A medical coding certificate program provides a quick, cost-effective option for students looking to enter the healthcare field.
Medical coders help streamline the communication and record-keeping processes in the healthcare system. They translate physicians' notes, diagnoses, and procedures into medical codes and input them into patient record systems, streamlining the process for medical professionals to access and share information.
The medical coding field offers many different careers, including those that require specialized knowledge and certifications. Coding certifications can lead to additional employment opportunities and higher earnings as well. According to the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC), certified coders earn an average of close to $14,000 more per year than those without certifications.
This page outlines educational options and certifications available to coders, along with viable career pathways.
What Is a Medical Coding Certificate?
Students can complete a certificate in medical coding in 1-2 years. Programs include 18-30 credits, and students can often take medical coding classes online or on campus. Whether attending part or full time, students should keep in mind that medical coding coursework may be offered in a sequence, potentially influencing the length of a program. Many medical coding certificates are offered through community and technical colleges, although four-year institutions may have programs as well.
Certificates are earned through educational institutions, while certifications come from professional organizations.
Unlike a degree, a certificate program is designed to train learners for specific careers. Individuals with a medical coding certificate can enter the workforce in less time than learners who earn a degree in the field.
Medical coding certificates are different from certifications. Certificates are earned through educational institutions, while certifications come from professional organizations, like the American Academy of Professional Coders.
The cost for medical coding programs varies by program type and student status. Residence may also factor into the cost of enrollment, though many online coding certificates offer lump-sum tuition rates for students regardless of where they live. Per-credit tuition rates can benefit part-time learners who only take 1-2 classes at a time, while full-time learners can take heavier course loads to accelerate graduation times. Students can also complete medical coding training online.
What Can You Do With a Medical Coding Certificate?
Medical coding certificates train students to use standard coding languages — ideal for a job as a medical billing and coding specialist. The curriculum also introduces learners to medical records technologies and practices, medical data collection, and health information processes. This prepares students to work as health information technology associates or medical office administrators. Additional career options include medical records coordinator and claims coding specialist.
Alongside professional opportunities, a medical certificate can be a pathway to continued education. Students can go on to pursue an undergraduate degree in disciplines like nursing or healthcare administration.
While a medical coding certificate opens opportunities for entry-level careers in healthcare, insurance, and information technology, most employers also require a professional certification in medical coding to enter the field.
What Kinds of Medical Coding Certifications Are There?
The AAPC offers many unique certifications for aspiring medical coders. Some recognize coders in specific facilities, with others focusing on specific professions. The following sections explore available options, including information on costs and exam requirements.
Certified Professional Coder
The certified professional coder (CPC) certification tests professionals in their understanding of 17 areas of knowledge, including procedure, supply, and diagnosis codes. Successful candidates must complete the 150-question exam in less than 5 hours and 40 minutes and achieve a minimum of 70% correct responses.
For preparation, applicants should possess anatomy, physiology, and medical terminology knowledge. Aspiring coders can take the CPC exam online for $299 or in person for $399. The AAPC provides a preparation course and practice exams.
Certified Outpatient Coder
The certified outpatient coder (COC) certification covers the requirements for coders in ambulatory surgical centers and hospital outpatient settings. Professionals with COC certification demonstrate medical terminology, anatomy, coding, billing, and compliance expertise. Candidates must complete the 150-question examination in less than 5 hours and 40 minutes with a minimum of 70% correct responses.
Candidates need at least two years of coding experience and an AAPC membership to qualify. Most test-takers possess associate degrees, and applicants can take exam preparation courses and practice exams through the academy. The examination costs $399, but AAPC members pay $325 with one available free retake.
Certified Inpatient Coder
The certified inpatient coder (CIC) certification recognizes professional coders in inpatient hospitals and facilities. These coders possess knowledge about specialized inpatient diagnoses, procedures, rules, and payment methodologies and systems. For the exam, successful candidates need to complete 60 questions and 10 inpatient cases in less than 5 hours and 40 minutes with a minimum of 70% on the exam.
Though applicants at any level can pursue the CIC certification, the AAPC recommends that each test-taker possesses an associate degree and a minimum of two years of coding experience. For support, the AAPC offers preparation courses and practice exams. Like the COC certification, the exam costs $399 or $325 for AAPC students and includes one free retake.
Certified Risk Adjustment Coder
The certified risk adjustment coder (CRC) certification acknowledges coders with extensive knowledge in charts and codes within the risk adjustment model. These professionals must understand the procedures, guidelines, and regulations of risk adjustment set by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The exam features 150 questions. Candidates must complete the exam within 5 hours 40 minutes and achieve a minimum score of 70%.
The AAPC recommends that each candidate possesses an associate degree and a minimum of two years of coding experience. They should also complete a risk adjustment coding course or a preparation course through the AAPC. AAPC members pay $325 to take the exam and receive one free retake, while others pay $399.
Specialty Medical Coding Certifications
The AAPC offers several specialized certifications for experienced coders who wish to demonstrate their expertise in certain disciplines. Each certification includes its own compliance guidelines, procedures, and coding requirements. Some of the options include ambulatory surgical center, emergency department, hematology and oncology, and evaluation and management certifications.
Each exam includes 150 questions and must be completed in less than 5 hours and 40 minutes and with a minimum score of 70%. The AAPC recommends that candidates possess at least two years of professional coding experience and an associate degree, though specialized coding training or preparation courses can also help.
To take these exams, candidates must possess an AAPC membership and pay $299, which includes one free retake within a year after the first attempt. The academy also offers practice exams.
Certified Medical Coding Specialist
Developed by the American Medical Billing Association (AMBA), the certified medical coding specialist (CMCS) credential recognizes billing professionals who understand medical codes, coding guidelines, and procedures. The exam includes coding information from several medical settings and services, including surgery, radiology, anesthesia services.
Test-takers must possess AMBA membership and pay $325, which includes two free retakes. Test-takers then have 10 days to complete the exam online, during which they can use their books and notes to answer questions. For success, candidates need to achieve a minimum score of 80%.
To qualify for the exam, candidates need either one year of coding experience, a completed training program, or another recognized certification. The AMBA provides a study guide for interested applicants for an additional $199.
What Kind of Salary Can I Earn With a Medical Coding Certificate?
The salaries available to medical coding professionals depend on their employer, location, specialty, certification, and experience. While certificates can lead to significant wage ranges across the field, the following table includes Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data on nationwide career outlook, along with median salaries based on experience levels.
Medical Records Technician Career Outlook
Medical Coding Career Outlooks By Experience
|Average Medical Coder||$42,930|
Medical Coding Professional Organizations
- American Academy of Professional Coders The AAPC, founded in 1988, strives to improve the standards for the medical coding field and its professionals. The organization offers 28 certifications, along with access to education, networking, and career opportunities.
- American Health Information Management Association With roots dating back to 1928, AHIMA represents health information professionals around the world. The association seeks to promote the field, standardize ethics and practices, and empower health information professionals. Members receive access to professional training, certifications, publications, and career opportunities.
- American Medical Billing Association The AMBA aims to improve the standards and consistency of the medical billing profession. This association helps develop better practices by offering training, certifications, and networking events for aspiring medical coders and billers.
Accreditation for Medical Coding Certificate Programs
Prospective medical coders should always keep accreditation in mind when choosing a medical coding program or certification. Accreditation can affect employment, continuing education, and financial aid. For best results, medical coders should ensure that their program received recognition from either the Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education or the AAPC.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is the Best Way to Become a Medical Coder?
People can enter the medical coding field several ways, but most possess formal training or credentials. Medical coders can, for example, pursue degrees in healthcare administration or complete medical certifications through the AAPC. Depending on the employer and the field, candidates may need both certification and experience.
Is a Medical Coding Certificate Worth It?
Medical coding certificates are relatively short programs that have lasting benefits. The knowledge and skills gained through a medical coding certificate allow students to enter the in-demand field of medical records and health information technology. The value of a medical coding certificate also comes from opportunities for continued education and professional advancement.
What Skills Do Medical Coders Need?
Medical coders need a diverse skill set to find success in their daily work, but a few important skills stand out above the rest. Coders should possess strong attention to detail to ensure the accuracy of their work. They also need a solid understanding of medical terminology and policies.
How Long Does it Take to Get Certified as a Medical Coder?
The length of time required for a medical coding certification online depends on the specific credential. Some require only an examination, which can lead to certification in a day or two. Others require a minimum of two years of professional experience.
Which Medical Coding Certification Is Best?
The best medical coding certification varies depending on each person's individual interests and goals. According to the AAPC, the certified professional compliance officer certification leads to the most lucrative positions, with a median salary of over $77,000. For those seeking job security, pursuing certifications that deal with elderly or cancer patients can lead to professional roles.