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 20 percent between now and 2020. That’s over 6 percent higher than the average job growth rate.
As such, there are a lot of organizations, schools, and companies that offer instruction and training in medical coding and billing. Some of these are excellent, well-reputed schools. We’ll look at how to pick the right coding and billing program in this course. Other programs are less respectable, and there are a number of scams out there you should avoid. We’ll talk about how to avoid medical billing and coding scams in the next Course.
The Importance of Accreditation
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. Medical billing and coding programs are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Health Informatics and Information Management Education (CAHIIM). Note that this program only accredits programs that give out associate and baccalaureate degrees, meaning certificates are not covered.
When you’re looking at a school for billing and/or coding, 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 accredited 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 an accredited school.
Degrees and Certificates
An associate’s 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 associate degree programs take two years to complete.
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’s degree may look better to a prospective employer or certifying body.
The AAPC, for instance, recommends you have an associate’s 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 in medical billing and coding are not offered frequently. 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.
Picking a School
Now that you know a little bit more about the different kinds of medical billing and coding education you can receive, let’s look at how to pick the right school for you.
Community colleges and technical schools are the best option 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. Better yet, they’ll give you the chance to receive face-to-face instruction from an instructor, which is invaluable in a subject as complex as medical billing and coding.
At this point, you may be thinking about getting a medical billing and coding degree online. Online education is one of the fastest-growing fields of education in the U.S. today, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right choice for everyone.
You don’t want to take a certificate program that takes less than a year to complete, in other words. If you are going to pursue an online degree, try and find a program that’s affiliated with not-for-profit public school or university. Many schools now offer courses and even degree programs online. If you’ve got to get an online coding or billing degree, 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
When you’re looking into getting a degree or certificate in medical billing and coding, there are a few things you should look for from a prospective school. 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 school you attend offers 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.