Medical billing and coding is often touted as the ideal work-from-home job, but entering the field requires some degree of formal training and specialized knowledge of insurance codes and billing procedures. Online degrees in medical billing are a flexible way to get that training, but finding the right school requires knowing what to look for in an online program.
Medical Billing and Coding: An Overview
According to the American Academy of Professional Coders, medical billing is a subset of medical coding, and many health information professionals perform both coding and billing tasks.
Coding specifically refers to the process by which a technician reviews medical information and applies the proper code information for an insurance claim to be paid. Billing consists of confirming all insurance forms and other paperwork are properly completed and submitted. Medical billing professionals may also collect payments and contact patients about invoices that are past due.
Both coders and billers must have excellent computer and software skills. Traditional and online degrees in medical billing should provide a thorough understanding of anatomy, medical terminology and insurance plans. Medical coders must be familiar with a variety of insurance coding schemes. Other courses that may be included in a medical billing degree program span database security, data analysis and quality improvement methods.
Choosing the Right Medical Billing Degree
Medical billing and coding professionals fall into the category of medical records and health information technicians. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most technicians, including medical billers and coders, have at least an associate degree. However, the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) notes that bachelor's and master's degrees in health information management are also available. For those hoping to advance their careers to a supervisory level, a higher degree is usually necessary.
Individuals looking for a flexible career in medical billing may also benefit from the convenience of online degree programs. The AHIMA encourages students considering online degrees in medical billing to consider whether they have the self-discipline to complete an online health degree program, which is often structured to move quickly.
Regardless of whether a program is offered at a traditional or online school, it is important to enroll in an accredited program. The Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education (CAHIIM) is the agency that reviews and accredits institutions offering health information management degree programs.
Accreditation is particularly important because most employers look for job candidates who are certified. The most common certification for medical billers and coders is the Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT) credential offered by the AHIMA. However, to receive this designation, students must complete a two-year associate degree program accredited by the CAHIIM.
Careers in Health Information Management
Health information management careers are a good choice for individuals who want to enter the growing health care industry, but would prefer not to be involved in direct patient care. Medical coders and billers must be comfortable using computer software and should have good oral and written communication skills.
Despite the common belief that this career is largely a part-time occupation, the BLS reports that most medical records and health information technicians work 40 hour weeks. Only 14 percent of these professionals worked part-time in 2008. In addition, 39 percent of available jobs are found in hospitals. Other medical coders and billers may work in health care offices, government agencies or for third-party billing companies.
Medical billing and coding at a glance
- By BLS estimates, jobs for medical records and health information technicians should grow 20 percent from 2008 to 2018.
- A 2008 study by the AHIMA found that the average salary of health information professionals was $57,370.
- South Dakota has the highest concentration of medical records and health information technicians in the nation.
- According to the Healthcare Billing & Management Association, there are approximately 2,000 billing companies in the U.S.