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Medical Coding and Billing in Washington

The many Washington residents on Basic Health rely on medical billing and coding specialists to accurately read medical documentation and code procedures. This ensures that their claims are paid on time and without undue stress. Some Washington residents, though, see even more promise in the medical billing and coding field. They see in it their own future profession.

What do medical billing or coding specialists do? They attach strings of characters to medical data, including primary and secondary diagnoses, risk factors, and procedures. It’s not always a simple matter of matching a code with the name of an operation. Sometimes medical coding specialists must abstract information from medical charts. They must recognize words and phrases that signal different health conditions even if the language used isn’t always the same. When information is found to be missing, a medical coder must communicate with different health care officials to obtain it. When a claim is denied, a medical billing specialist must follow through with involved parties to see if information can be supplied which will reverse the finding.

Where does one begin? Find a formal education program either in medical billing and coding or in health informatics.

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Medical Billing and Coding Training in Washington

Many Washington employers desire certification. In order to pass certification exams, a person needs considerable education and/ or field experience. In the current economic situation, education is generally the best bet. It’s a good idea to choose a degree program that has a solid reputation in the field and that will prepare you for your desired certification. One highly respected coding certification is the CPC, which stands for Certified Professional Coder; it is available from the AAPC. Another is the CCS, which stands for Certified Coding Specialist and may be obtained through AHIMA. AHIMA also offers RHIT and RHIA, which are more general health information credentials.

The CPMA, or Certified Professional Medical Auditor credential, is also available from AAPC. It is a way of demonstrating competency with compliance and regulatory issues, data sampling methodologies, risk assessment and quality assurance, as well as coding. The exam has 150 questions and requires 36 CEUs every three years for renewal -- at least when it is a person's sole AAPC credential. (A person with two certifications will need a total of 48, with 24 of them related specifically to medical auditing.)

Coders who maintain ties to AAPC or AHIMA have networking opportunities which can be useful for finding employment.

The bottom line is that you should find a training program to prepare you for the certification exams. Employers often want to see some kind of formal education listed on your resume as well.

Medical Billing and Coding Salary and Job outlook in Washington

Education does not have to be completed all at once. Is it best to enter the job market with a short program or pursue a degree from the onset? A representative of Shoreline Community College says it depends on career goals, but that it is a good idea to speak with an advisor about individual career goals.

The AAPC reports that the Northwest has some of the highest wages in the U.S. for medical coding specialists. The Bureau of Labor further breaks down the salaries of workers in the health information technology professions by geographic region. The highest average in the state is the Seattle-Bellevue-Everett area, listed at $40,040. (Notably, this is the region of the state where the University of Washington Medical Center, ranked one of the top facilities in the nation, is located.) Tacoma is a little behind at $35,670. Wenatchee and Yakima, on the other side of the mountains, are listed at $35,620 and $32,870 respectively. Spokane has the lowest wages in the state, with a $29,660 average.

While medical coding specialists often aspire to work at large regional medical centers like UW or Swedish, doctors’ offices are often an easier market. Experience in insurance or other healthcare fields can be an asset, as can a range of skills and life experiences. A recent job posting for Swedish Medical Center, for instance, noted that public speaking experience or medical billing and coding training was desired.

Take the first step toward a medical billing and coding career and start contacting schools. Advisors will contact you to provide you with all the information you need about their programs.

You may also want to check out the Medical Assisting programs in Washington to see how the training and job oppotunities compare.

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