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How to Teach Yourself Medical Coding
Medical coders review records, organize data and assign clinical codes.
- 1 [Medical Billing] | How to Specialize in an Area of Medical Billing Coding
- 2 [School] | How Long to Do You Need to Go to School to Become a Medical Coder?
- 3 [Average Salary] | The Average Salary of an Associate Degree in Medical Billing Coding
- 4 [Qualifications] | Qualifications for Medical Coders
Medical coders use a standardized classification system to code patient information for insurance claims, databases and registries. Most employers, such as hospitals, physicians’ offices and other medical facilities, prefer applicants with a postsecondary certificate or associate degree in medical coding and billing. The American Academy of Professional Coding, which certifies medical coders, also recommends, but does not require, that you have an associate degree prior to sitting for the certification exam. However, it is knowledge and experience that is most important in this field. If you are not interested in pursuing a degree, it is possible to teach yourself medical coding.
It is not important to learn every term in a medical dictionary, but you should familiarize yourself with the medical terminology used in the medical coding profession. Important terms to learn include disease names, pathology terms, insurance industry terms and procedural terminology. Three books that coders refer to for this information are CPT (Current Procedural Terminology), HCPS (Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System), and ICD (International Statistical Classification of Diseases).
Knowledge of human anatomy is essential if you hope to accurately interpret and code medical reports. You need an understanding of gross anatomy, the anatomical structures that can be seen by the naked eye, and microscopic anatomy, the minute anatomical structures that must be viewed with a microscope. Examples of gross anatomy include limbs, organs and bones. Examples of microscopic anatomy include tissues and cells. The best way to quickly learn anatomy is with a good reference book or website. Some websites even offer free online courses to help you learn anatomy and physiology. Many students also find it helpful to study with a partner or flashcards.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention developed a diagnosis classification code that is used by medical coders in the United States and other countries around the world. The code is published in the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems Clinical Modification/Coding Procedural Systems, now in its 10th edition. The ICD-10-CM/CPS consists of two parts: The ICD-10-CM, which includes the 3-7 alpha and numeric digits and full code titles that coders refer to while doing their job, and the ICD-10-CPS, which contains the classification system used in in-patient hospital settings. You should familiarize yourself with both parts of the book and learn how to navigate the sections so that you can quickly look up codes.
Get Practical Experience
Sometimes, the best way to learn something is through practical experience. You can get real coding experience through a formal internship. Contact physicians’ offices, hospitals and other medical facilities in your area to request an internship opportunity. If an opportunity is not available, ask if you can volunteer your time in a health information management department. This will provide a chance to learn from experienced professionals. If this fails, ask if it would be possible to review and re-code previously coded records. This will allow you to practice with real records on your own.