There are very few industries currently experiencing as much growth as the medical sector, both in the short and the long term. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) the health care and social assistance sector will account for more than a third of the projected job growth between 2014 and 2024. That means increased demand for professions that fall within that industry, including office and administrative workers. The Affordable Care Act has added a level of complexity to existing billing processes, so that medical billing specialists will continue to be in high demand.
Oftentimes, when a sector experiences rapid growth, schools may struggle to keep up with the demands placed on related certificate and degree programs. Luckily, the new millennium has brought us incredible technologies to help address those increased demands, especially through the medium of online education. Universities throughout the country offer easily accessible online medical billing programs -- both certificates and some associate degrees -- to ensure that tomorrow's workforce is qualified and ready to work.
Online Medical Billing Degree Programs
Medical billing professionals typically need some post-secondary training for entry-level positions. According to the BLS, if you're interested in becoming a medical records or health information technician, the best option is an associate degree in medical information technology. To prepare for this degree, it's recommended to take high school courses in health, math, biology and computer science.
Medical records are highly confidential, so it's important for health information techs to be organized and extremely knowledgeable in their field. Medical billing students can expect to take classes in:
- Health data requirements
- Legal topics
- Coding and classification systems
- Medical terminology
Most associate degrees usually take two years to complete, and many employers will also require some form of certification. In fact, most careers in the health care sector will require certification and ongoing education, due to the sensitive nature of the work. According to the BLS, certifications include:
- Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT)
- Certified Tumor Registrar (CTR)
Some organizations, but not all, certify medical records technicians upon passing a standardized national exam. Keep in mind that once you're certified, you must continue to take educational courses and renew your certification every few years.
While on-campus options are available at many community colleges and vocational schools across the country, an online medical billing certificate program is often the quickest way to capitalize on the educational investment. A variety of universities, including brick-and-mortar institutions as well as online-only programs are available for students to choose from. Most universities offer certificate programs, which can typically be completed within one year of study.
Career Outlook for Medical Billing Professionals
While the BLS provides no data specifically on the profession of medical billing, it does provide earnings data on affiliated professions such as bookkeeping, accounting and auditing clerks and medical records and health information technicians, which might provide insight into earnings potential. Medical records and health information technicians can work a bit more on the patient side than strictly on the billing and accounting side, but the earnings may be comparable to those that can be expected by medical billing specialists.
According to the BLS, medical records and health information technicians earned a mean annual wage of $40,430 in 2015, and the job growth for the profession is expected to be strong at 15 percent, which is faster than average. As for bookkeeping, accounting and auditing clerks, who perform similar functions as medical billing specialists, but usually in non-medical fields, the BLS lists a mean annual wage of $38,990.
In terms of states with the most available positions for bookkeeping clerks, the nation is led by California, Texas and New York while the most positions for medical records and health information technicians are available in California, Texas and Florida. When it comes to earnings, medical records technicians earn the highest wages in the District of Columbia, New Jersey and Alaska while bookkeeping clerks can also expect to earn the most in the Washington, D.C. area, Alaska and Massachusetts.
Choosing Your Medical Billing School
Before selecting a school, all students should carefully research school graduation rates, costs and potential employment opportunities upon graduation. It's also a good idea to talk to alumni about their careers. The most important factor is to make sure the school is accredited. Before making a decision, spend some time learning about the online learning platform that the university uses and find out about the amount of student-instructor interaction that will be available to future students.
- Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bookkeeping, Accounting, and Auditing Clerks, Bureau of Labor Statistics, July 2016, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/office-and-administrative-support/bookkeeping-accounting-and-auditing-clerks.htm
- Medical Billing and Coding Certificate, Kaplan University, http://www.kaplanuniversity.edu/health-sciences/medical-billing-coding-certificate.aspx
- Certificate in Medical Billing and Coding, http://www.drexel.com/online-degrees/nursing-degrees/medical-billing-coding/index.aspx
- Occupational Outlook Handbook, Medical Records and Health Information Technicians, Bureau of Labor Statistics, July 2016, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/medical-records-and-health-information-technicians.htm