Clinical coders, also known as medical coders or coding specialists, work in hospital and medical settings and are responsible for entering patient information to determine whether the health care facility will be reimbursed by Medicare, Medicaid and other insurance programs. They use special codes to enter this information and must have specific training and usually a degree. This can be a great opportunity for individuals to become oriented with the health care field without having any direct care responsibilities.
Clinical coders are trained to enter patient information into classification systems software in order to help the health care provider determine whether or not they will be reimbursed by the patient’s Medicare, Medicaid or other insurance coverage. Coders assign a code to diagnoses and procedures in the patient’s records based on various coding systems. These coding systems vary depending on the facility, such as long-term care facilities, physician’s offices and ambulatory settings. Different hospitals may also have their own coding regulations.
Most medical coder positions require an associate degree as well as additional certification. A competitive applicant will have coursework in medical terminology and anatomy, clinical classification and coding systems, health care reimbursement methods, and database management. There are also several different types of certification that coders can obtain. The American Health Information Management Association offers certification for Registered Health Information Technicians (RHIT), which requires a two-year associate degree and passing a written exam. The American Academy of Professional Coders, the Board of Medical Specialty Coding and Professional Association of Health Care Coding Specialists also offer different credentialing in coding and specialised coding. Computer skills are also important for clinical coders.
The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that as of May 2008, the average salary for medical records and health information technicians was £19,896 per year. The top 10 per cent earned over £32,539 per year, while the bottom 10 per cent earned less than £13,286 per year. Coders employed in the offices of physicians earned a lower salary in 2008, averaging £17,036 per year, while those employed in general medical and surgical hospitals earned a higher salary of £21,190 per year.
Medical coders’ schedules will vary depending on the type of facility they work in. They may work a regular 40-hour work week, but their schedule might include evenings and nights if the facility is open 24 hours per day. Approximately 14 per cent of coders worked part-time only in 2008, according to the BLS.
The BLS shows that employment opportunities for coders are expected to grow by 20 per cent, much faster than average, between 2008 and 2018. The increase in use of electronic health records will result in a demand for technicians to manage these electronic databases. Candidates with strong computer and technology skills will be most qualified for these positions.