Medical Billing Degree vs. Certificate - Which is Better?

What's the difference between a medical billing degree and a medical billing certificate, and how do you get either one?

In your search to find credentials as a medical biller or coder, you may have come across many different programs, each offering something different...

Getting your degree or diploma

Some four-year programs offer a bachelor's degree in medical administration, whereas other shorter college or technical school programs offer a medical billing diploma.

These are study programs designed to teach you the basics of the medical industry, as well as medical billing and coding guidelines and techniques. Depending on your program, you may also learn medical coding.

When you graduate with a medical billing degree or medical coding diploma you'll have the necessary knowledge to perform the basic tasks of a medical billing specialist, insurance clerk, or medical coder.

But you'll still lack your certificate.

Getting your certificate

A stack of textbooks - you'll need to study hard to get your medical billing degree

Your medical billing certificate is an official certificate offered by a certified organisation, based on your ability to pass the certifying exam. Once you've passed your exam, you receive your certification.

There are many types of certifications, ranging from healthcare administration to coding to medical auditing. What certification you get depends on what certifying body you choose to go to, as well as what type of job you're looking for.

For instance, let's say you want to be a medical compliance auditor. This means you'll be in charge of checking your medical office's charting and coding practices to make sure they're compliant with HIPAA's regulation.

In this case you may want to get your CPCO (Certified Professional Compliance Officer) certification, offered by the AAPC (American Academy of Professional Coders).

On the other hand, if you want to become certified in medical administration and office procedures, you may want to get your RHIA (Registered Health Information Administrator) certification, offered by AHIMA (American Health Information Management Association).

If you want to be a certified medical coding specialist, meaning you'll be responsible for translating patient visits into codes to send to insurance companies for payment, you may want to get your CPC (Certified Professional Coder) certification. It's offered by the AAPC.

What certification you decide to get ultimately depends on what kind of job you want in the medical field.

More information on medical billing and coding certificates.

So how do you get either one?

Getting a medical billing degree or diploma is just like going to school for any other subject. There are many programs to choose from, including:

  • Four-year university programs
  • Associate's degree programs
  • Community college programs
  • Online classes
  • Vocational or technical college classes
  • Hybrid courses (a mix between online and face-to-face)

These programs range anywhere from a full four-year medical billing degree to a short (but intense) eight month program.

The type of program you ultimately choose depends on what you want to achieve professionally, as well as your budget.

Generally, longer university programs are going to be more expensive. Technical, vocational, or community college classes will be cheaper. Online classes may be less expensive as well.

Once you finish your course of study, you'll receive your degree or diploma, depending on what your program offers. After you get your diploma, you'll have enough education to take and pass a certification exam.

Some programs may help you study or pay for your certification exam. But these programs don't administer it, due to the fact that aren't certifying organisations. You need to get your certificate from one of the certifying bodies in healthcare.

The two biggest certifying bodies in healthcare are the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC), the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA). Both offer multiple types of certifications as well as continuing education, as well as help studying for the exams.

What will my employer require?

Whatever kind of formal education you get will be a help in searching for a job

If you graduate with either a medical billing degree or diploma from a medical billing or coding school, but haven't yet got your certificate yet, don't worry!

Although they usually prefer it, many employers don't require you to have your certification.

But this isn't the case if you're applying for highly technical, managerial, or high-level position requiring many years of experience or education.

Due the large demand for skilled medical billing and coding personnel and a relatively small percentage of people with formal education in medical billing or coding, whatever education you receive will be an asset to you in your job search.

Most entry- or lower-level positions only require a high school diploma or GED. Having your medical billing degree or diploma will give you a huge advantage over the competition.

In the same vein, having both your degree as well as a certification will make you fully equipped to enter the job hunt searching for mid- to high-level positions.

See: benefits of becoming a certified medical billing specialist.

What if you have no degree?

Before you choose whether or not to go to school, consider your experience in the medical field. If you've been in the medical billing industry for a while and have a few years of experience, going to school may or may not help you.

Example: If you're a Medical Assistant (MA) you may still want to go to school to get your diploma in medical billing or coding. This is due to the fact that most of your medical experience is in patient care and in performing patient vitals, rather than insurance and coding.

On the other hand, if you have a few years of working as part of the back office staff in a medical office, you may already be able to take a certification exam and pass it.

If this isn't possible, you may be able to take fewer classes or online study guides (offered by AHIMA and AAPC) to learn enough to pass the certification exam.

Either way you look at it, getting either your certification or degree/diploma is an asset to you professionally. They both make you more qualified to do a great job in the medical billing field, and make you a more desirable candidate for hire.

For more information on studying medical billing and coding, see:

How to choose the right medical billing college for you.

What will you learn in your medical billing classes?

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