How to Choose a Program
For those interested in making the career switch, this guide will help you navigate the research and decision-making process for medical billing and coding programs. Elements to consider include your preferred learning environment, program delivery, and costs.
In many cases, an online program may fit better into a student's schedule than a traditional, on-campus program. Determining the quality of each program can also prove an overwhelming process. Prior to beginning your education, you must choose whether to pursue a certificate, associate degree, or bachelor's degree.
The following information will help you navigate your options and further explain how online learning works on your journey toward a medical billing and coding certificate or degree.
Program Delivery: Online vs. On-Campus
The first step toward learning how to choose a medical billing and coding program involves deciding whether to pursue your education online or on campus. Factors to consider may include scheduling availability, cost, and personal learning style.
Online programs provide students the flexibility to attend classes at their convenience. Typically, students can log in to their courses at any time. This makes earning a college degree or certificate possible for people with busy schedules, including parents, full-time employees, and military members.
Often more affordable than on-campus alternatives, online courses allow students to avoid the cost of room and board, meal plans, transportation, parking, or childcare fees. Instead, online program costs simply include tuition, technology, and specialized course fees, such as labs (if applicable).
While online learning carries many benefits, online programs often include more demands than on-campus courses. Students need discipline to log in to classes at regular intervals, interact with peers and instructors, and complete assignments according to schedule. Self-motivation makes up the key to online learning success.
Factors to Consider When Choosing an Online Medical Billing and Coding Program
Some online courses occur entirely online, while others follow a hybrid/blended learning model. This format requires students to attend class on campus at least 50% of the time (some courses can be 75-80%), with the remainder of coursework conducted online. Hybrid/blended courses provide students with experiences and learning opportunities not available in fully online programs. This remains especially true for certain lab, nursing, and teaching courses.
Students should review course requirements prior to choosing a medical billing and coding program to understand any on-campus components. Make sure to research which courses use the hybrid/blended learning model prior to making your education decision. If you select an out-of-state program, or one geographically distant from your home, you will likely be unable to fulfill any hybrid/blended course requirements. However, you may prefer a program with hybrid/blended courses in order to make on-campus connections with instructors and other students.
Synchronous or Asynchronous
Both of these online learning formats provide students the ability to participate in coursework from remote locations. However, synchronous online courses require students to log in to courses at specific times so they can participate in "live" courses on campus. This allows for full engagement in class discussions, group work, and presentations. Thanks to video technology, peers and instructors can connect online student names with faces.
Often, online students' schedules prevent participation in synchronous classes, so students should look for fully asynchronous classes when selecting an online program. This format makes it possible for students to log in to courses at their convenience. At any time of day or night, they can listen to lectures, review class notes, participate in virtual class discussions by posting comments to online message boards, and submit assignments electronically. Asynchronous classes prove the most common and flexible online course delivery method.
When researching online program options, consider the average class size and student-to-faculty ratio. Small class sizes and low student-to-faculty ratios typically give students more opportunities to interact with instructors. This individual attention helps build relationships and achieves positive learning outcomes.
Easier to moderate, smaller class sizes also make discussions more intimate and effective, especially through asynchronous courses. These classes use online message boards to facilitate discussions.
Colleges and universities work diligently to achieve ideal student-to-faculty ratios for both on-campus and online courses. Institutions readily share this data on individual program websites.
Personal Learning Style
Students who excel in online learning programs share common characteristics. They are self-starters, motivated, and disciplined. They work well independently and can communicate effectively with instructors and other students in virtual environments. Successful online students must work within structured programs, including meeting deadlines, logging in to courses regularly, and managing their time. They juggle the various responsibilities of personal, work, and school commitments.
Online instruction relies mainly on visual and auditory learning methods. Students who learn better in hands-on environments, or who require more personal interaction, usually select on-campus programs over online classes. Establish your personal learning style before choosing a medical billing and coding program. You may determine that online instruction suits you best or that you prefer taking courses in person.
If you opt to pursue an online program, certain resources can help you achieve your goals. Most colleges and universities offer online tutoring, digital library assistance, and virtual labs to practice billing and coding methods on actual medical records.
Internships or Practicums
Online medical billing and coding programs often require an internship or practicum. However, some students choose to complete internships on their own. This assists students with applying the medical billing and coding techniques they learn through their coursework. For example, students can practice increasing their speed and accuracy in assigning codes for healthcare services and diagnostic procedures.
Internships can be paid or unpaid, but always deliver resume-building experience. Some medical billing and coding companies offer unpaid internships that also serve as internal training programs. Successful interns may even receive an offer of employment after completion. In addition, students can inquire about internship opportunities at local hospitals, medical offices, and insurance companies.
Students who pursue internships should ask their program advisers if they can earn academic credit for their work.
Choosing an Accredited Program
As you research medical billing and coding programs, remember to verify each institution's accreditation status. Colleges, universities, and individual programs that meet certain academic standards receive accreditation, with accreditation standards remaining similar for both online and on-campus programs.
Successfully transferring credits to other accredited schools requires institutional accreditation. This particularly includes medical billing and coding students, as programs involve the certificate and associate degree levels. Graduates seeking advanced degrees need their medical billing and coding credits to transfer in order to save valuable time and money.
Many employers often include academic accreditation in their job hiring requirements. This provides verification that potential employees hold degrees from reputable institutions. In addition, federal financial aid may be unavailable to students attending non-accredited institutions.
The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) comprises an association of accrediting bodies and accredited institutions. It maintains databases of these institutions and individually accredited academic programs. These databases provide helpful resources for students seeking accreditation information.
National vs. Regional Accreditation
Students should understand the two types of institutional accreditation standards prior to enrolling in a program. Religious-focused schools commonly receive national accreditation. These institutions, often for-profit, tend to be smaller than regionally accredited schools. National accreditation organizations, including the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges, review institutions to determine accreditation status.
Nonprofit colleges and universities with stringent academic standards often receive regional accreditation. Regional accrediting bodies review institutions in specific parts of the country. For example, colleges and universities in New England receive accreditation from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges. Accredited schools can be private, or public, state-supported institutions.
Regionally accredited schools, generally preferred over national, typically do not accept transfer credits from nationally accredited institutions, and vice-versa. Exceptions may be made on an individual basis, particularly for students planning to transfer programs or pursue graduate school.
Schools include accreditation information on their websites, so it should be easy to locate on each school's homepage. If you cannot readily access accreditation information, search for the school on the CHEA website.
Programmatic accreditation goes to specific academic programs that meet quality and industry standards. Special agencies, such as the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing, manage programmatic accreditation.
Business, education, and nursing programs and departments commonly receive accreditation from one or more programmatic accreditation agencies. Vocational degrees or programs obtain accreditation by a specialized body. The Commission of Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education (CAHIIM) accredits the medical billing and coding programs of regionally accredited institutions.
Choosing a medical billing and coding program accredited by CAHIIM ensures you will learn the skills required to pass industry certification exams. This includes exams offered by the American Academy of Professional Coders and the American Health Information Management Association.
Your ultimate career goals will drive your decision to pursue a certain degree level. For example, if you hope to secure an entry-level medical billing and coding job upon program completion, you will likely seek a certificate or associate degree. However, a bachelor's degree benefits those working toward a management role.
To begin your medical billing and coding program research, check out the Medical Billing and Coding Certification website for details about degree levels, related careers, and salary outlook data. The following information also offers an outline of education options.
- Diploma or Certificate Program: These programs can be completed in less than one year and prepare students for professional certification in either medical coding and compliance, auditing, documentation, or billing practices.
- Associate Degree: Taking up to two years to complete, these programs include general academic courses, such as math and writing, in addition to medical billing and coding courses. Students study the most popular coding manuals, along with medical terminology and insurance compliance standards.
- Bachelor's Degree: These four-year programs are not commonly offered as medical billing and coding majors, but more often as BS degrees in health information management. Curriculum covers data management, operations, human resources, and leadership.
Cost and Financial Aid
The cost of earning a medical billing and coding certificate or degree plays an important role in selecting a school. Costs vary depending on degree level and whether you pursue your education part or full time. For example, a full-time bachelor's degree student will pay more than both part- and full-time associate degree students, as bachelor's programs require more coursework.
Additional program costs typically apply, including books and materials, lab and technology fees, and health insurance and immunization requirements.
Public vs. Private Schools
The cost of a medical billing and coding program also depends on the institutions status as public or private. Public schools largely receive funding by state governments and taxpayers, along with federal grants, student tuition, and direct gifts. Private schools typically receive more federal funding and grants than public schools, and only occasional, small amounts of state funding. Public schools rely heavily on student tuition, research funding, and donations. Private schools often offer robust institutional support programs that regularly promote donations from alumni, corporations, and partners.
Public schools usually require less tuition expense than private institutions due to their reliable source of income from in-state sources. These schools also tend to enroll more students, which provides a larger source of tuition income.
While private schools cost more, their low student-to-faculty ratios and variety of specialized programs convince many students to overlook financial concerns. Public schools usually offer more degree options than private schools, but do not necessarily offer the same targeted study opportunities.
Both public and private schools accept federal financial aid in the form of grants, scholarships, and work-study programs. Private schools tend to give higher amounts of direct financial aid from their own resources. Be sure to research the availability of merit-based scholarships provided by the public and/or private schools on your short list.
In-State vs. Out-of-State Schools
When considering public institutions for your medical billing and coding program, you must understand how your state residency status affects your tuition rate. Public colleges and universities apply lower tuition rates to in-state residents versus out-of-state students. Out-of-state residents pay thousands of dollars more in public school tuition than their in-state peers.
Residency also affects financial aid since schools are more selective in offering awards to out-of-state students. This makes the process very competitive for these students, putting them at a marked disadvantage. Residency status can play a role in private school tuition, as school funding sources do not rely on state governments and taxpayers.
The data outlined in the table below provides a snapshot of recent public, four-year college tuition rates based on in-state or out-of-state residency. Private, four-year college data is also included for comparison.
In-State vs. Out-of-State College Tuition Prices
|Public Four-year In-State College||$9,670||$9,970|
|Public Four-Year Out-of-State College||$24,820||$25,620|
|Private Four-Year Nonprofit College||$33,520||$34,740|
Source: The College Board
Two-Year vs. Four-Year Schools
Another part of the decision-making process includes selecting a two- or four-year school, which can mean a significant tuition cost difference.
If you plan to pursue an associate degree in medical billing and coding, you will pay less tuition and program fees than a bachelor's degree student. Bachelor's degrees require more credits and take longer to complete, so they almost always cost more than associate degrees.
Associate degree students can enroll in programs at two- or four-year schools. Typically, a two-year school, or community college, offers more cost-effective programs than four-year schools. While both degrees bring the same outcome, four-year schools include higher program delivery and overhead costs. This makes two-year colleges a better choice for budget-conscious students.
The following table offers the average two- and four-year tuition rates of local, public institutions in the U.S.
Two-Year vs. Four-Year College Tuition Prices
|Public Two-Year In-District College||$3,470||$3,570|
|Public Four-Year In-State College||$9,670||$9,970|
Source: The College Board
Online vs. On-Campus Programs
The delivery method you select -- on line or on campus -- affects your total program costs. Online medical billing and coding certificates can start as low as $2,000, while online associate degree costs can range from about $6,000 to $13,000. On-campus associate degrees run about $10,000 to $24,000, including room and board.
Online programs often cost less than their on-campus counterparts, and online students can receive further financial assistance to help reduce expenses. Online students also avoid the additional costs of participating in on-campus programs. Online students avoid paying for transportation, parking, meal plans, or room and board. Parents can also eliminate or reduce daycare costs by attending classes online.
The table below lists average room and board fees for public and private four-year schools. Students who select an online program avoid paying these high fees.
Room and Board Fees
|Public Four-Year In-State/Out-of-State College||$10,480||$10,800|
|Private Nonprofit Four-year College||$11,850||$12,210|
Source: The College Board
A quality education helps prepare you for future employment. In addition to acquiring the necessary skills for medical billing and coding work, the reputation of your school and specific program affects the hiring process. Be sure to select those with positive reputations.
- Graduate Job Placement Rate: This statistic tells prospective students how many program graduates secure jobs within a short time frame after completion (usually six months to one year). Programs with good reputations generally offer higher job placement rates.
- Teacher Credentials: The expertise of instructors contributes to positive program reputations. Ideally, instructors need years of professional experience and the highest graduate degrees available in their field. This information shows on program websites or by researching instructors online.
- Accreditation Status: Students should seek programs accredited by CAHIIM. Proper program accreditation is crucial for attaining future employment in the medical billing and coding industry.