How to Get Into Medical Coding at Home
Medical coding is one of those jobs that many people would love to do from home. It’s not easy to get into, however. Worse, there are scams out there aimed at people who want to do medical coding from home and just need a little help getting started. With the right training and experience, it is possible to get into medical coding at home.
Find a Medical Coding School
The first thing you need to do is find a reputable medical coding school. Don’t fall for promises of quick training and an easy path to a job. There are scams out there. Research any schools you’re considering. I suggest looking at schools approved by AHIMA. They have approved several online and local programs for you to consider.
For online courses, I recommend Career Step. I’ve recommended them for years for medical transcription training, but they also offer training in medical coding, as well as other programs. You can complete the course at home on your own schedule – just be aware that your initial enrollment lasts one year. Their program can be completed in as little as 4 months, but needing 8 months is not uncommon. They are on AHIMA’s list.
What Medical Coding Certifications Are Available?
There are several medical coding certifications available. Many employers will require specific certifications, while others are more flexible. Getting at least one certification can be a help in finding medical coding jobs. They are not required by all employers, but they qualify you for jobs you might not have qualified for otherwise.
You become certified by taking a test to show you are competent as a medical coder at the level required. AHIMA and AAPC offer certifications for medical coders. Qualification to test for a certification depends on a combination of training and experience.
You do not need every certification. As your career goes, figure out which ones will give you the most opportunities and ignore the rest. You will probably want one of the basic certifications, such as a CCA, but you do not have to get any if you find a job that doesn’t require them.
CCA (Certified Coding Associate) – CCA is a coding certificate suitable for new medical coders. It’s a two hour test, and you may be able to pass it right after you finish your training. It is offered by AHIMA.
CCS (Certified Coding Specialist) – The CCS certification is offered by AHIMA and is for coders with some experience. Usually, you need at least of coding experience after your training to get this certification. If you don’t get your CCA or similar credential, you will need at least two years of coding experience to qualify. Having a RHIA, RHIT or CCS-P also qualifies you.
CCS-P (Certified Coding Specialist – Physician Based) – The CCP-P credential is for coders who work in physician based settings, such as physician offices or specialty centers. This certification is for those who have mastered their coding skills, not for those who have just begun.
CPC (Certified Professional Coder) – The CPC certification is offered by AAPC. The AAPC says it is the most recognized medical coding certification in the industry. The full certification requires two years of coding experience, but there is an Apprentice level for those without sufficient experience. The exam takes 5 hours, 40 minutes.
RHIT® (Registered Health Information Technician) – A RHIT certificate (offered by AHIMA) is available for those who have completed a HIM program at an associate’s level. This certificate may be useful for medical coders or cancer registrars.
RHIA® (Registered Health Information Administrator) – A RHIA certificate (offered by AHIMA) has more rigorous academic requirements, requiring either baccalaureate level or master’s level completion of a HIM program. I’ve seen many medical coding jobs list a RHIA or RHIT as a qualification, even though they aren’t specific to medical coding.
The possible certifications go on. If you want to specialize in outpatient coding, you might want to get a COC. A CIC would be useful if you specialize in inpatient facilities. The certifications go on for the different specialties as you go through your career.
What Does Medical Coding Pay?
According to the AAPC, medical coding pays an average of $52,411 per year.
When you look more closely at the numbers, you can see why being certified helps. That average pay rate drops to about $45,035 per year for medical coders without certification. It goes up to $51,477 for coders with one certification and goes higher for some certifications.
Pay also varies by region. This is likely related to the cost of living in different places.
Naturally, you won’t earn the average amount right away. Pay is often hourly or based on productivity, and you will likely need to improve your skills to earn more money.
Be Ready To Specialize
Many medical coders specialize. It makes it easier to get a job within your specialty and can make you more productive. The most commonly used codes for your specialty will be familiar.
Specialties may include inpatient or outpatient coding, emergency room coding, obstetrics and so forth. You may find that you land in a specialty simply because that’s the job you found which hired you.
Working in a specialty will open up some jobs to you. Many medical coding jobs require that you have experience in a particular specialty. Sometimes these positions will pay more; other times the pay will be about the same.
Don’t Assume Your First Medical Coding Job Will Be at Home
You’ve done all this with the intention of working at home, but now all the work at home medical billing jobs you can find require 2-3 years of experience, or even more. It’s frustrating.
There’s a simple reason for this. Medical coding requires a great deal of accuracy, and few employers are willing to take a chance on somebody entirely inexperienced working at home. They want to know that you can do the job with minimal supervision and assistance. Experience is the easiest way to prove that you can do the job.
Don’t give up on the idea of being a remote medical coder. If the training is good enough, you might land that remote job as your first. Just don’t limit yourself to the home based jobs when you don’t have experience. Career Step has a list of employers who have hired their graduates, which is a great place to start.