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Medical Coder  What They Do

Just the Facts


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dotIf you have a sore throat that just won't go away, you visit your doctor. She listens to your symptoms, examines your neck and chest, takes a swab of your throat and orders you to get some blood work done at the lab down the hall.

Each of these procedures is recorded in your medical records. A medical coder then looks over that record and applies codes so that payment can eventually be made for the services provided.

dotMedical coders use an international system of codes. "Almost every country in the world codes and abstracts clinical information, which is submitted to the World Health Organization [WHO]," says Gail Crook. She is the executive director of a health record association.

"WHO, many decades ago, devised a clinical coding system for diagnostic information."

This set of codes is called the International Classification of Diseases (ICD). The ICD is used to classify the diagnoses and procedures in order to bill the patient or the patient's insurance provider. Medical codes are also assigned to assess the clinical care of the patient and can be used to support medical research activity.

dotMedical coders must have a thorough knowledge of medical terminology, tests, procedures and surgical operations in order to correctly assign codes to each treatment.

dotMost medical coders work in hospitals. Others work in physician offices, for insurance companies and in long-term health-care facilities.

"The majority work in the hospital setting, but more are being hired in physician offices," says Joe Santos. He is a certification specialist at the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA).

Medical coders can work regular office hours, whether in a hospital setting or in a physician's office. "It can tend to be on the isolated side," says Shirley Davis. She is a professor of health information management and medical coding in Florida. "You have to like being by yourself much of the time."

dotA physically challenged person can do the work of a medical coder. "We've certainly had deaf students and students in wheelchairs go through our program," says Davis. "However, sight is important in this work."

At a Glance

Make sure the right codes are applied to each procedure

  • Coders can work in hospitals, doctors' offices or long-term care facilities
  • You need a thorough knowledge of medical procedures
  • Typically, medical coding programs can last from six months to two years


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Medical Records and Health Information Technicians