The two most common degrees that you can earn before obtaining medical billing and coding certification are certificates and associates degrees. If you are considering a medical billing and coding degree online or from a traditional institution, be aware that bachelors degrees are not available. Also keep in mind that an accredited associates degree in medical billing and coding will be more valuable than a certificate program if you decide to pursue a bachelors degree in health care administration or management during your career.
Choosing the Right Degree
Both brick-and-mortar and online schools offer a variety of medical billing and coding online degree programs for students seeking a certificate or an associates degree. The costs, requirements and program lengths vary, so you should be able to find an accredited degree that fits your goals, your schedule and your budget.
The best medical billing and coding online degree for you will align with your career and educational goals. Both certificate and associates degree programs will prepare you to sit for certification exams and work in entry-level billing and coding careers. But some certificate programs count for college credit and some do not. Associates degree programs for top medical billing and coding degrees are designed to provide a broader education that can help you qualify for a managerial job and also count fully toward a related bachelors degree. Therefore, associate’s degrees are a good option if you are interested in continuing your education in the future or would like to earn a degree that can open up additional career opportunities beyond an entry-level medical billing and coding position.
Cost and Duration
For students who are working toward a medical coding or medical billing degree online, time and cost are probably the biggest differences between earning a certificate or an associates degree. This is also true for traditional programs at brick-and-mortar schools as well. While some certificate programs can be completed in less than 3 months for under $3,000, associates programs usually take around 2 years and can cost up to $20,000. In return for the extra time and cost, students who get an associates degree are favored by employers and are well on their way to earning a bachelors degree and a higher paying job.
Common course topics for medical billing and coding online degrees as well as traditional degrees include medical terminology, anatomy, physiology, immunology and coding. Online medical coding degree certificate programs tend to focus only on job-specific knowledge while associates degree programs provide a broader, more liberal education that ensures that students also develop skills in writing and math. Because of this, associate’s degree programs usually involve considerably more coursework than certificate programs.
Jobs and Salaries
Both traditional and accredited online degree programs will prepare students for jobs as medical coders or coding specialists, claims collections supervisors and billing compliance specialists. Moreover, many jobs will actually require a single medical billing and coding expert to play all of these roles.
Professionals in these positions usually work in physician’s offices, insurance companies or patient care facilities. Moving beyond the entry-level positions, however, typically requires more than a medical billing online degree, a medical coding online degree or even their brick-and-mortar counterparts. If you are interested in a managerial role in the health services field, a certificate program will usually not be sufficient and you will eventually need a bachelors degree.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for medical records technicians, which includes medical billers and coders, is expected to grow faster than average through 2020. The median medical coding salary in May 2010 was $32,350, which is about $15.50 per hour. A 2005 study by the American Academy of Professional Coders found that after 10 years of work experience in the field, medical coders could earn as much as $45,000 per year.
Online vs. Offline
While the popularity of online learning is growing, it is not always the best path toward a career in medical billing and coding. Use the following information to help you choose a program format that best suits your needs.
Convenience is a major selling point for online degrees. People with jobs, children and other responsibilities may simply be unable to attend offline classes at the times and places that they are offered.
There are two basic types of online degree courses: asynchronous and synchronous courses. Asynchronous courses have no set meeting times and allow students to do all of the coursework at the times that suit them best. On the other hand, synchronous courses occur at scheduled times, allowing students and professors to have chats and discussions in real time while they are logged onto their computers from home.
Some students who take online degree courses struggle to stay focused during classes and are easily distracted if they do not have an instructor directly in front of them. If you find that you have similar difficulties, remove any potential sources of distraction before class, or consider taking offline courses to earn your degree.
Courses held in classrooms offer the advantage of personal interaction, allowing students to network with peers and professors face to face and enjoy lively discussions. Classroom courses can also offer an ideal environment for learning that is separated from the outside world, which eliminates most of the distractions that might interfere with concentration at home.
Traditionally, employers have also favored degrees earned at brick-and-mortar schools. Though perceptions of online degrees are changing, you may still have an easier time finding employment with a degree from a traditional school rather than a degree earned online.