staff.
Courses/curriculum: Health information management, healthcare delivery systems, medical terminology, healthcare reimbursement, personnel management, anatomy, and physiology.
Time to complete: Four years or as little as two years if you are transferring credits or already have an associate degree in a related field
You’re Trained. Now What?
When you finish an online program for medical billing and coding, the next step is to celebrate! It takes a lot of effort, time, and dedication to prepare for a career in this field.
Once you’re trained in an online program, you can immediately begin applying for entry-level jobs. You can also take an exam to become certified. This requires additional coursework and/or passing an exam, and it can improve your chances of landing a competitive job.
Regardless, you should be proud: Your education has prepared you for the responsibilities and rewards of working as a medical biller and coder. You can find satisfaction in knowing that this field helps medical providers do their job and patients get the care they need.
What Can I Earn?
At this point, you may be wondering how much you can earn as a medical biller and coder. If you complete your education online, your salary is not likely to differ from those who studied in person.
Other factors affect your earnings, though. Your level of education, where you live and work, and whether you work as a biller, a coder, or a biller/coder, impact compensation. As you decide on your educational path, look into salary ranges and options for medical billers and coders.