Earning an Online Medical Coding Certificate

What You’ll Learn & What You Can Do After Graduation

Medical coders work in healthcare organizations such as hospitals, urgent care facilities, clinics, doctors' offices, and nursing homes. These specialists translate information about diagnoses, laboratory results, and procedures into universal codes. Thanks to medical coders, insurance carriers and others involved in the medical billing process know exactly which services a patient received.

Earning a medical coding certificate can help individuals enter medical coding positions and other health information technology roles. Certificate programs typically include coursework in medical terminology, anatomy, reimbursement, and health information management. Students can pursue a medical billing and coding certificate online through a two-year college or a four-year institution.

What Are the Requirements to Get a Certificate in Medical Coding?

Students considering pursuing a certificate should become familiar with the process of earning a medical coding certificate online. Like most postsecondary programs, online medical billing and coding certificate programs maintain admission requirements that vary by school. Some colleges feature an open enrollment policy, while others only admit students over a certain age, typically 18.

Many medical coding programs require applicants to hold a high school diploma or GED. In addition, some schools enforce a minimum GPA requirement, usually between 2.0 and 2.5. Applicants may also need professional experience.

What's the Difference Between a Medical Coding Certificate and Degree?

Certificate programs can help learners build technical skills and qualify for professional roles. Additionally, a certificate can help candidates stand out among job seekers. A certificate is not a substitute for a degree. While earning a medical coding certificate online can boost an individual's credentials, associate and bachelor's programs offer significant advantages.

Certificate programs typically require less time to complete than degree programs. Learners can generally earn a medical coding certificate online in about 18 months, and students can complete some programs in less than a year. Associate and bachelor's programs require a more significant time commitment, but they provide a more comprehensive education. A degree in a field such as health informatics or healthcare administration qualifies graduates for more advanced roles than a medical coding certificate. Many students pursue a medical coding certificate after earning a degree in order to develop more specialized skills.

Online Medical Coding Certificate Curriculum

Medical coding certificates typically require 25-45 credits from 10-15 classes. While curricula vary by school, all medical coding programs help learners develop the skills they need to launch a career in the field. Students explore topics including medical terminology, health information management, medical coding systems, and computer applications. Below are some common courses found in medical coding certificate programs.

  • Healthcare Reimbursement: This course provides an overview of the reimbursement cycle and teaches students to use common payment systems. Students examine fraud and abuse regulations and learn to work within established guidelines. Coursework may also cover topics including diagnosis-related groups, ambulatory payment classifications, and resource-utilization groups.

  • Medical Terminology: Medical coding professionals need a strong knowledge of medical terminology to interpret doctors' notes and other documents. This course covers the meanings of common clinical terms, along with important prefixes, suffixes, and roots. Students learn to spell, pronounce, and define key healthcare-related words and phrases.

  • Anatomy and Physiology: Students learn about the normal structure and functioning of the human body. Anatomy courses also explore the relationship between body structure and processes. Medical coders need a basic knowledge of anatomy and physiology to effectively communicate with patients and other healthcare professionals.

  • Medical Coding: Most certificate programs include at least one technical course on medical coding systems, such as current procedural terminology. Learners in medical coding classes explore the notations, conventions, rules, and official guidelines associated with various codes. They may also discuss the legal and ethical issues related to coding.

  • Human Disease: Students in this class learn about common conditions, including their causes and symptoms. Learners also explore the diagnostic tests, medical treatments, and surgeries that nurses and doctors often suggest for various illnesses and disorders. This class prepares students to interpret clinical documents.

What Can You Do With a Certificate in Medical Coding?

Professionals with a certificate in medical coding can often earn higher salaries than those with only a high school diploma. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), workers without any postsecondary education earn about $712 per week, or approximately $37,000 per year. Medical records and health information technicians, however, earn more than $40,000 annually, according to the BLS.

Some certificate holders become medical billing managers, who earn average salaries of more than $50,000 per year, according to PayScale. Others pursue roles as practice administrators, who earn average salaries of nearly $68,000 per year.

The table below highlights salary expectations and typical salary growth for medical coding certificate holders.

Salary by Experience Level for Medical Records and Health Information Technicians

  • Entry-Level (<1 Year):
    $30,000

  • Early-Career (1-4 Years):
    $30,000

  • Mid-Career (5-9 Years):
    $32,000

  • Experienced (10-19 Years):
    $32,000

Source: PayScale

Average Salary for Medical Records and Health Information Technicians

2017 Median Pay: $39,180
Job Outlook: 13%

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Accreditation for Online Certificate Programs

Students researching online certificate programs should only consider accredited colleges and universities. Accreditation demonstrates that an institution meets high academic standards. Additionally, many employers only recognize credentials from accredited schools, and institutions often do not accept transfer credits earned from schools without accreditation.

There are two main types of accreditation in the United States: regional accreditation and national accreditation. Four-year institutions typically hold regional accreditation, while vocational and technical schools often receive national accreditation. Both forms of accreditation are acceptable, but regional accrediting bodies hold institutions to higher standards. In addition, prospective students can look for medical coding programs with accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education.

The Department of Education (ED) and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) vet, review, and regulate accrediting bodies in the United States. Students should only trust accrediting agencies with CHEA or ED approval. Learners can access lists of accredited schools on CHEA's website and on ED's website.