February 15, 2013 by Holly Cassano

Which Online Medical Coding Program Is Best — a Certificate, Diploma, or Associate degree?

Question: (From Jona) I am looking into a medical coding online school. There are so many! Some offer certificates, some diplomas, and some offer associate degrees. Which online program would be the best? Thanks!

Dear Jona,

Deciding whether to obtain a certificate/diploma or pursue a degree in medical billing and coding is a personal decision and generally is based on the time that the potential student has available to pursue either.

In general, an associate degree program is a two-year program that incorporates general education courses in subjects like college writing, mathematics, and the humanities alongside courses in medical billing and coding. Certificate and diploma programs do not typically include general education courses, focusing instead on courses directly related to billing and coding. For this reason, certificate and diploma programs take much less time to complete, often a year or less. None is necessarily “better” than the other, although some employers may require or prefer an associate degree.

However, keep in mind that certificate, diploma, and associate degree programs offered by colleges are not the only way to prepare for a medical billing and coding career. You can also prepare for a medical billing and coding career by taking a course through a credentialing organization like the AAPC.

I have advised many that by obtaining a certification, like the CPC credential offered through the AAPC, you can take a medical billing and coding course without having to pursue a two- or four-year degree. But you must take a course such as the one that the AAPC offers on its website. The benefit of going this route is that if you pass the CPC exam, you can start working as a CPC, at a CPC’s salary and then go back to pursue an online degree from an accredited college if you choose to.

It really is dependent upon your situation — which mode of obtaining your certification will work best for your individual situation.

However you choose to pursue your certification, a degree is available at both the associate/bachelor’s level if you so desire. Either program will prepare you for your future career in the medical billing and coding industry.

You must remember to choose an accredited program and also look for programs that offer internships/externships, as this is your foot in a future employer’s door once you are certified. Participating in an internship/externship offered by the program/school demonstrates to potential employers that you are well-versed in your field and can perform “boots on the ground” if offered a position.

Any reputable medical billing/coding school actively seeks accreditation from the governing body, CAHIIM (Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education). CAHIIM is in charge of reviewing curriculum for medical billing and coding programs to guarantee that the program/school properly prepares students for a career in this industry.

Aside from this website, you can click here to access a great resource for locating an accredited online medical billing and coding school.

Happy Coding!

Holly

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