Preparing and maintaining medical records is an important part of health care and for properly charging patients and insurance providers. Medical billing and coding involves two occupational specialties, medical coding and transcription. If you are considering a career in the health information field you need to know the differences between the two in order to decide which specialty is right for you.
Medical coders take source documents like diagnostic findings, treatment and medication records, and convert them into standardized coding for patient charts, billing, and data analysis. Medical transcriptionists use dictation records from physicians and other health care workers to create properly formatted medical and billing records and assist in resolving conflicts that arise with charges for health care services.
The majority of transcriptionists and coders work in hospitals, outpatient healthcare facilities, or doctor’s offices. Of these, hospitals offer higher salaries. Some medical coders work for insurance companies or public health agencies doing statistical analysis of medical records to track diseases and health problems and generally these have the highest salaries. Transcriptionists often work for medical laboratories or are independent contractors providing transcription and consulting services. These are the best paying positions.
Overall, the compensation for medical coders and transcriptionists is about the same. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2006 the mean hourly wage for medical transcriptionists was $14.40. The lowest 10% earned an average of $10.22/hour and the highest paid 10% $20.15/hour. The same year the median salary for medical billing coders was just over $19,000. The lowest 10% averaged 22,240 while the upper 10% average salaries of $45,260.
Both medical transcription and coding require postsecondary training, usually in the form of an associate’s degree from a community college or distance learning school. For transcription, an alternative is a one year certification program, although this is recommended primarily for those who already have a health care background. Students take courses in physiology, anatomy, medical terminology and legal issues, and information technology. Medical coding students also take statistics and data management. The training for transcription is more “hands-on” and frequently includes supervised internships.
In order to get hired and for career advancement, both medical coders and transcriptionists need professional certification. For medical coding and billing, medical coders can earn certification by passing the coding exam with a specialty in medical billing offered by the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC) (see link below). Certification for medical transcriptionists is provided by the Association for Healthcare Documentation Integrity (AHDI; see link below). New graduates can take the exam for Registered Medical Transcriptionist (RMT) but must have at least 2 years experience to become a Certified Medical Transcriptionist (CMT).