Students who are seeking medical billing and coding certification can take courses in several different formats, including at brick-and-mortar schools as well as enrolling in online or hybrid programs. Hybrid and online programs are especially popular among students who want to be able to study from home or during irregular hours. Online medical billing programs are also commonly referred to as distance learning, distance education or web-based training programs.
What to Expect
Medical billing and coding programs include certificate and associates degree programs from traditional and online schools. Certificates and associates degrees in medical billing and coding provide you with knowledge and skills in order to find an entry-level job in the field. You can also take specific preparatory courses for certification exams that are offered by national nonprofit accrediting associations. In contrast to the broader coursework included in certificate and associates degree programs, the courses offered by the American Association of Professional Coders (AAPC) and the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) are designed to prepare you for specific AAPC and AHIMA certification exams.
Certificate programs in medical billing and coding are often provided entirely online and generally take 3 months to 1 year to complete. After completing such a program, you will be ready to take a certification exam and work as an entry-level health information technician.
Students enrolled in medical billing and coding certificate programs are usually required to take courses in medical terminology, anatomy and physiology, coding classification systems and health information management. Additionally, certificate programs can include up to 48 hours of college credit, which can be applied toward an associates or bachelors degree.
Associates Degree Programs
Whether held online or in traditional classrooms, associates degree programs are usually designed to take 2 years to complete, although some programs can be completed in as little as 1 year or take as long as 3 years to finish. Associates degree programs provide a broader education in medical billing and coding than certificate programs and prepare you to take various certification exams as well as pursue a real job in the industry.
Unlike certificate programs and courses offered by professional associations, an associates degree program typically includes some non-medical courses in areas like English composition and business math in addition to classes specifically related to the medical billing and coding field. As a result, students are often able to count up to 60 hours of associates degree coursework toward the 100 to 120 credit hours required for most bachelors degrees in health service administration programs.
Billing and Coding Training Offered by Associations and Organizations
The most widely recognized certifications in medical billing and coding come from AAPC and AHIMA. These associations also offer medical coding programs online that get you ready to pass your certification exam. Most of these training courses included targeted assignments meant to contribute directly to your success on the exam. This allows you to take as few or as many classes as you want depending on the certifications that you hope to earn.
The courses offered by these exclusively online medical coding programs cover medical terminology, anatomy, coding conventions, billing and reimbursement. Course duration and costs can vary, and it is important to remember that these classes do not count toward any college-level programs.
Studying Medical Billing and Coding Online
Pros and Cons of Online Study
The convenience and flexibility of online programs for medical billing and coding are their biggest selling points, especially for students who have work and family responsibilities that limit their availability. However, it can be harder to eliminate distractions when studying from home and many learners need the motivation provided by face-to-face interaction with instructors. Some students in online courses also miss the personal interaction and networking opportunities provided by the brick-and-mortar classroom.
Supplies for Studying Online
Students enrolled in programs online need many of the same supplies that are used for offline studying. Students may have to buy textbooks and school materials like a notebook for writing down notes and questions. Most importantly, however, students enrolled in medical billing online programs must also have an up-to-date computer and a reliable Internet connection, especially if their coursework includes scheduled online lectures.
Study Habits and Personality Traits
Because online students do not have the benefit of getting weekly reminders and motivation from meeting their peers and instructors on campus, courses online require a lot of personal discipline, dedication and planning skills. Removing potential sources of distraction like TVs, setting aside fixed time for studying, getting proper nutrition and sleep and actively participating in online sessions are practical ways to help students perform better in online courses.
The Best Medical Billing and Coding Programs
Quality programs in medical billing and coding will teach you about the code types and software used by potential employers. In the best online medical coding programs, you will take required classes that cover CPT (Current Procedural Terminology), ICD-9 and ICD-10 coding. Additionally, top programs often have partnerships with healthcare employers that offer internships and potential job placement.
The best programs are also accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education (CAHIIM). This means that a program has met CAHIIM’s standards, which integrate requirements set by AHIMA and the U.S. Department of Education. Finally, if you are considering medical billing and coding online programs, make sure to choose an experienced school or organization that has provided online courses for more than just a few years.
Internships, Externships and Practicums
The best offline and online schools for medical billing and coding will give you the opportunity to get hands-on work experience through internships, externships and practicums. Top programs often include a practicum during the beginning of your studies that allows you to learn billing and coding skills in a lab setting. These skills then help you perform better in an internship or externship, which can last up to 6 months and often results in an offer of employment.
Finding a Trusted Training Provider
AAPC and AHIMA are among the most trusted organizations that offer medical billing and coding training. If you are interested in entering the field quickly and have no plans to earn an associates or bachelors degree, consider the medical coding online programs offered by these two associations. These certification programs can lead directly to a paid job.
However, you should beware of organizations known as “diploma mills,” which are simply non-accredited businesses that take advantage of the high demand for training in the field. When you are choosing a training provider, consider only trusted and accredited medical billing programs online that provide clear information about accreditation and job placement. Any organization or school that you contact should also allow you to get in touch with instructors.