Medical Coding Specialist Career Guide

Interested in becoming a medical coding specialist? Here's what it involves...

Medical coding is the process by which medical coders assign numerical codes to medical procedures, which are billed to patients and insurers.

Medical coders use codes from two main systems: International Classification of Diseases, 9th Edition (ICD-9) and Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System (HCPCS). ICD-9 codes refer to the diagnoses, and HCPCS codes refer to procedures and supplies.

HCPCS includes codes for the procedures performed by the provider (called CPT codes) as well as supply codes (called HCPCS Level II codes).

Coders have to learn medical terminology, human anatomy, and procedure description so they can ensure the patient's treatment is correctly coded.

Treatments and services need to be correctly coded so that insurance companies will reimbursement the cost of providing the service. If there are no reimbursements, the healthcare facility wouldn't be able to function.

Medical coding specialists also have to be able to understand handwritten patient charts. The information contained on the patient chart makes up the bulk of a claim. The insurance company may also ask for this data to prove that treatments were necessary before they make a payment.

This article on medical record coding outlines the steps coders need to take to read handwritten doctor's notes - no easy task!


The medical coder's job is to:

Get this information from the office visit...

  • diagnosis
  • procedures
  • supplies

...and translate it into:

  • ICD-9
  • CPT
  • and HCPCS codes.

This is then put into a claim form and billed to the patient's insurance company.


Medical coders are the bridge between the provider and the insurance company - they make sure everyone gets paid

To become a medical coding specialist, you'll have to complete a training program or course of study through a college, university, or online school. Medical coding usually takes a minimum of six months to learn.

If you want to find a school then see our list of medical billing and coding schools.

You can also opt to study online - see this article for information on how to find and choose a good online course.

You should also read up on medical coding diplomas, and decide whether or not they're the right option for you.

Once you've received a degree or diploma, it's time to become certified! This article explains the benefits of medical coding certification.

There are several different types of coding certification, and which one you get depends on what kind of job you want. See this guide to the various types of coding certification for more info.

For more on the educational requirements of becoming a medical coding specialist visit the American College of Coding Specialists:

We also recommend you learn about the American Academy of Professional Coders and what they can offer you.

Guides to specifics

The professionals coders on have written various guides and tutorials to aspects of billing and coding. Most of these are on the learn medical billing page, but here are some that are specific to medical coders.

Coding vaccines is different to regular procedural coding - click the link to learn how.

What are injury codes and e-codes, and how do you use them? This article explains.

A look at the most important medical coding publications. These 3 books will become your coding bibles, which you'll use every day to help you in your job as a medical coding specialist.

If you become certified, you're required to keep your coding knowledge current by taking Continuing Education Units. Learn all about medical coding CEUs here.

Stuck with a coding question? Find out where to get help with medical coding. The list includes several different ideas for sources of information to consult when you have a problem.

Find out when you should outsource your medical coding.

Healthcare is an industry that will very probably see a continued increase in demand as the broader population ages. It's likely that by choosing to become a medical coder you'll have long-term job security and a constant demand for your skills.

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