What Is the Average Medical Coder Salary? And Answers to All Your Other Questions
Researching a new career can get pretty exciting. As the details add up, you get a clearer picture of what a brand new stage in your life could look like. But some careers are harder to visualize than others. Most people don’t know very much about what working as a medical coder would be like—if they’ve even heard of the job in the first place.
But before you can get to the inner workings of the job, there are some basics you need to know first. What is the average medical coder salary? What education does it take to be a medical coder? How much time will you need to invest before you can start your job?
Typing your questions into Google is pretty quick and all, but what if you could get all of your questions answered in one place? Well, you’re in luck! We compiled—and answered—some of the most common questions surrounding this healthcare career and gathered all the answers right here for you. Read on if you’d like to get the lowdown on a medical coding career.
What do medical coders do?
When healthcare systems started making their medical records digital, it opened up a whole world of careers. Medical coding is one of these. Coders are needed in healthcare today to enter a huge variety of neatly organized medical-related data into these systems for easy access.
“Medical coding is the transformation of healthcare diagnosis, procedures, medical services and equipment into universal medical alphanumeric codes,” the American Association of Professional Coders writes.1 “Medical coding professionals help ensure the codes are applied correctly during the medical billing process, which includes abstracting the information from documentation, assigning the appropriate codes and creating a claim to be paid by insurance carriers.”
The job duties can really vary depending on where medical coders work. But according to Department of Labor (DOL), medical coders are responsible for reviewing records for completeness, accuracy and compliance with regulations, assigning the correct codes to patient diagnoses, and resolving or clarifying codes or diagnoses with conflicting, missing or unclear information by consulting with doctors or others or by participating in the coding team's regular meetings.
Data entry is also a huge part of the job. The DOL writes that demographic characteristics, history and extent of disease, diagnostic procedures, or treatments might all need to be entered and coded into computer systems.
Depending on their location and experience, medical coders might also be tasked with retrieving and presenting information or even working on the systems that store medical data.
What is the average medical coder salary?
The 2016 median annual salary of medical records and health information technicians is $38,040, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.2 This category of healthcare professionals covers a handful of occupations including medical coding specialists and health information technicians. Medical coders looking to increase their pay may want to seek out certifications like those offered by the American Health Information Management Association.
Where do medical coders work?
Medical coders can be employed in a variety of settings—and the settings have a big say in what kind of coding they do. Two common destinations are hospitals and clinics. Coders in these settings assign codes to diagnoses, patient medical history and treatments. In a small clinic, they might also be responsible for coding billing information and insurance claims.
Medical coders can also work for insurance companies, verifying patient claims that come in and matching them with coverage options.
Other employers in education, the government and even legal sectors are also an option. Check out, “Where Do Medical Coders Work? 7 Settings that Might Surprise You,” for more details.
What skills do medical coders need?
How can you know if you’ll have the skills for the job? Well one surefire way to find out is to check out what employers are looking for in job postings. According to our analysis of medical coding job postings from the past year, here are the most commonly sought-after technical skills: 2
- Medical coding
- CPT coding
- Customer billing
- Health Information Technology
Don’t know the first thing about the skills listed above? Don’t worry—medical coding programs will cover the technical skills you need for the job. Looking at the preferred “soft skills” for medical coders might give you a better idea of the career fit for your personality.
The top soft skills employers wanted in their medical coding candidates in the last year were:
- Computer skills
- Teamwork and collaboration
- Quality assurance and control
- Communication skills
What education do medical coders need?
Of the thousands of job postings for medical coders posted online in the last year, 71 percent were looking for applicants with an Associate’s degree. About 25 percent were looking for candidates with a high school diploma and some vocational training, like a certification in medical coding. Just three percent wanted candidates to have a Bachelor’s degree.3
As you might expect, medical coders with an Associate’s degree or a Medical Coding Certificate will have more opportunities than those with only a high school diploma as they will have completed much of the necessary training and education to immediately begin working as a coding specialist.
Is medical coding hard?
The word “coding” might make you think of thousands of lines of complex computer programming code and a steep learning curve, but the truth is that medical coding is fairly accessible. The code you’re learning is basically a form of medical shorthand. While there’s definitely a lot to learn—the human body and its ailments is a complex subject, after all—it shouldn’t scare you away from the field. Education and training programs will get you up to speed on medical coding terminology and best practices. You’ll likely need to be a continual learner as industry standards and advancements may change—for instance moving from the ICD-9 coding system to the newer ICD-10 system.
To hear more from the pros on what learning medical coding is like, check out our article, “Mastering Medical Coding Is Not as Hard as You Think.”
How long does it take to become a medical coder?
One positive of the medical coding field is that the barrier to entry isn’t super high. As we mentioned above, most employers are looking for medical coding professionals with either an Associate’s degree or a Certificate. The Certificate route is shorter, with completion possible in as few as nine months, while the Associate’s degree can be completed in as few as 18 months.4 That’s a relatively quick path into a stable, middle-class career.
How do I become a medical coder?
If all of this information about medical coding careers sounds good to you so far, you’re probably wondering what you’d need to do to get started in medical coding. For a breakdown on how exactly to get from here to your first medical coding job, check out our article, “Your 5-Step Guide to Become a Medical Coder.”
1American Association of Professional Coders, “What Is Medical Coding?” [Accessed May 8, 2018].
2Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, [career information accessed April 10, 2018] www.bls.gov/ooh/. Salary data represents national, averaged earnings for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries and employment conditions in your area may vary.
3Burning-Glass.com (analysis of 20,721 medical coding job postings, Mar. 01, 2017 – Feb. 28, 2018)
4Time to completion is dependent on accepted transfer credits and courses completed each quarter.