How to Choose the Best Medical Coding Program near Birmingham Alabama
Once you have made a decision to become part of the healthcare field by enrolling in a medical billing and coding school near Birmingham AL, it's crucial that you select the right program so that you receive the proper education to guarantee your success. As you may already know, healthcare is among the fastest growing sectors in the United States, and increasingly more options are available both online and on campus to obtain the training that you need. But just where does one begin? Many future students begin by searching for programs that are within commuting distance of their residences and then comparing cost. Or they may surf the internet looking for online classes and select the cheapest one. But while location and cost are important factors when making your choice, they should not be the sole ones when researching medical billing and coding schools. Such qualifications as reputation and accreditation must be considered as well. We will cover a list of topics that you should ask the medical billing and coding training programs you are researching in order to find out what you must know prior to making your selection. But first, let's take a look at what medical billers and coders do and the academic and certification options available.
Medical Billing and Coding Online Programs and Certification
It's important that you obtain your instruction from a reputable school, whether it's a trade school, vocational school or community college. Even though it is not a requirement in many cases to earn a professional certification, the program you choose should be accredited (more on the advantages of accreditation later). Most Alabama programs only require that you have either a high school diploma or a GED to be eligible. The fastest way to becoming either a medical coder or biller (or both) is to obtain a certificate, which normally takes about a year to complete. An Associate Degree is an alternative for a more extensive education, which for the majority of colleges calls for two years of studies. Bachelor's Degrees for medical coding and billing are not abundantly available. When your training has been concluded, although not mandated in the majority of states, you may desire to earn a professional certification. Certification is an effective method for those new to the profession to show potential employers that they are not only qualified but dedicated to their occupation. Some of the organizations that make available certifications are:
- American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC).
- Board of Medical Specialty Coding (BMSC).
- The Professional Association of Healthcare Coding Specialists (PAHCS).
- American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA).
Completing an accredited medical billing and coding course, together with obtaining a professional certification, are the most effective ways to accelerate your new career and succeed in the rapid growing medical care industry.
Medical Coding Job Functions
Medical coders work on the front line of the billing systems for Birmingham AL private practices and healthcare organizations. Coders have the responsibility to examine the medical records of patients and assign universal codes to all services provided. These services may be for medical, diagnosis or dental procedures, or any equipment or medical supplies utilized. There are several codes that are utilized in this conversion process, including the following:
- CPT codes (Current Procedural Terminology).
- ICD codes (International Classification of Diseases).
- HCPCS codes (Healthcare Common Procedure Coding).
Medical coders depend on information from sources including physician and nursing notes, patient charts, and radiology and lab reports. Coders must know not only what total services were provided for accurate reporting, but must have a working knowledge of all private payer and government regulations that impact coding also. Inaccurately coded claims may lead to services not being paid for, services being paid at a lower rate, or the physician or facility being penalized for fraudulent or improper billing. Since improper coding can actually cost Birmingham AL hospitals and doctors many thousands of dollars in earnings annually, a proficient medical coder is a vital asset to the healthcare organization. They can work in any type of healthcare facility, including private practices, hospitals, clinics and critical care centers. It is not unusual for seasoned medical coders to work at home as an independent contractor or offsite employee.
Medical Billing Job Duties
As vital as the medical coder's function is, it would be for nothing without the collaboration of the medical biller whose labors bring in revenue. Medical billing clerks are extremely important to Birmingham AL medical facilities and are practically responsible for keeping them in business. Often the coder and biller may be the same person within a healthcare organization, but they can also be two individual professionals. After the coder has completed his or her duty, the biller uses the codes furnished to fill out and submit claim forms to insurance carriers, Medicare or Medicaid. After they have been paid by the appropriate entity, patients can then be invoiced for deductibles and other out of pocket expenses. On a routine basis, a medical billing clerk might also do any of the following:
- Check health insurance benefits for patients and assist them with billing concerns or questions
- Follow up on patient claims submitted and appeal any that have been denied
- Work as a mediator between the medical provider, the insurance companies and the patients for correct claim resolution
- Generate and oversee Accounts Receivables reports
- Create and take care of unpaid patient collections accounts
Medical billing clerks not only work for private practices, but also Birmingham AL hospitals, urgent care facilities, medical groups or nursing homes. They may practice in any kind of medical facility that depends on the revenues generated from billing patients and third party payers.
Medical Billing and Coding Online Classes
If you are looking for convenience and the flexibility of attending classes from home, then enrolling in a medical billing and coding online school might be a good alternative. They can be especially appealing to students living in Birmingham AL who anticipate going to school while still working or have other commitments that make going to classes on campus difficult. And as an added advantage, online schools are in many cases less expensive than the conventional classroom options. Expenses for such things as tuition, course materials and commuting may be reduced or eliminated. But be careful, as not all online courses are reputable. That's why it's imperative to confirm that the online school you choose is accredited to guarantee a premium education. We will cover the advantages of accreditation in the next section. Just make sure to establish that any online college you are researching is accredited by one of the national accrediting organizations, for instance the Council on Higher Education Accreditation. So if you are dedicated enough to apply yourself to this style of learning, then earning your certificate or degree online might be the right choice for you.
Things to Ask Medical Coder and Biller Schools
Once you have a general idea just what a medical coder and biller does, in addition to what education options are offered, you must start the process of comparing colleges. But since there are numerous training options offered at community colleges and technical, trade and vocational schools within the Birmingham AL area, you should have a prepared list of questions to analyze each one. And when you include all of the online programs that offer medical coding and billing classes, the task can become rather formidable. As we have already addressed, cost and location are going to be important issues, particularly if you have a modest budget and will be traveling to classes from your Birmingham home. And verifying that the school and program are accredited must be part of your vetting procedure also. So let's take a look at several of the additional questions that you should ask the schools you are reviewing so that you can analyze each one and make the right choice.
Is the Training Accredited? It's essential that the program and school you select are accredited by a highly regarded accrediting agency, such as the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools. If it's an online college, it might also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance learning. Not only will accreditation help ensure that the education you get will be of the highest quality, it could help with your future employment also. Many Birmingham AL healthcare organizations will only employ entry level prospects that have completed an accredited medical billing and coding training program. And financial aid and student loans are in many cases only offered for programs that have received an accreditation.
What is the School's Reputation? Before enrolling in a medical coding and billing college, check out what its reputation and ranking are compared to other colleges. This is especially relevant if you have no experience in the industry, since potential employers will mainly be relying on the quality of your education. As we have covered, confirming that the college is accredited is a first step. Checking with school rating organizations, for instance U.S. News and World Report, can confirm the quality of the school as well. An alternative is to check with a few Birmingham AL healthcare organizations that you may be interested in working for and find out which programs they suggest. Remember that even when the college itself does not have an excellent reputation, its medical billing and coding program may still be well regarded.
Is there a Job Assistance Program? Finding a job in Birmingham AL after graduating in your new field can be challenging without the help of a job placement program. Find out if the schools you are considering have job assistance programs and what their job placement rates are. A rapid and high placement rate is an excellent indication that the coding and billing college has a substantial network of healthcare employers where they can refer their graduates. It also suggests that the school's graduates are sought after in the marketplace.
Where is the School's Location? If you are intending on commuting to class from your Birmingham AL home, then the location of the campus will be of significant importance. Naturally if you enroll in an medical coding and billing online program, then the location of the school will not be important. One thing to remember is that if you go to classes at a junior or community college, many require a higher tuition for enrollees that live outside of their districts. So you might want to first look at those schools that are within your local area.
What is the Total Cost? Medical billing and coding certification programs can vary in cost depending on the type of credential obtained and the amount of training furnished. But remember, tuition is not the only expense for your education. Expenditures also consist of such things as the cost of books, supplies and commuting. Financial assistance might be obtainable to help offset some of the cost, so make sure to check with the college's financial assistance department to find out what is offered in Birmingham AL. Of course if you decide to attend an online college, a portion of these added costs, such as for commuting may be reduced or even eliminated.
Are Classes Available that Accommodate your Schedule? Many students keep working while attending college and need a convenient class schedule. If you can only go to classes during the evenings or on weekends near Birmingham AL, verify that they are available at those times. If you can only attend on a part-time schedule, check that the school you decide on offers that alternative. Also, find out what the process is for making up classes missed because of illness, work or family emergencies.
Choose the Right Birmingham AL Medical Billing and Coding Program
Enrolling in the ideal medical coding and billing certificate or degree program is a very important first step to help ensure your success in this rewarding field of medical care. Medical billing and medical coding are 2 of the fastest expanding professions in the health sector. Because of this, there are many vocational schools, junior colleges and companies that provide training and instruction in medical coding and billing. As we have discussed, you can opt to attend classes either on campus or online. It's also essential that the school you pick has an accredited program with an outstanding reputation within the healthcare industry. But however you choose to receive your training, by following the previous guidelines and posing the appropriate questions, you will be better qualified to evaluate your options and pick the right medical billing and coding college. And with the proper training, you can achieve your career goal to become a medical coding and billing clerk in Birmingham Alabama.