The classes that you will take in your medical billing and coding program will cover essential knowledge and skills areas that you will need to perform your job. Whether you are considering a certificate or an associates degree, the required classes are related directly to the field of healthcare and will include few if any liberal arts courses. Coursework also varies little between a medical billing and coding degree online and a degree program that is offered on a traditional campus.
In most cases, certificate programs in medical billing and coding require fewer courses than associates degree programs and the coursework is focused on developing practical skills for your career. In contrast, students who pursue an associates degree through offline or online medical coding classes are also required to complete courses such as math and English. And if you decide to take your medical billing and coding classes through a professional organization, you will take just one specialized course that will prepare you for your certification exam.
Programs offering on-campus or online medical billing and coding courses will commonly cover the topics described below. The American Association of Professional Coders (AAPC) also offers general medical billing and coding classes online as well as courses that prepare students to take specific certification exams.
Medical terminology classes introduce students to the spelling, pronunciation and abbreviation of the medical terminology as it is used in the profession from the perspective of the medical biller and coder. Students taking a medical terminology course acquire an understanding of medical lingo and its relation to the human body and medical procedures as well as how it relates to the reimbursement process.
Anatomy and Physiology
Top online medical billing classes in anatomy and physiology teach students about the skeletal, muscular, circulatory and nervous systems as well as some basic cell biology and biochemistry. Students learn to describe the tissues, pathologies and cellular activity associated with the human body with an emphasis on how these connect to medical billing and coding practices.
Medical Billing and Coding
Students taking medical billing and coding courses learn about health insurance, billing and reimbursement processes, code categories and coding guidelines. These courses teach students how to verify that healthcare documentation is accurate and compliant with regulations, how to avoid common coding errors and how to recognize various standard code types and apply them accurately.
Medical Office Management
Classes in medical office management teach students about the administrative, financial, ethical and legal aspects of working in a medical office. Students build skills in written and oral communication and learn to use common medical billing, coding and scheduling software.
Health Information Management
The best online classes in health information management cover the legal and ethical issues faced by healthcare organizations that maintain patient records, including HIPAA requirements, patient consent, access requests and disclosure. These classes teach students to work with electronic record systems for storage and retrieval of patient records.
Clinical Classification Systems
Another commonly offered online class is clinical classification systems, which uses case studies to demonstrate coding systems for procedures such as anesthesia, surgery, radiology and other procedures. Students learn how to assign codes accurately and how to audit common coding systems such as DSM, ICD and CPT in this online medical coding class.
Classes Offered by Professional Organizations
The primary organizations that provide certification are the American Association of Professional Coders (AAPC) and the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA). These organizations also offer educational programs and materials through their websites to help students prepare for certification.
The AAPC offers general medical billing and coding online classes in the topics listed above as well as classes designed to prepare students to take specific AAPC certification exams. Students can take as few or as many courses as they need to pass the desired exams. AHIMA also evaluates the offline and online classes for medical billing and coding offered by other institutions in addition to providing preparation materials for its own certification exams.
Internships, Externships and Practicums
Students who take classes through an on-campus certificate or associates degree program are often required to complete an internship, externship or practicum. Because they require the student’s physical presence, none of these are offered as medical billing or medical coding classes online. However, some accredited medical billing classes online might include a practicum or internship requirement that students complete by meeting at a lab or workplace for a set period of time. In many cases though, students must apply and interview for these opportunities on their own because most schools do not provide automatic placement.
Internships are usually unpaid or low paying and typically involve supervised work for an employer in your future field, such as in a doctor’s office or hospital. Internships can last up to 6 months and usually result in gaining credit toward your certificate or associates degree. In addition, internships allow potential employers to test a student’s abilities and can provide a great opportunity to make professional connections that sometimes result in jobs after graduation.
Externships are similar to internships in that they offer on-the-job experience and mentoring in a real work environment. However, externships are almost never paid, do not offer academic credits and tend to be considerably shorter than internships, usually lasting 3 months or less. Like internships, externships are meant to offer you a taste of what the profession will be like.
Both internships and externships allow you to gain workplace experience in assigning codes to patient files, insurance claims and other documents. If you are looking for internship or externship opportunities, you can check with local government health offices, national organizations like the AAPC or employers such as hospitals or doctor’s offices.
Practicums are hands-on periods of training that are completed during the coursework in a medical billing and coding program. While practicums are sometimes a mandatory part of medical coding associates degree programs, they are generally not offered in medical billing online classes or medical coding online classes because they involve hands-on experience in a lab or closely monitored workplace setting.
Some programs require students to complete a practicum as a prerequisite to an internship, and practicums almost always count as course credits. Some programs will waive lab practicum requirements if a student performs well on a skills test.