Medical billing and medical coding are two of the fastest growing jobs in the health sector. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects jobs in health information and management (which includes coding and billing) to grow by around 15 percent between now and 2024. As such, there are a lot of organizations, schools, and companies that offer instruction and training in medical coding and billing. In this course, we’ll look at how to pick the right accredited medical coding schools online and on campus.
The Importance of Accredited Online Medical Billing and Coding Schools
Accreditation is the process by which a third party organization or governing body confirms the quality of instruction of an educational institute. Essentially, accreditation is quality control. There are two types of accreditation: institutional and programmatic. Institutional accreditation affirms the quality of a school as a whole, while programmatic accreditation affirms the quality of a particular program within the school.
Colleges and universities are accredited at the institutional level by the accrediting bodies approved by the Council of Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). These agencies are divided geographically, so schools in Vermont are accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges Commission on Institutions of Higher Education (NEASC-CIHE), while schools in California are accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC-WASC).
Schools receive their programmatic accreditation from agencies devoted to that subject area. Accredited online medical billing and coding schools meet requirements set by the Commission on Accreditation of Health Informatics and Information Management Education (CAHIIM). Note that this organization only accredits programs that give out associate and baccalaureate degrees, meaning certificates are not covered.
When you’re looking for accredited medical coding schools online, you want to make sure it’s accredited regionally and by CAHIIM. Accreditation ensures an employer or another school will recognize the degree you earn at the school. Accreditation also allows students to apply for and receive federal funding to attend that school. You won’t be eligible for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) unless you’re enrolled in accredited medical coding schools online.
Degrees and Certificates
An associate degree is a two-year degree, often seen as the halfway point to a full bachelor’s degree. It’s typically completed after 60 or more hours of instruction (the typical bachelor’s degree includes 120 credit-hours of schooling). Most accredited medical billing and coding schools online with financial aid offer associate degree programs.
Certificates, on the other hand, are usually completed in one year. Where associate’s degrees demonstrate both general knowledge and a focus in one area, certificate programs are generally confined solely to one area of study. These programs are often more affordable and easier to earn while working another job. The tradeoff is that an associate degree may look better to a prospective employer or certifying body.
The AAPC, for instance, recommends you have an associate degree before you take the CPC exam to become a certified coder. That’s just a recommendation, though, and many professional coders and billers enter into the field with only a certificate in their respective subject.
Bachelor’s degrees are not offered as frequently from accredited medical coding schools online. If you’re going to earn a bachelor’s degree in health informatics (the general field of health information, including collection, analysis, and management), you’ll want to look for managerial positions related to coding and billing, rather than coding and billing itself. We won’t be covering bachelor’s degrees here.
Finding Accredited Medical Coding Schools Online
Now that you know a little bit more about the different levels of education you can pursue at accredited online medical billing and coding schools, let’s look at how to pick the right school for you.
Community colleges and technical schools are among the best options for learning medical billing and coding. First, they’re less expensive than traditional universities. Second, several of them offer both associate and certificate programs, meaning you can choose the path that works best for you. Third, they’re flexible. Most community colleges and technical schools offer night classes, meaning you can earn a certificate or degree while continuing your career.
Community colleges and technical schools also have the benefit of accreditation and association with a larger, more renowned school. If you live near the campus, you’ll have the chance to receive face-to-face instruction from a teacher, which is invaluable in a subject as complex as medical billing and coding.
If you are going to pursue an online degree, try and find a program that’s affiliated with a not-for-profit public school or university. Many schools now offer courses and even degree programs online. If you’re searching for affordable accredited medical billing and coding schools online with financial aid, pick one of these schools before you look into a private, for-profit school.
Note that you may make an exception for professional organizations like the AAPC and the American Health Information Management Association, or AHIMA. Both of these professional organizations offer courses in medical billing and coding. However, since they’re not education bodies, they can’t be accredited. Taking courses from these organizations can be expensive, though, and it’s still better to pursue a degree or certificate at a community college or technical school than take classes solely through the AAPC or AHIMA.
What to Look For in the Top Accredited Online Medical Billing and Coding Schools
When you’re looking at accredited medical coding schools online, there are a few things you should look for. The first is, obviously, accreditation. The second is a dedicated program to health information management (HIM), health informatics, or medical billing and coding.
You should also make sure the accredited online medical billing and coding schools you are researching offer courses in a variety of fields related to medical coding and billing. You’ll want to look for classes in coding and billing software, the healthcare process, anatomy and physiology, and general medical terminology. If you’re going to invest in a degree or certificate, make sure you get the full spectrum of the medical billing and coding professions.
Financial Aid for Accredited Medical Coding Schools Online
There are some accredited medical billing and coding schools online with financial aid for students who qualify. Get in contact with your prospective school to see what types of medical billing and coding financial aid are available in the form of scholarships and grants. You can also find scholarships through professional organizations such as the AAPC. In order to be eligible for this type of financial aid, medical billing and coding students must have good academic standing and should demonstrate financial need.