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

Certificates, diplomas, and associate degrees in medical billing and coding can prepare learners for entry-level careers in the discipline. Degree-seekers can enroll in accredited medical billing and coding schools online to take advantage of the flexible formats. Many online programs feature asynchronous delivery, allowing learners to complete their courses at their own pace.

Medical coding programs prepare enrollees for jobs by imparting a thorough understanding of medical terminology and medical office procedures, which prepares them to perform a variety of job duties across work environments. Curricula for medical coding students explores how to review patient records, how to electronically record data, and the best ways to organize and maintain data for patient and clinical databases.

While the scope of study can differ at the certificate, diploma, and associate degree levels, learners can expect to leave each program type with the skills needed to pursue credentials in their desired area of medical coding and billing.

Overview of a Certificate in Medical Coding

Nearly 155,000 healthcare professionals hold certification from the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC). Medical coders can earn certification through specialized education, completing and passing a qualifying exam, and completing experience in an area of specialty.

Medical coding credentials represent high levels of competency in coding, billing, documentation, auditing, practice management, and compliance. Candidates can prepare for their AAPC certification exams by completing online training or classroom training. Requirements can differ depending on the specific credential. Certification options include the following credentials:

  • Certified professional coder
  • Certified outpatient coder
  • Certified inpatient coder
  • Certified risk adjustment coder
  • Certified professional biller
  • Certified professional medical auditor
  • Certified professional compliance officer
  • Certified physician practice manager
  • Certified documentation expert outpatient

Advantages to a Medical Coding Certificate Program

Earning a medical coding certificate can prepare candidates for a specific career. AAPC certification demonstrates excellence in achievement and proficiency across healthcare specialties. Since certified individuals must complete rigorous exams, many employers prefer to hire credentialed candidates since they can expect a certain level of competency and skill from them.

As healthcare continues to evolve, the demand for professionals with specialized skills and training increases as well. Certified individuals can promote a constant enhancement of knowledge and skills while they build a strong team committed to high standards of quality, benefiting their company or organization.

Overview of a Diploma in Medical Coding

Candidates who want to pursue a career in medical coding can consider enrolling in a medical billing and coding online program to earn a diploma. While specific requirements can differ depending on the institution, learners often earn their diploma in less than a year.

Online formats enable learners to complete their requirements at their own pace as they prepare for certification exams. Learners explore medical billing and health insurance, electronic medical records, and body systems and medical terminology. Once candidates earn their diploma, they can pursue the credential of their choosing, completing their state-specific process for certification.

Advantages to a Medical Coding Diploma

Completing medical billing and coding online courses prepares candidates for certification opportunities. Many learners choose to earn a diploma rather than an associate degree since diploma programs allow them to graduate in less than one year. Since certification requires specific training and education, pursuing a diploma can provide candidates with the educational experience necessary to earn the credential of their choosing through an affordable, accelerated format.

Overview of an Associate Degree in Medical Coding

Learners interested in entry-level medical billing and coding careers need to cultivate an educational background in the discipline along with specialized training. Across colleges and universities, requirements can differ for medical coding associate degrees. Depending on the program, learners can anticipate different admissions requirements, course offerings, and credit requirements.

While specifics can vary, associate students typically take about two years to earn their degree, often completing 60 credits of coursework. At the associate level, courses explore medical law and ethics, medical office procedures with insurance, and computerized medical office management.

Admissions criteria typically require prospective students to hold a high school diploma or GED and provide a completed application, transcripts, and a personal essay or statement of purpose.

Advantages to a Medical Coding Associate Degree Program

Although an associate degree is not necessarily a requirement for medical coding positions, many employers prefer to hire candidates with a more advanced educational background than a diploma or certificate program. Earning an associate degree can also prepare candidates to enroll in a bachelor’s degree opportunity if they want to continue advancing their education and expanding their career opportunities.