If you like the idea of being involved in the medical field but want to work from home, you might think about going into medical billing and coding. This job requires you to look at clinical documents to determine which codes to use for billing. This job ensures that medical offices get paid for healthcare services and that patient bills are the correct amount. With a high demand for healthcare services that is only going to keep increasing, the need for medical billing and coding will also continue to be there.
Another benefit of this career is that it doesn’t require several years of school to get started. You can typically finish a medical billing and coding program in a year or less. If this sounds appealing to you, it’s a good idea to look at medical billing and coding programs. One factor to take into account before you apply is whether or not a program has accreditation from a trusted agency. Learning more about AAPC-accredited medical billing and coding programs can help you understand what to expect from the program you choose.
What Is AAPC?
The American Academy of Professional Coders, or AAPC, is a professional association that’s been around since 1988. It’s mostly known for its work in training and credentialing within fields that include medical billing and coding, practice management, compliance management, and auditing. Unlike most accrediting agencies, the AAPC offers its own certifications for medical billing and coding. In fact, AAPC has over 28 certifications in this field and boasts over 200,000 members.
What Does AAPC Do?
Most accrediting agencies focus on determining which schools are worthy of accreditation. But the AAPC works a little differently. It offers 28 specialty certifications in medical billing and coding. In addition, it partners with some schools so they can offer AAPC-approved programs.
As a result, as you look at AAPC-accredited medical billing and coding programs and schools, you can choose the school of your choice — or go through AAPC itself for the certificate you want. Either way, you get the education you need to start this career, typically in an online or in-person format.
AAPC Certification Programs
When you attend AAPC-accredited medical billing and coding programs and schools, you are taking classes that have been vetted and approved by one of the main credential agencies in this field. In fact, all classes must be taught by AAPC-approved instructors. These teachers have been formally trained to educate students on the fundamentals of medical billing and coding. This is why the AAPC reports that students who have graduated from their certification classes have high success rates in passing certification exams.
Some of the most common certification courses you’ll find at AAPC-accredited medical billing and coding programs and schools include:
- Professional Coder Certification
- Outpatient Hospital/Facility Certification
- Inpatient Hospital/Facility Certification
- Risk Adjustment Certification
However, you can also choose a specialty credential to improve your high level of expertise with unique coding areas, with each one typically centering on a different medical focus. For example, some specialty areas you can focus on at AAPC-accredited medical billing and coding programs and schools include:
- Ambulatory Surgical Center
- Family Practice
Before choosing a specialty, consider which area you’re most interested in, as well as which ones are in the highest demand in your region.
What Is an Online Medical Billing and Coding Program?
As you browse the AAPC-accredited medical billing and coding programs and schools, get to know what you’ll be learning. You should also review the format of the learning materials and consider how long the program takes to complete. Keep in mind that most AAPC-accredited medical billing and coding programs and schools only provide you with a certificate, not a college degree. Some schools require you to have at least an associate degree before enrolling in their certification program. Others will accept a high school diploma but may require you to take extra courses. Either way, most programs allow you to earn a certificate in this field within a year or less.
What Can You Expect from Medical Billing and Coding Coursework?
AAPC-accredited medical billing and coding programs and schools usually feature similar courses that will prepare you for a career in the field. You should expect to take a variety of classes focusing on both healthcare and the technology that makes it easy to bill for medical procedures.
For example, you’ll likely take courses in:
- Medical terminology
You can also expect to learn about:
- Compliance standards
- Health information technology
- Process of coding medical procedures for billing
In general, most AAPC-accredited medical billing and coding programs and schools will teach you the skills you need to get started in this career.
What’s the Format of Medical Billing and Coding Programs?
You can usually find AAPC-accredited medical billing and coding programs and schools that offer online classes, in-person classes, or a hybrid option that includes both. Online programs are the most popular since they offer flexibility that allows students to keep working as they go to school.
If you opt for one of the many AAPC-accredited medical billing and coding programs and schools available online, you can expect to see a different learning module for each course. Expect quizzes at the end of every module to determine how much you’ve learned. You’ll have reading materials to study, critical-thinking exercises to do, and audio lectures to listen to as you study to get into the field of medical billing and coding.
You may also study real medical cases and charts to get familiar with the terms and practices used in this career. While getting real-world experience — like an externship — isn’t required to get a medical billing and coding certificate, it’s definitely recommended to help with your job prospects in the future.
Types of Medical Billing and Coding Degrees
There are a few kinds of medical billing and coding degrees. You can take courses in health information management or healthcare administration to get a bachelor’s degree, or you can simply take medical billing and coding courses at the associate degree or certificate level. The exact requirements to get into the career depend on the employer you want to work for, so consider speaking with them about their expectations (if you have a specific employer in mind).
Associate Degree in Medical Billing and Coding
An associate degree usually takes two years to finish, but it can take less or more time depending on how many courses you take at once. The courses typically include classes in healthcare, billing, and coding. There may be general education courses as well.
Medical Billing and Coding Certificate
For a medical billing and coding certificate, expect to spend around a year in school. This is the fastest option to become a medical billing or coding-certified individual and to get into the career.
To figure out which of these options is right for you, consider which employer you’d like to work for. Ask about their preferences, and work on the requirements they give you. You can also start with the certificate program and continue your education while working in the field.
How to Choose a Medical Billing and Coding Degree
With the choice between a certificate or an associate degree, you may not be sure which is right for you.
To start with, think about where you want to work. If you want to work in a healthcare clinic or private doctor’s office, a postsecondary certificate may be enough to qualify for the role. However, if you want to work in specialty programs or within high-paced hospitals, you may be asked to provide proof of a degree.
If you want to earn more and specialize, then having an associate’s degree (or even moving on to a bachelor’s degree) could help you beat out the competition and secure a higher wage.
Medical Billing and Coding Accreditation
There are two nationally recognized accreditation organizations for medical billing and coding. They include the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC) and the Commission of Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education (CAHIIM).
Look for a program’s accreditation before taking courses to be sure they’ll prepare you for certification testing.
Medical Billing and Coding Courses
Community colleges and technical schools often offer courses to become medical records specialists working in billing and coding. The courses you’ll need to take could include:
- Health-data standards
- Classification and coding systems
- Medical terminology
One of the most often suggested courses for new medical billing and coding professionals is the AAPC’s Certified Professional Coder (CPC) certification. This training goes over all aspects of physician-based professional fee coding.
That kind of coding is foundational. That means that if you understand it well, you’ll be primed to work in physician’s offices, hospitals, outpatient facilities, and elsewhere. After gaining this certification, consider additional training in a specialty or getting certified for hospital coding.
What Are the Benefits of an AAPC Medical Billing and Coding Program?
If you choose to study to become a medical billing and coding professional, you might find some programs that aren’t accredited by the AAPC or similar agencies. But for best results, you should only consider AAPC-accredited medical billing and coding programs and schools. There are a few reasons for this.
You’ll Be Prepared to Sit for Certification Exams
For the best chance of getting a job in medical billing and coding, you should stick with AAPC-accredited medical billing and coding programs and schools. This is because you’ll have the best chance of passing the certification exams that are recommended in this field. In fact, the AAPC reports a pass rate of over 80% among students who take its courses, compared to a pass rate of 22% among students who go through third-party programs. The curriculum at AAPC-accredited medical billing and coding programs and schools aligns with the certification exams, so you have a higher chance of passing the test when you take an accredited course.
Keep in mind that most employers look for medical billing and coding applicants to have at least one certification on their resume. This requires you to pass the corresponding exam. Popular medical billing and coding certifications to consider include:
- Certified Professional Coder (CPC)
- Certified Professional Biller (CPB)
- Certified Outpatient Coding (COC)
- Certified Inpatient Coder (CIC)
If you’re interested in studying to get any of these certifications, AAPC-accredited medical billing and coding programs and schools can help you prepare for the exams.
You’ll Get Support from the AAPC as You Pursue a Career
One perk of going to one of the many AAPC-accredited medical billing and coding programs and schools is the support you’ll get even after the program ends. You’ll have the chance to take part in networking events hosted by AAPC, attend conferences, and chat with others in this field through an online forum.
You’ll also get access to the AAPC’s jobs database, which you can search once you’ve completed your certification program and are ready to get a job in medical billing and coding. So, if you want to get the education you need for this field in less than a year, with a good chance of finding employment soon after, it’s a good idea to start looking at the AAPC-accredited medical billing and coding programs and schools that are available to you today.