The first step in becoming a medical coder is certification. There are many types of medical coding certification available but only two are recognized nationwide and sought after by employers. These two certifications are the “Certified Professional Coder” credential (commonly referred to as the CPC) and the “Certified Coding Specialist” credential (often referred to as the CCS).
The CPC credential is offered by the American Academy of Professional Coder (AAPC) and the CCS is offered by the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA). In order to obtain either of these certifications individuals must sit for the organization’s 5 – 6 hour examination.
Often individuals choose to obtain only one medical coding certification, which one depends on several things, such as area of interest and prior experience. The CPC credential offered by the AAPC is recognized for the “professional” side of coding. This means that physicians, private practices, emergency medicine, and other outpatient services utilize individuals with this credential. The CCS credential offered by AHIMA is recognized more for the “facility” side of coding. This means that hospitals utilized individuals with this credential for in-patient coding.
After deciding which credential you wish to earn it is strongly suggested (but not required) that a coding education is obtained. Medical coding courses vary greatly, from introductory to extensive. Most medical coding courses offered through vocational schools and community colleges are considered “introductory” course. These courses were created to teach just the basics to individuals who are entering other aspects of the medical field (such as an RN or MA). An introductory course is a good idea if you are considering the medical coding field but are unsure if it is the correct career choice for you. However, if you know that medical coding is what you want to do then you will want to take a more extensive medical coding course.
An extensive medical coding course should state what credential it will prepare you for (remember that if it prepares you for any credential other than the CPC or CCS you will have a difficult time finding employment and/or recognition). Extensive courses should include all three medical coding books in its curriculum. Many coding courses teach on the ICD-9-CM and CPT but fail to provide adequate education regarding the HCPCS book. The course should also offer timed examinations periodically, introduce just the basics of the billing cycle, and should be no less than 80 contact hours in length.
Once your education is complete you will need to apply for membership and submit an application for the examination to either the AAPC or AHIMA (depending on which credential you choose to obtain). Upon passing the examination you will be awarded your CPC or CCS credential.
Since most companies that hire remotely require 2-3 year of prior experience, finding an entry level medical coding position will be the next step in your career journey. On the job training and experience is invaluable and provides education that cannot be obtained in a classroom. Many individuals find getting the first job without already having experience to be the most difficult step. Many coders often start out in front desk positions or working in the medical records department. Getting a foot in the door anywhere and working toward the place you want to be may need to be considered. Other suggestions for getting coding experience are to do a non-paid extern program (like project extern through the AAPC). Frequenting the AHIMA and AAPC forums and/or local chapter meetings also provide multiple job leads and helpful advice. Getting the first job may be the hardest step in this process, but if it can be overcome you will be rewarded for years to come.
After obtaining your 2-3 years of on the job medical coding experience you will find that multiple companies (including those that hire remotely) will consider you for employment. Most (but not all) work from home medical coding jobs are independent contract positions. What this means is that instead of being an hourly employee you are considered “self-employed” and are paid for the amount of work you do (in this case you would be paid for each medical record you code).
Earning good money while working from home as a medical coder depends mainly on two things: Accuracy and Speed. Since most medical coders who work from home are paid per. chart, the faster they code the more they earn. Most companies who hire at home medical coders realize this though and in order to prevent sloppy work they hold coders to a specific accuracy rate. They accomplish this by randomly auditing charts the coder has completed. These charts must maintain the accuracy rate set by the company or the medical coder’s contract will be terminated, (most accuracy rate are between 94% – 98%).
Contracts vary from company to company, but should include specifics such as: the number of charts that will be coded per. day, week, or month; payment per. chart; accuracy rate that must be maintained. Rates also vary depending on the company, type of coding (professional or facility), and the specialty being coded. For our example we will use emergency medicine, which is professional coding.
Most companies hold emergency medicine coders (on average) to a 25 chart per. hour rate and a 96% accuracy, coder are usually paid.65-.75 per chart. Based off of these numbers this is the type of work one might expect through a contract:
25 chart per. hours, working a standard 40 hour work week an individual may contract for 1000 charts per. week (or 500 for part time). 1000 charts coded each week at.75 per. chart would bring home a weekly pay of $750.00 ($1500.00 bi-weekly or $3000.00 monthly). Looking at this from an hourly perspective, based on these numbers, an individual would make $18.75 per. hour.
While these numbers are respectable consider using the same pay rate of.75 per. chart for a coder who can accurately code 40 charts per. hour. At that rate an individual could bring home $1600.00 each week ($3200.00 bi-weekly or $6400.00 monthly) and average $40.00 per. hour. An individual in this situation could also choose to code a full time contract, receive full time pay, but only code part-time hours.
While this type of goal is achievable and available it is important to remember that it also is not an overnight “get-rich-quick” career that some sell it as. Like any career, working from home as a medical coder will take some dedication and hard work, but if you properly invest in your education, are willing to start out in an entry level position and gain experience, then you can reap the many benefits of working from home in a rewarding career for years to come.