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Best Online Medical Billing & Coding Certification Programs

Oct 20, 2021

What is an Online Certificate Program in Medical Billing and Coding?

The online certificate program provides the necessary training to enter the healthcare industry as a part of an organization's medical records team. Medical billing and coding employees use the documentation created by a patient's doctors and health care team members to connect medical services to provider costs. They use this information to create a bill for the insurance company, or to be sent to the patient directly. These employees also ensure payment is received.

Medical billers and coders are a part of a growing team of healthcare industry workers referred to as health information specialists. These jobs are typically located in hospitals or physician's offices. Rather than working directly with patients, their job is more commonly comprised of interactions with healthcare coworkers, and in analyzing and inputting data. The career field of medical billers and coders is expected to experience a fast rate of growth from 2019 to 2029. The 8% growth projected for this occupation is twice the total expected growth of 4% for all occupations during that same ten-year period. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average (mean) annual salary for medical records and health information technicians |https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes292098.htm] in May 2020 was $48,270.

What is the Difference Between an Online Certificate and an Online Degree in Medical Billing and Coding?

Academic options for training programs fall into one of three categories: a certificate, an associate's degree, or a bachelor's degree. The certificate program meets the educational requirement for the medical billing and coding position.

A certificate is awarded upon completion of a career education program of study, meaning coursework is concentrated on the necessary knowledge for that industry-related job. Certificate programs usually do not include general education requirements such as freshman English or math. For medical billing and coding, completion of these programs may be accomplished in as few as 4 months, though 12 to 18 months is more common.

Associate's degree programs contain both career education and general education courses. They are designed to take approximately 2 years to complete. An associate's is not required to enter this profession, but is ideal for students who wish to earn a bachelor's degree at some point in the future, or for those who may want to pursue a management position such as a Medical Billing Administrator.

Bachelor's degrees are comprised of a more extensive set of courses, and take approximately 4 years to complete.

Accreditation for Online Medical Billing and Coding Programs

Associate and bachelor's degree programs for online medical billing and coding programs are accredited by CAHIIM, which stands for the Commission on Accreditation of Health Informatics and Information Management Education. These programs are listed under the broader topic of Health Information Management. Certificate programs do not require accreditation by CAHIIM.

Local community colleges are accredited by their assigned regional association of colleges and schools. One example is the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC), which is part of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. The regional accrediting body specific to an institution should be listed on their website, or the information can also be provided by a college staff member.

When searching for a program that is offered fully online, it can be helpful to verify that the institution is accredited by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC). This is a national accreditation for institutions that deliver all of their programs fully online. Note that traditional campuses that only offer select courses or particular programs online will not be listed.

Should I Get an Online Certificate in Medical Billing and Coding?

An online certificate program offers students more flexibility than a traditional setting. Some online programs are self-paced, meaning the student can progress through the coursework as quickly as they wish. Many of the programs have the instructional videos recorded, so that students can view the lectures and complete their coursework at a time convenient to their individual schedule. This method also allows students to view the lecture as many times as needed, or pause the recording in order to take notes.

While an associate's degree takes an average of two years to complete, the typical time to obtain a certificate in medical billing and coding is about a year. This shorter time span allows the student to enter the workforce much sooner. The certificate program is also less expensive than an associate's or bachelor's degree program. More information on program cost may be found near the end of this article.

Career Options After Completing an Online Certificate Program in Medical Billing and Coding

Career options after completing an online certificate in medical billing and coding are understandable a bit narrow, as this is a specialized field. Medical billing and coding personnel are typically a part of the medical records department of a healthcare institution. These positions are generally considered entry-level jobs.

In some offices the biller and coder may be the same person. Larger offices or organizations may divide these duties between two people: one that specializes in billing and another that does the coding. After gaining some professional experience, many individuals choose to specialize in an area and pursue additional certification within the field.

Medical Coder

The primary job duties of a medical coder include a thorough review of the notes and other documentation listed on a patient's healthcare record in order to develop an understanding of the details surrounding the patient's most recent medical visit or intervention. From this review, medical coders obtain the information needed in order to select the appropriate industry-recognized codes for each specific diagnosis, procedure, service, or medical device provided to that patient.

This matching process of services to codes creates a price list that ultimately forms the bill that is sent to the insurance company or the individual patient. It also provides a succinct record of the medical visit or intervention so that the information is clear and readily available. Once the coding process is complete, the record is sent to the medical biller. On average, medical coders earn approximately $18.97 per hour.

Medical Biller

A medical biller submits the bill, called a claim, to the insurance company or individual patient for payment. The biller collects and records the payment when received, and handles any issues that might arise with the claim, such as appeals or denied claims. The main responsibility of the medical biller is to follow each claim and ensure the healthcare provider is paid. Medical billers typically earn about $16.58 per hour.

Medical Billing Administrator

Detail-oriented individuals who are interested in a leadership role might choose to pursue a job as a medical billing administrator. Medical billing administrators work with insurance companies and individuals to help resolve claims, determine whether a recommended procedure might be covered under an individual's insurance plan, and ensure the orderly operations of the billing department.

Although some earn their position through on the job experience, individuals who wish to pursue voluntary certification through the American Health Information Management Association must have a bachelor's and master's degree in order to be eligible to take the comprehensive examination for certification. Due to the additional responsibilities and experience required, medical billing administrators earn a salary of approximately $53,981 per year on average.

Continued Education after an Online Medical Billing and Coding Certificate Program

Once an individual has completed their training program and earned six months of work experience, they are eligible to take the optional certified coding associate exam (CCA). Although this CCA certification is not required for the position, it can increase your marketability of the individual. One year after the CCA credential has been earned, you will be eligible to apply for certification as a Certified Coding Specialist (CCS). Finally, the Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT) exam is an option open to students who have completed an associate's degree program.

Some institutions, such as St. Petersburg College in Florida, have designed their certificate program to flow into an associate's degree, meaning the courses taken for the certificate will also count toward those needed to earn an Associate's Degree in Health Information Management. These articulated pathways can save students time and money by eliminating repetition in coursework when moving from a certificate program into an associate's degree program.

Courses for an Online Certificate Program in Medical Billing and Coding

Coursework in online medical billing is designed to assist the student in passing their certification exam. Medical records classes cover topics such as legal requirements in medical billing records, patient communication, and reporting. Common billing software products are explored in electronic medical billing courses, while classes on medical insurance cover topics such as claims forms and standardized coding practices.

Courses a student can expect to encounter may include:

  • Medical Terminology
  • Medical Insurance and Claim Forms
  • Electronic Medical Billing
  • Medical Records
  • Physician-Based Medical Coding
  • Pathology and Pharmacology
  • Law, Ethics and Confidentiality

Students and professors may interact via live one-way or multiple-way audio and video, interactive discussion boards, chat rooms and email.

Electronic Health Records

The introduction to patient health record technology systems course serves as a foundational course introducing students to the concept and structure of health records, which will be used daily in their future jobs. The learning objectives for this course includes data flows, standards of practice, and basic components of the patient health records. Common data entry errors are presented accompanied by suggested solutions for avoiding these errors.

Medical Terminology

The healthcare field utilizes a variety of industry-specific words. In the medical terminology class, students learn the proper vocabulary used by the healthcare industry to describe diseases, body systems, medical procedures, and medical specialties. Commonly used abbreviations are also presented during the course.

How Long Does an Online Certificate Program in Medical Billing and Coding Take to Complete?

Online programs for medical billing and coding can vary from a 4-month certificate program to a 2-year associate's degree program. More extensive certificate programs, which include 12 to 18 months of study, are available as well. Students who already have extensive experience within the healthcare field may opt for a shorter certificate program, while students who have never worked in the industry may elect to attend a more comprehensive certificate or associate's degree program. The goal is to attain the necessary knowledge to successfully pass a certification exam, such as the Certified Coding Associate (CCA) at the end of the individual's program of study.

How to Choose an Online Certificate Program in Medical Billing and Coding

Selecting the right medical billing and coding online program involves consideration of several factors, including personal career goals, course offerings within the program, time commitment, and cost. Community colleges and technical schools are an excellent resource for locating an online certificate program. It may also be helpful to consider what type of certification test is desired, so that the student may choose the program best aligned to their preferred certificate.

A certificate program is different from an industry certification. Certificate programs are a set of training courses designed to prepare the student to enter a specific career field. An industry certification is typically earned through achieving a passing score on a comprehension exam, which is usually taken at the conclusion of the certificate program. Completing a certificate program in medical billing and coding can be an advantage in the hiring process, as employers tend to prefer applicants who have this additional training. The coursework provides a strong foundation for those beginning a new job in this field.

If a student needs flexibility, online programs may be the right choice, as self-paced programs allow the student to progress through the material as quickly or slowly as is comfortable for them. Students who have prior experience in the field may be able to finish the program in less than 12 months, while those who are new to the concepts can take the time needed for them to master the material. Recorded lectures permit the students to access their course at a time of day most convenient for them.

How to Get Into an Online Medical Billing and Coding Certificate Program

Completion of an online application is often the first step in applying to the medical billing and coding program. It may be helpful to make a list of required deadlines and documents that must be included in the application in order to ensure all information is submitted in a timely fashion.

Documents requested by colleges will likely include transcripts, immunization records, and prior test scores. Official transcripts showing a high school diploma has been awarded, or GED requirements have been met, are generally required. Immunization records, also called shot records, are needed to prove that all required vaccinations have been taken. ACT or Accuplacer scores may be requested as well if applicable.

Some colleges also have minimum GPA requirements in order to enroll. Should the program require an internship, a permission form for a criminal background check is typically included.

Helpful resources may be found on the admissions section of the college website. Contact information for the admissions department, including an email address and phone number, allows potential students to speak directly with admissions staff in order to find answers to any questions regarding the application process. Check for campus tour opportunities as well, which are also usually listed on the admissions page.

Cost of an Online Medical Billing and Coding Certificate Program

How much will getting medical billing and coding certificate cost you? Well, the average national cost of attendance at a community college was $10,300 for the 2020-2021 academic year. Most certificates take approximately 1 year to 18 months to complete, resulting in a total program cost average between $10,300 and $15,450. Tuition and fees can vary by institution, specific program, or where you are located.

The three term online program in medical coding offered by Lane Community College in Oregon costs about $8,208. Blinn College in Texas offers their one year certificate program at a cost of $8,390 for in-district students, $10,420 for out-of-district but in-state students, and $15,985 for out-of-state students. East Central College in Illinois offers an 18 month Health Information Management certificate at a cost of $6,865for in-district students and $8,265 for out-of-district students.

Financial Aid & Scholarship Resources for Online Medical Billing and Coding Certificate Programs

Completion of the FASFA form is the best starting point when seeking federal financial aid. Many institutions require the FASFA to determine eligibility for local financial aid and scholarships as well.

Scholarship opportunities are often available from the institution offering the program. These may typically be found under the financial aid link on the college website. Greenville Technical College scholarships, for example, are listed on the financial aid section of their website. Many foundations offer scholarships as well. One example is the New Hampshire Charitable foundation which offers scholarships for students seeking a professional certificate. This foundation annually awards $6 million in scholarships to over 1,600 New Hampshire students. Additionally, they are often offered by industry-related organizations and associations. The Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) Foundation Scholarship awards an undergraduate scholarship in the amount of $5,000 to students enrolled in a healthcare information field. Scholarship award winners also receive funding to attend the Global Health Conference presented by the HIMSS organization for that year.

Students who choose to continue their studies may be interested in the scholarship program established by the AHIMA, or American Health Information Management Association Foundation. Eligibility for these scholarships does require that students are enrolled in a degree seeking program at the associate's level or above. Scholarship amounts begin at $1,000 and are available in three categories: veterans, academic merit, and dissertation support.

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