Career Spotlight: Medical Coding

By Brenda on December 5th, 2011


Have you ever looked at your doctor’s bill or insurance paperwork only to find codes and numbers that instead of diagnoses and prices?  There are nearly 9,000 procedural terminology codes associated with every type of health care service received by patients and provided by health care facilities across the country.

There are another 13,500 ICD-9 codes that are specific to medical diagnoses, and even more codes attached to medical supplies and other goods or services.  With so many codes involved in the field, a code specialist is needed.

Medical coders spend their workday evaluating, assigning and sorting through medical codes for patients and their billing paperwork.  Accurate coding is necessary to keep the bill straight for the healthcare provider, patient and insurance company.  When a bill is coded incorrectly, the doctor may not get paid for the service, the patient could get over-billed and the insurance company may refuse to pay.

Work Environment for a Medical Coder

Medical coders work in nearly every type of health care facility, including doctor’s offices, hospitals, urgent care centers, out-patient surgery facilities and physical therapy offices.  Some work as a direct employer of a hospital or medical center while others freelance or provide billing services working from home.

The work of a medical coder is highly detailed and requires a great deal of precision and focus.  The coder typically reviews charts, matches procedures with services offered and pours over insurance billing information.  The correct diagnoses must be itemized and matched.  Frequent interruptions are not favorable for an individual working in this field.  It is important to have a quiet office free from traffic and constant interruption.

A coder must be able to adapt to change easily, as medical codes are constantly being changed and modified.  A medical coder must be willing to stay current on the new rules and regulations associated with the coding world.  Keeping abreast of medical terminology and the overall field of medicine is important.

Academic Programs for Medical Coders

Most medical coding programs take an average of 18-24 months to complete.  Training can be obtained at a community college or online learning institution. It is optimal for a medical coder to become certified as a Certified Professional Coder, and depending on the state various regulations may be required.  An examination may be offered in some states that allow an individual to take in order to become certified.  Annual recertification may be necessary in order to maintain required credentials.

Job Outlook

A typical salary for a medical coder ranges from $35,000-$50,000 per year.  There are highly paid specialty medical coders who earn over $80,000 annually. These specialty coders have earned credentials in various areas and usually work in management, overseeing a billing or medical coding department.

Most certified coders earn nearly 20% more than those who are not certified.  Today, most employers prefer to hire a certified coder over a non-certified one.  The job outlook for medical coders is favorable over the next decade as the baby boomer generation moves into the age bracket requiring more and more healthcare procedures.


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