Which Codes Do Medical Coders Have to Know? 

Something that tends to prevent some people from looking for medical coding positions is the fear that they will have to learn a variety of codes off by heart. They think that they will never be able to do the job because there is no way they could learn all the ICD 11 diagnosis codes, never mind all the other codes that are used in medical billing. However, with online databases such as those at Find-A-Code, this is not something that needs to be worried about. It is a myth that coders need to learn codes, although many who work in the industry will inevitably remember some of the more commonly used codes with time. 

What Codes are Used by Medical Coders? 

While you do not have to learn the codes off by heart, you will need to learn which codes should be used for different aspects of a patient file. You will also have to know the structure of the codes. 

In the U.S. there are three main types of medical billing codes, which are: 

  • ICD (International Classification of Diseases) Codes
  • HCPCS (Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System) Codes
  • CPT (Current Procedure Terminology) Codes.

How Are Codes Structured? 

Medical billing codes are typically alphanumeric codes and are used to describe injuries, diseases, and health conditions affecting patients as well as the different methods and procedures used to treat them. This can include laboratory tests, surgeries, diagnostic testing, and any prescription medications. 

Codes are structured in different ways depending on the type, but almost all will contain a combination of alpha and numeric characters. ICD-10 codes typically contain a letter followed by two digits and then a decimal point with a combination of letters and digits after the decimal point. The letter refers to the particular illness and the numbers provide more specific information about the illness. 

CPT codes are five-digit codes that are used to describe treatments provided for a specific illness or condition. CPT codes are divided into three subcategories. Category 1 is the most important and is broken down into six sections: 

  • Surgery
  • Radiology
  • Medicine
  • Pathology & laboratory
  • Evaluation & management
  • Anesthesiology.

Category 2 codes are used to provide additional information about categories 1 and 3 codes and are never used in place of them. Category 3 codes are used for new and evolving services and technologies. These are generally temporary codes that, once established, will become category 1 codes. 

Training as a Medical Coder

With so many different codes used in the healthcare system, the thoughts of working with them can be overwhelming. Nevertheless, no medical coders are expected to know any codes off by heart and there are a variety of books containing up-to-date codes as well as online databases that are easy to use. 

If you do decide that medical coding is the career for you, you have a number of options. It is not necessary to have a qualification but there are some employers who prefer their coders to have some postsecondary qualifications. There are three different options for those who want to study to become a medical coder. Students can elect a certificate program or study for an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. 

A certificate program typically takes less than a year to gain qualification, whereas as associate degree is usually about two years. The bachelor’s degree takes the longest at around four years but having this degree will give you the edge when it comes to gaining employment. Furthermore, holding a bachelor’s degree means you have a higher chance of securing promotions to leadership positions, with higher salaries on offer.