Due to the ever-increasing need in the U.S. for broader access to better healthcare, the career outlook for medical billing and coding technicians is expected to grow at a rate of 16% through the year 2024, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Online medical billing and coding programs prepare students for exciting careers in the growing field of healthcare, where medicine, management, and technology come together. Medical coding and billing professionals are essential to the organization and management of health information and data for the purpose of billing patients and securing reimbursement from insurance providers.
Healthcare professionals, uniquely trained in one of only a few recession-proof fields, play a crucial role in the workforce today by caring for an aging yet longer-living population. Between 2010 and 2050, the number of people aged 65 or older is projected to grow from an estimated 524 million to nearly 1.5 billion around the world. In addition, more than 60% of the Baby Boomer generation is expected to have more than one chronic medical condition by the year 2030. All while national health spending continues its meteoric rise of 5.6% per year through 2025. Some estimates state it may eventually make up more than 19% of the entire country’s gross domestic product (GDP).
Now is a great time to explore your options. Read on to learn more about our top picks for the best online medical billing and coding programs for 2017:
A career in medical coding and billing requires an education beyond high school; candidates earn at least a certificate, and often an associate’s degree, in this major. Certificates, degrees, and individual online medical billing and coding courses are now available at schools nationwide. Students interested in non-clinical roles in healthcare are ideal candidates for studying medical billing and coding online; graduates are eligible to become health information technicians, medical records managers, physicians’ office administrators, and more, earning an average annual salary of $37,110. Those with advanced certification in a particular area of electronic health records (EHR) management should find even greater opportunities available to them as records systems become increasingly digitized. The American Medical Association is just one example of a national institution aware of the growing necessity for medical billing and coding professionals across the country, offering a variety of workshops, meetings, and educational resources to advance continuing education in the field.
What is Medical Billing and Coding?
Medical billing and coding is a crucial element of the healthcare process in America today. For every diagnosis given, treatment prescribed, or service performed by a healthcare professional, there is a corresponding code used for billing purposes. Where communication between healthcare providers and insurers is its own language, medical billing and coding professionals serve as its translators. Each of the services described by a particular numeric or alphanumeric code is also documented in a certain order on that patient’s bill, such as one that signifies a pre-existing condition. Medical billing and coding professionals are responsible for properly coding all services rendered by the physician and preparing and processing claims for payment to both the insurance company and the patient.
What is the difference between medical billing and medical coding?
Both processes are of equal importance, and rely on the other to complete the medical claims and billing process as we know it. Medical coding comes first, and is the process of assigning an established code to each service provided by the physician and inputting the codes into a form or digitized system. Medical billing is the second part of the process, in which a medical biller uses the information from the coder to create a claim, or bill, for services rendered. The bill is first sent to the insurance company, which will evaluate how much it is responsible for paying and return to the biller, who then charges the patient for their part of the payment due.
Why is medical billing and coding important?
As the universal language among healthcare providers, insurance companies, government agencies, and other health organizations, the process of medical billing and coding is part-and-parcel to healthcare today. With most healthcare practices adopting or in the process of transitioning to fully digitized electronic health records (EHR) systems, medical billing and coding professionals with knowledge of the latest software and field updates are essential to the industry. Learning medical billing and coding online can not only help students to adapt to new EHR technology but also stay ahead of the curve when it comes to annual ICD code updates and other frequent diagnostic changes within the field.
Finding the Right Medical Billing and Coding Program
While many schools offer students the opportunity to master medical billing and coding online, all programs are not created equal. Diversity among course topics is expected, even welcome, as one of the perks of attending a medical billing and coding school online, however there are a few signs to look for when considering the best program for you. As always, make sure the program is accredited by a reputable agency; specialized accreditation in this field, like from the Commission of Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education (CAHIIM) or the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC), is especially desirable. Any comprehensive medical billing and coding program should also include multiple courses in information technology and/or computer systems, as this is a major component of this occupation.
Additionally, while not all employers require certification in addition to an associate’s degree, many prefer it. It can only benefit your experience to choose a program that provides training and preparation for certification exams given by the the AAPC or the American Health Information Management Association, for example.
Common Medical Coding and Billing Terms
- ICD – International Classification of Diseases, a type of code.
- CPT – Current Procedural Terminology as determined by the American Medical Association.
- HCPCS – The Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System, often pronounced “hick picks” according to its acronym.
- CM – Clinical Modification; listed as “CM” at the end of a line of updated code or used to indicate a revision to the ICD, such as in the latest tenth revision (ICD-10-CM) in 2016.
- CMS – Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
- NCHS – National Center for Health Statistics.
- WHO – World Health Organization.
- E-codes – Used to indicate an injury, poisoning, or adverse effect due to an external cause, such as a bad reaction to a drug.
- V-codes – Describes a patient visit for a reason other than disease or injury, such as a person with a live-born infant or unspecified risk due to family history.
- Category – When referencing medical billing and coding, there are three categories within the CPT code set: Category I (the largest and most commonly used) describes medical procedures, technologies, and services; Category II is used for performance management and additional data; Category III houses the codes for emerging and experimental medical procedures and services.
- E/M – Evaluation and Management; code used for varying types of physician-patient encounters.
- Modifier – Used to alter or describe a compound medical service or supply.
- Modifier-exempt – A code for a single, straightforward service that is not eligible for an “add-on” or extension descriptor.
- Pathology – The science of disease, including its causes and effects.
- Subcategory – In ICD codes, the digit after the decimal point that describes the nature of the illness or injury, and possibly its location or area of manifestation.
- Subclassification – An extension of the subcategory descriptor, further describing the manifestation, severity, or location of an injury or disease.
- Technical component – describes only the technical aspect of a medical procedure.
- Z-codes – Similar to v-codes; indicate a reason not due to immediate illness or injury for a patient to visit a healthcare professional.
*The schools listed above are sponsored. Sponsored school listings are distinct paid advertisements and are clearly marked with a “SPONSORED” or “FEATURED” tag to distinguish them from editorially ranked schools. Learn more about how rank schools or contact us with questions.
To determine the best online Medical Coding and Billing programs, we looked at the most important factors prospective students, mainly common predictors of future success and a school’s commitment to online programs. This boils down to admissions rate, student loan default rate, retention rate, graduation rate, and the percent of students enrolled in online classes. All data points are taken from information provided by colleges and universities to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Each factor is weighted evenly in order to give an objective view and determine the 4 best online Medical Coding and Billing programs. To calculate our rankings, we looked at a school’s ranking when organized by a single factor, and then averaged each category’s ranking to find an overall score: Admissions Rate (20%) + Default Rate (20%) + Retention Rate (20%) + Graduation Rate (20%) + Percent of Students Enrolled in Online Classes (20%) = Final score.