Understanding Medical Billing and Coding: What It Is and How It Works


Medical billing and coding is quickly becoming one of the most talked-about careers in the healthcare industry. And for good reason! In the already-stable medical field, medical billing and coding employment is expected to increase by 8% through 2029. It offers a good entry salary, opportunity for career growth, and less stress than other jobs in the medical field. And all tasks are performed with computers, allowing billing and coding specialists to work remotely (which is common in the field). With a more flexible work environment, solid starting pay, and the chance to do some good in the medical field, it’s no wonder that the job field is growing so quickly.

But many might be wondering what exactly a billing and coding specialist actually does. Some might wonder if billing and coding are somehow different (yes, but not that different). Others might wonder if “coding” means that they need to learn a programming language (they don’t). But by understanding the separate tasks of billing and coding, we can further understand how both duties can be performed effectively by one skilled specialist.

What is Medical Billing and Coding, Exactly?

While medical billing and coding is often mentioned together, billing and coding are actually two separate tasks that can be performed by the same person. They also both utilize a coding system of medical abbreviations, known as the International Classification of Diseases, or ICD for short (the current edition is referred to as ICD-10). While the thought of using these codes might seem complicated, they offer numerous benefits. They make it much easier to collect data for medical research and general public health; ensure patients are receiving the proper care; and they even protect against billing errors and insurance fraud.

Medical coding begins when a patient walks into the doctor’s office and gives their reason for visiting. The doctor takes note of their symptoms and medical history, and makes a record of these. The coder takes the reason for visiting, their current symptoms, and other conditions, and records the accurate ICD-10 codes for these conditions. The medical biller takes these same codes and uses them to process patient billing and insurance claims. So while there is a difference in how each role utilizes the ICD-10 codes, there is enough overlap for one person to perform both tasks efficiently.

A Brief History of the Profession

Medical billing and coding has been around a lot longer than you might realize. With so much talk about medical billing and coding, many might believe it to be a new career field altogether. In reality, the first instances of medical coding were seen in 17th century England. John Graunt, an English statistician and businessman, began to study and classify mortality rates in England in the wake of the Black Death. This eventually led to him to draft the London Bills of Mortality, which used numerical code to organize causes of death.

While the Bills were helpful with classifications, they were not always consistent with medical terminology. This system largely remained in place until the 1830s, when Dr. William Farr proposed a more consistent system for classification. This new system developed into the International List of Causes of Death, and was revised again in the 1970s to include illnesses and injuries. Thus the International Classification of Diseases was born.

Billing and Coding Today

There are always changing aspects of the healthcare industry, and medical billing and coding is no exception. While the coding system once went largely unchanged for decades, this is no longer the case. Just last year, the CDC introduced new ICD-10 codes to deal with COVID-related conditions. And while ICD-10 is relatively new, hospitals are anticipating the implementation of ICD-11 at the beginning of 2022.

Though the core practice of billing and coding has largely stayed the same the past few decades, the implementations have changed radically. Almost all hospitals in America have converted physical record copies to digital records, meaning most administrative work can be done entirely on a computer. Though this does mean a billing and coding specialist has a greater degree of freedom in their work environment, they must also be flexible enough to embrace any new job challenges that may arise.

How to Get Started

If you think becoming a medical records specialist could be for you, there’s never been a better time to enter the profession. Many degree programs enable you to complete your studies in as little as 18 months (or less for a diploma!). You can even earn your medical billing and coding degree completely online, allowing you to learn on your own schedule. Given how quickly a person can transition into a medical billing and coding career, it’s easier than ever to start this rewarding new career.


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