What is the Difference Between Medical Billing and Coding?

The healthcare field continues to expand in the United States. Meanwhile, employment opportunities for professionals trained in health information technology are also growing. These healthcare employees may not sit bedside, caring for a patient’s physical needs. Still, they play an invaluable role in the industry. They maintain the healthcare revenue cycle. Medical billing and coding is also among the top certificates that pay well. They also ensure that patient information, medical records, and bills are complete and accurate. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports good new about the industry. Employment opportunities for health information specialists are currently growing much faster than average. This includes such as medical billers and coders. Thus, it’s not surprising that there’s a lot of interest in the field. For those who do hope to take advantage of this sector’s boon, a common question is: “What is the difference between medical billing and medical coding?” Before we get to this inquiry, though, let’s address another, more basic one: “What is medical billing and coding?”

What Is Medical Billing and Coding?

“Medical billing and coding” has become a collective term in the health information field. It’s a healthcare system encompassing many different academic degrees. It also spans various roles for health services professionals in the medical industry. Still, the label is often used colloquially. Thus, it’s essential for students interested in this subfield of health information technology to nail down precisely what medical billing and coding are. They may also need to discern the various differences between medical billing and coding. If you are one of these prospective health information students, you’re in luck. This article will address some important topics in the industry. Hopefully, it will help you decide your best course of action. This includes earning credentials and job titles within various healthcare organizations. Specifically, we’ll tackle critical issues like:

  • Just Exactly What Is Medical Billing and Coding?
  • The Distinct Difference Between Medical Billing and Coding
  • Medical Billing and Coding Job Descriptions
  • Medical Billing vs Coding Salary
  • Medical Coding Versus Medical Billing: Job Outlook
  • Education and Training Requirements for Medical Coding Versus Medical Billing
  • Different Qualities and Skills Necessary for Medical Coding and Billing
  • Frequently-Asked Questions About Medical Billers and Coders

Let’s start at the top and go down the line. First, we’ll provide a bit more information about these two health information technology occupations.

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More Information About Medical Billing and Coding

You might be asking yourself, “What is medical billing and coding?”. If so, you’ve already demonstrated the first sign of a successful health information technology professional—an interest in the field! Still, you’ll want to gather as much information as possible about your potential career path.

First, the good news. Right now, both healthcare and information technology are experiencing unprecedented growth. As you might expect, a subfield like health information technology is a gold mine of opportunity for job prospects. The BLS confirms that employment rates for medical records and health information specialists are currently growing much faster than average.

Aside from job outlook predictions, salary potential is also top of mind for students interested in obtaining a position in the health information technology field. This particular issue is a little more challenging to pin down. That’s because annual wages for medical records and health information specialists vary widely. To try to better understand earnings patterns for these professionals, we consulted the BLS. Here’s what we learned:

  • The median annual wage for medical records and health information specialists is $46,660.
  • Pay can vary between <$29,430 and >$74,200—a gap of more than $44,700 annually!
  • Health information specialists who worked in hospitals earned more on average than those who worked for doctors’ offices (i.e., $47,000 compared to $37,330, respectively).

Of course, as is the case with all professions, salaries for medical coding and billing professionals will vary. Pay is based on factors like location and years of experience.

What is the Difference Between Medical Billing and Medical Coding?

Alas, the big question: What is the difference between medical billing and medical coding?” The answer isn’t as straightforward as you might think. That’s because there are actually quite a few differences between medical billing and medical coding. We’ll address some of these later in the article. For now, we’ll discuss the primary difference between these two closely related job titles. A coder inputs specialized codes. These codes represent patient data such as medical diagnoses, treatments, and procedures. A medical biller deciphers these codes to create medical bills to send to patients and insurance companies.

Medical Billing and Coding Job Description

Medical billing and coding job descriptions can be quite different. Day-to-day duties for these health information specialists involve distinct skill sets.

Medical coding, for example, requires knowledge of a highly specialized medical coding system. One popular example is the American Medical Association’s Current Procedural Terminology (CPT). To navigate the coding process, coders must know specific data entry codes for different types of patient data. This data might include medical conditions, tests, and treatments that may appear in patient medical records. Learning the universally accepted system for coding is a bit like learning a foreign language. Professional medical coders must also know how to use specific software. This is necessary for storing medical information and clinical documentation during patient registration. A coder’s workday and job duties may vary. But they often consist of sitting in front of a computer inputting data from medical records and documents. These duties are necessary to assign codes and create claims. Medical coders work independently. ,And increasingly, these medical coders are working remotely for various healthcare providers. Medical coding occurs behind the scenes.

Conversely, a medical biller’s job begins where a medical coder leaves off. These health information professionals use the encoded data inputted by a medical coder. For example, they must prepare bills and post payments for patients and health insurance companies for services rendered. This requires knowledge of Current Procedural Terminology. As financial clerks, medical billers must bill patients, collect and post payments and fees, and record late payments. They must also handle any bill misunderstandings or errors in patient information. These job duties involve calling patients and health insurance companies. This may be to collect a payment, submit claims, or request reimbursement. Medical billers typically work in physician’s offices or administrative offices. These offices may be located within a hospital or other healthcare facility.

Medical Billing VS Coding Salary

The duties in coding and billing job descriptions are similar but not exact. And the same is true for salary details. According to reports released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), medical coders make more money annually on average than medical billers. Professional coders in the healthcare industry bring in just over $44,000 in mean annual wages. An average medical biller makes approximately $4,500 less each year. It isn’t a huge discrepancy. But it’s a factor worth considering if you’re seriously contemplating medical billing and coding jobs.

Of course, you’ll want to consider the big picture when considering salary projections for any job. Even within particular occupational categories, individual pay can vary significantly. For instance, if you have little experience in the field when hired on as a medical biller or coder, you’ll be at the bottom of the barrel so to speak. You likely won’t start out making as much as your coworkers who have held the same position with health care providers for years. Moreover, salaries are higher for specific jobs depending on geographical location. This can be due to a higher demand for specific professionals in the area or the cost of living in a particular state.

Another Difference Between Medical Billing and Coding: Job Growth

One of the main differences you should be aware of is the job projections for coding versus billing. Projections regarding employment opportunities for these types of professionals can be impactful. Specifically, they can affect your ability to find a job once you’ve completed your education and training in the field. Right now, it seems as if medical coders have the upper hand for employment prospects with healthcare providers. According to the BLS, coders fall under the umbrella of medical records and health information specialists. This is a job category currently seeing much growth. Specifically, jobs for these types of professionals are expected to grow by 8% from 2019 to 2029. Along with health information technicians and cancer registrars, medical coders are expected to enjoy nearly 30,000 new job openings by the decade’s end.

Medical billers won’t have nearly as much job security upon graduation from a health information technology or training program. The BLS reports growth for billing and posting clerks like medical billers is currently slower than average. The Bureau predicts the sector will only grow by 2% between 2019 and 2029. This growth will result in less than 10,000 new jobs for all billing and posting clerks across various industries, not just healthcare.

Medical Coding Versus Billing: Education and Training Requirements

The education and training requirements for medical coders and medical billers are similar. But they are not identical. Both professions require either a postsecondary degree or associates degree in coding/billing or health information technology. Still, the licenses required for some positions may vary depending on the occupation.

For instance, medical coders and coding specialists must hold certification from the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC). Several different types of coding specialist certifications are available. These are based on specific coding skills like various diagnostic and procedure codes and methods of clinical documentation for patient records. The preferred license will vary depending several factors. Some of these may include your employer and your specific role within more extensive healthcare facilities. Standard medical coding certifications offered through the AAPC include:

  • Certified Professional Coder (CPC)
  • Certified Outpatient Coding (COC)
  • Certified Inpatient Coder (CIC)
  • Certified Risk Adjustment Coder (CRC)

Over a dozen other specialty coding certifications for healthcare professionals are available. These can also be obtained via the AAPC.

The American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) is another respected professional organization. It also offers certifications for medical coders, coding specialists, and other healthcare professionals. This includes the following credentials:

  • Certified Coding Associate (CCA)
  • Certified Coding Specialist (CCS)
  • Certified Coding Specialist- Physician-Based (CCS-P)

Medical billers may also ask their employers to hold professional certification. This is to show knowledge of medical codes and the billing process. Still, there are fewer opportunities for professional licensure in billing. The two standard certifications in certified billing include:

  • Certified Medical Reimbursement Specialist (CMRS) certificate from the American Medical Billing Association (AMBA)
  • Certified Professional Biller (CPB) certificate from the AAPC

You’ll need to pass a certification examination to earn professional certifications in either coding or billing. These exams assess knowledge of medical procedures and codes.

Other Necessary Qualities & Skills for Medical Coders Versus Medical Billers

As with any profession, medical coders and billers have certain qualities that can’t be taught in an academic program. These characteristics aren’t the same for each occupation. Thus, they represent a primary difference between billing and coding.

Looking closely at a billing and coding job description, you can see some of the essential qualities and skills necessary for each occupation. For instance, medical coders must input data and patient information independently for hours at a time. This data must be accurate and reliable, according to current medical codes. Any errors can cost the hospital or healthcare facility both time and money. Performing the duties of a medical coder requires specific characteristics. These include a strong work ethic, self-discipline, and attention to detail.

Conversely, the job of a medical biller requires a different skill set. These health information technology professionals spend a lot of time on the phone with patients and/or health insurance companies and representatives. Much of their work in the healthcare industry is centered around discrepancies in patient information. This includes bills and problems over insurance coverage for a specific medical treatment or procedure. Dealing with these issues requires strong communication skills and the ability to problem-solve. It also demands knowledge of medical terminology. Like other healthcare professionals, medical billers must also have a calm temperament. They may have to deal with patients who are upset over their medical bills or their health insurance companies’ unwillingness to pay for necessary medical services or approve insurance claims.

Education and training requirements like an associate degree might not mark a vast difference between billing and coding. But the soft skills necessary for each job done. This is certainly something to consider when deciding which role to take on within the health information technology industry.

Frequently-Asked Questions

Besides the primary question, What is the difference between medical billing and medical coding?” most prospective health information technology students have a lot more questions. If this describes you, that’s good news! It means you’re doing your due diligence to ensure the precise subfield you pursue in this exciting industry is indeed the exact one for you. Below, we’ve compiled a list of some of the common questions students ask about medical coding versus medical billing.

Which is more challenging— coding or billing?

The education and training requirements for both medical billing and coding are pretty similar. In fact, many programs cover the same topics. Some of these overlapping topics include medical terminology, law and ethics in health information technology, insurance claims, and healthcare communication.

Can I earn my associate degree in coding/ billing online?

Yes. Associate’s degree programs in medical coding and billing are available online. Many programs will prepare you to take on either role.

Is a billing salary higher than the salary for coding?

No. According to the BLS, medical coders make slightly more per year than medical billers. Your exact pay may be more or less than the average wage for your occupation in medical coding or billing, though. Wages are based on factors like where you live and work, as well as your prior experience in the field of health information technology.

Are jobs in medical coding and billing in demand?

Yes. Both career paths in the healthcare industry are experiencing growth. But the coding occupation is expanding faster than average. It will provide more opportunities for prospective health information technology professionals with an associate degree and the required skills.

Are professional certifications required for both medical coding and billing?

It depends. Your employer will determine whether a professional certification or license is necessary.

Conclusion

Both coding and billing are necessary and rewarding careers in the promising field of health information technology. While one is not superior to the other, there are advantages to consider when deciding between coding and billing as a job title. Besides typical factors like salary, job prospects, and training requirements, you’ll also want to carefully consider the differences in medical billing and coding job descriptions. These will dictate your daily responsibilities and tasks as a professional coder or biller. After all, at the end of the day, whether you enjoy what you do in the medical services field may very well be the most crucial factor of all.

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