Medical Coding from Home
If you’re looking for a rewarding and lucrative work-from-home job, medical coding could be right for you. Medical coding is a popular choice for people seeking a career that evolves with new technology, clinical research, and public health initiatives. In fact, the demand for medical coders is at a historic high. Fueled by the healthcare needs of an aging population, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics lists medical coding among the 20 fastest growing occupations.
This bodes well for those seeking job security and an exciting career with the potential to work from home. According to AAPC’s 2019 Medical Coding Salary Survey, 33.8% of respondents work from home thanks to technology that enables HIPAA-compliant remote access to electronic health records (EHR). This trend is expected to continue and perhaps grow in popularity as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Employers Seeking Remote Medical Coders
Job opportunities for remote medical coders abound. As a remote coder, you may be employed by a hospital, physician practice, coding outsource company, payer, department of public health, health information technology vendor, or consulting company.
Requisite Experience to Start Medical Coding from Home
Regardless of whether you work remotely or onsite, most employers require professional certification. Many also require two to five years’ coding experience prior to offering a remote position. Some employers will allow you to gain your experience working in-house.
Earning Potential for Medical Coders
The average annual salary for a certified medical coder is $57,646 — 14.9% above the median salary of all U.S. occupations and $15,000 more than their uncertified peers. If you’re new to coding and aspire to earn more, consider obtaining your Certified Professional Coder (CPC®) credential as a first step.
Your earning potential rises to $63,085 when you add another certification demonstrating broader coding expertise. With three credentials, you can expect to earn upwards of $68,589 per year. Whether it’s your first, second, or fifth certification, our survey reveals one consistent theme: Certifications tend to amount to more pay.
What are some other ways to increase earning potential? Consider the following:
How to Become a Certified Medical Coder
Consider these five steps to becoming a certified medical coder:
- 1. Take these courses: Anatomy, medical terminology, and pathophysiology.
- 2. Take an online exam preparation course for the specific credential you want.
- 3. Read the study guide for the credential you want.
- 4. Take an online practice exam.
- 5. Take and pass the actual certification exam.
What Exams Are Necessary to Become Certified?
It depends on the credential. Each credential requires a separate exam. For example, the CPC credential requires an exam that includes 150 multiple-choice questions that must be completed in five hours and 40 minutes. To pass the test, you must answer 70% of the questions correctly.
In contrast, the CIC exam includes 60 multiple choice questions and 10 fill-in-the-blank coding cases. Specialty credential exams include 50 op-note based questions. Each exam assesses knowledge specific to that credential.
Newly certified professional coders receive the CPC-A credential. The “A” indicates apprenticeship status. Removing this status requires two years of coding experience, but CPC-As can boost their employment value and potentially bypass entry-level positions by taking advantage of Practicode.
Practicode is an online tool designed to reinforce medical coding proficiency with concentrated, hands-on coding practice. The experience gained with Practicode equates with one year of on-the-job medical coding, allowing CPC-As to fast-track their apprenticeship status.
What You’ll Learn in a Medical Coding Program
Medical coding programs often include courses on medical terminology, anatomy, pathophysiology, coding for CPT®, ICD-10-CM, ICD-10-PCS, and HCPCS Level II, electronic claim submission, and more. You’ll learn the bigger picture about healthcare reimbursement, as well as compliance standards for claim submission and patient privacy.
What Skills You’ll Need to be a Successful Medical Coder
Today’s medical coders must be able to pay attention to details as they work through pages of clinical documentation to search for diagnoses and procedures. They must also be willing to read, understand, and apply complex healthcare regulations and coding guidelines.
The ability to work independently as well as part of a coding team is important. Coders must be savvy communicators — able to talk fluently with physicians, payers, and others. Finally, they must be flexible and willing to adapt to change that could come in the form of new technology (e.g., new EHRs, document management software, or videoconferencing platforms), new regulations, and annual code and guidelines revisions. Nothing in this industry stays the same for long, which is part of its charms.
Gaining On-the-Job Experience
Many employers want to see actual coding experience before they’ll hire someone. How can you gain that experience? Consider the following:
- Participate in an internship. Some educational programs may require this and are prepared to help students land internships in reputable organizations. That’s because they’ve already developed relationships with these employers over time.
- Work as a medical records clerk, receptionist, or registration staff member to gain experience and make connections.
- Volunteer or job shadow someone in your preferred position.
Preparing for a Job Interview
As with an interview for any job, those seeking employment as a medical coder should be prepared to answer questions about hard (technical) skills as well as soft (people or communications) skills. On the technical side, be ready to answer these questions:
- What procedures and diagnoses have you coded most frequently in previous positions?
- What types of EHRs have you used?
- What payers have you billed?
Some employers may require an exam to test your technical coding skills, so be prepared to showcase your knowledge.
On the soft skills side, be ready to answer these questions:
- Tell me about a recent denial and how you handled it with the payer.
- How did you handle a recent disagreement with a coworker?
- What is your communication style when approaching physicians with queries?
- How would you handle a physician who doesn’t respond to a query?
Also remember that anything on your resume is fair game. Potential employers may ask about specific job experiences, including what you learned in each position and why you left one position for another. They may also ask about coding productivity and quality standards at each employer. In addition, they may want to know specifically what you will add to the coding team if hired.
- What unique skill or passion will you bring to the table that sets you apart from other candidates?
- And what are your goals for the future — how do you want to grow professionally? How do you adapt to change?
If you’re applying for a remote coding position, the potential employer may inquire about your home office environment and ability to stay focused and productive without direct supervision. They may also ask questions such as:
- How well do you communicate remotely with coworkers and managers?
- How do you switch off from work at the end of the day?
- What do you think will be your biggest challenge in working from home, and how do you plan to address it?
None of these questions should intimidate you, and you may not be asked any of them. We’re simply recommending that you think through possible questions and have answers prepared.
Equipment Necessary to Work from Home
To be successful, medical coders working from home need the following:
- Crosscut shredder
- Home computer or laptop with a strong device password as well as updated anti-malware, firewalls, and security patches
- Medical billing software to submit claims
- Reference materials (e.g., coding manuals, coding guidelines, and coding publications) either online or in print
- Secure cabled router or wireless router secured with WPA2 and a strong home router password, as well as a secure connection to the corporate network
Many employers ask remote coders to sign a telecommuting agreement in which you attest that requirements have been met. Employers may also require ongoing video calls so managers can visually inspect your workspace and ensure it adheres to the agreement.
Although working from home is a huge convenience, it has its challenges. You must be able at eliminating distractions and staying focused to meet coding productivity and quality demands. You must be able to set boundaries to create a work-life balance that prevents burnout. Finally, you must proactively reach out to colleagues both locally and nationally to lessen isolation. If you can address these challenges, you’ll set yourself up for success as a medical coder working from home.