It starts with a high school diploma or GED. Then comes the research into medical billing and coding programs, which can take anywhere from a few months to a few years to complete. Then there’s the all-important job search. It might sound daunting, but this guide aims to make it much easier with a comprehensive overview of the steps necessary to obtain the necessary education and land a great career in medical billing and coding.
Should You Become a Medical Biller or Coder?
On the fence about whether you want to attend medical billing and coding school? It’s important to be sure your personality, working style and preference for job environment line up with what’s expected of billers and coders. Before enrolling in a medical coding and billing program, consider the following questions:
If you answered yes to these questions, you might have a future working as a medical biller or coder. Now it’s time to figure out which training pathway to take.
Pick a Training Program
There are numerous educational pathways for those interested in medical billing and coding. Certificate, diploma, or associate degree – which path is the best? Because each has advantages and disadvantages, the answer depends on your specific professional and personal goals.
As a general rule, the longer a program takes to complete, the more professional opportunities will result. On the other hand, a longer program means more money invested. Let’s take a deeper look at the options.
Types of Medical Billing and Coding Programs
Anyone considering a career as a medical biller or coder has a decision to make: which type of educational programs is right for me? In general, each student has three options from which to choose: certificate, diploma, or associate degree. Here’s a quick look at how each of these compare.
So where do you get these credentials? Many types of schools exist, and each of them offers something unique. When reviewing your options, make sure the school has earned accreditation, meaning that your hard work to earn the credential will not go to waste. Here’s what you need to know as you look at the school options available for medical billing and coding students.
Narrowing the Field
Now that you have figured out which type of institution to attend, the next step is actually creating a list of schools to apply to. But before you send off your applications, make sure you answer the following questions. Thinking through your answers will help you make the most of your education.
- Is the institution accredited by the appropriate regionally accrediting body?
- Is the program accredited by a top medical billing and coding organization?
- Can you afford the program?
- Is the program’s length and schedule appropriate for you? Keep in mind that the shorter the program, often the more intense the course schedule will be.
Start Applying to Schools
With your newly created list of schools, you can begin applying. During this application process, keep the following points in mind.
Finish All Your Courses
Whether becoming a medical coder or biller online or on campus, the bulk of the coursework will cover four primary subject areas: insurance, legal, coding, and the human body. Since each medical billing and coding program is different, how these subjects are taught will vary. A student can expect to find classes such as:
Find an Internship or Externship
Nothing beats real world experience. To improve the chances of getting hired and impressing a potential employer, future medical billers and coders should look for opportunities to gain on-the-job experience. The most common way to do this is through an internship or externship. These may not be required for work as a medical biller or coder, but it could be tough to land a job without prior experience under your belt.
While “internship” and “externship” are sometimes used interchangeably, they are definitely not the same. Internships usually last longer, are paid, and result in credit. In contrast, an externship usually covers a shorter length of time, is unpaid, and rarely lead to credit. Either way, each is beneficial in that they provide a real-world view of how billing and coding works.
Given their benefit, it’s easy to see why someone would want to apply for an externship or internship. There are numerous ways to find one:
- Check with the school. Many coding and billing programs have career services; the professionals there can help match a student with an internship or externship at local healthcare providers
- Go to healthcare facilities. Reaching out to doctor’s offices, outpatient clinics, nursing homes, hospitals and other similar facilities can lead to fruitful results.
- Professional organizations may have a formal internship or externship program available, such as AAPC’s Project Xtern, and some will have similar opportunities, such as AHIMA’s Mentor Match program. Even if no such formal program exists, the networking opportunities provided by these organizations will help interested individuals get in touch with healthcare facilities looking for interns.
Note: Internships and externships not only provide useful experience, but can lead to permanent employment. Not only can the experience provide the opportunity to network and connect with employers who are hiring, it can also give recent graduates useful skills to help them contribute to their employer immediately.
Obtain a Specialized Certification
Medical billers and coders do not need certification. However, certification is recommended as it helps job applicants stand out from the crowd during the hiring process. Certification proves an individual is serious about the billing and coding profession and is willing to take extra steps to excel. It also provides an opportunity to specialize in a particular area. For example, the Certified Coding Specialist (CCS) credential signifies that the individual has a requisite level of knowledge of classifying medical information within the hospital setting. The Certified Coding Specialist – Physician (CSS-P) shows that the credential holder has specialized knowledge for the doctor’s office setting. Other certifications are available that indicate a general level of knowledge or focus on administration.
After choosing a certification, it’s time to apply for and take the exam. Exams are often held at specific testing centers and require registration ahead of time. Test-takers can expect a testing process similar to that of a standardized test, such as the SAT or ACT. The format of the test varies depending upon the specific certification, but often consists of 100 or more multiple choice questions. Read medical billing and coding certification online to learn more.
Prepare Resumes & Apply for Jobs
Resumes are your opportunity to entice an employer to interview you. Most resumes follow a general format, so it’s usually best to stick with what employers expect – in other words, don’t get too original! A good resume for a medical biller or coder will contain three major pieces of information: education/training, work experience, and skills. A great reference from a doctor or medical professional can go a long way, too. These critical pieces of information effectively convey what you can contribute to the employer. Remember, the employer is looking for a person who can boost office productivity and revenue streams, so the better you can explain how you intend to do this, the more likely you will be to land the interview.
You can include additional information, such as references, personal interests (which can serve as a conversation starter in a job interview) or your employment objective. Since employers usually ask about these things as a matter of course, these bits of information can be omitted if there isn’t enough space to keep the resume to one page.
To find out more about how to write a solid resume, check out the following examples:
- How to write a medical billing resume (with examples) from The Job Network.
- Medical Billing and Coding Specialist Resume Sample by LiveCareer.
- Medical Billing Specialist Resumes from Indeed.
- A Sample Resume for Medical Billing and Coding Specialists by Branford Hall Career Institute.
Practice for the Interview
If you’ve been accepted for an interview, congratulations! It’s now time to start preparing. To make the best impression, you should prepare to be asked several questions. While you could be asked about almost anything, below are seven questions you’re most likely to hear. Understand that how you answer will be as important as what you answer, so don’t get too worried if you don’t think you have the perfect response.
- What skills do you bring to the table?
- Do you have a professional certification? Do you plan to obtain one?
- What medical software are you familiar with?
- How would you handle a difficult patient?
- How do you keep current with changes in healthcare coverage and insurance?
- How familiar are you with the ICD-10?
- Tell me about a time when you had to handle criticism on a coding project.