Exploring Jobs of the Future: Medical Coding

From revenue to health equity, this field is the thread that ties the healthcare industry together.

As the U.S. workforce bounces back from record-high unemployment during the pandemic, the Bureau of Labor Statistics is giving some hopeful projections for the future. Employment in the healthcare sector is projected to grow faster than average—about 16% between 2020 and 2030. In particular, medical coding jobs are in high demand and expected to grow by 15% between now and 2024.

A quickly evolving health information field, medical coding involves assigning an alphanumeric value to every diagnosis, symptom and procedure performed in a healthcare setting. These codes determine reimbursement amounts, measure statistical data and move healthcare research forward.

How Medical Coding Is Used
Medical coding touches many parts of the healthcare industry, including revenue, data analytics, quality of care, digital health, health equity and population health. While medical coders don’t offer hands-on care, their jobs are essential to clinical care.

Medical coding jobs are in high demand and expected to grow by 15% between now and 2024.

“There’s often a misconception that medical coding is strictly an administrative position,” says Chris Staropoli, professor in Jefferson’s medical coding and data quality certificate program. “But it’s actually very clinical as well. We’re gathering the data on what’s happening in healthcare settings, so part of our training is to know and understand the disease process. We’re in anatomy and physiology classes with nursing students and other clinicians.”

Medical coders working in hospitals, clinics and other ambulatory settings have the vital job of ensuring each code is assigned properly for reimbursement to the provider, but that’s just one piece of the puzzle.

Improving Data Analytics
Medical coding provides healthcare professionals with important insights into disease processes and population health and helps to improve patients’ quality of care.

“During the pandemic, there was a whole new set of codes added for COVID and its related conditions,” Staropoli says. “We can look at this data and see what conditions manifested from COVID, as well as how many people were affected by it. When you saw the COVID numbers reported by the Department of Health, those numbers were gathered by tracking medical codes.”

Medical coders have many different career path options, including traditional healthcare settings, long-term care facilities, pharmaceutical companies, third-party payors and government agencies.

Building Health Equity
In addition to revenue and data, medical coding plays an important role in health equity and improving quality care for all people. “We have codes for social determinants of health,” Staropoli says. “When a patient comes in, we can add codes that specify if they’re unhoused, unemployed, a veteran, have no access to transportation, etc.”

Capturing a patient’s social determinants of health allows healthcare providers to improve access to care and help patients work toward healthier living.

For example, if someone visits their doctor and is diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or asthma, providers and researchers can look at what else factors into their health. “Where does this person live? Is it an area with high rates of air pollution? Is there something we can do to assist with the improvement of this environment?” Staropoli says.

Medical coding is a profession where you will be a lifelong learner.
–Christine Staropoli

Similarly, if there’s a high rate of diabetes in a certain community, coding can help to determine if those patients have access to fresh produce or if they live in a food desert. This data also can help organizations decide where to focus resources like food pantries or community cleanups.

An Ever-Evolving Profession
“As technology advances, so does the profession,” says Staropoli, noting medical coders must be credentialed and maintain continuing education unit credits. “It’s a profession where you will be a lifelong learner.”

Medical coders have many different career path options. Besides traditional healthcare settings, coders also can find jobs at long-term care facilities, pharmaceutical companies, coding and electronic medical record vendors, third-party payors and insurance companies. In addition, many medical coders can pursue careers in population health for non-profits, healthcare systems and even government agencies like the National Institutes of Health.

Medical Coding and Data Quality Certificate
Jefferson’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies is committed to providing a career-focused and supportive environment to prepare students to become leaders, Staropoli says.

Medical coding provides healthcare professionals with important insights into disease processes and population health and helps to improve patients’ quality of care.

Certificate in medical coding and data quality courses are offered completely online and can be taken full- or part-time. Jefferson doesn’t require college credits to enroll, but eligible students must have a high school diploma or GED.

The certificate is based on the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) Foundation’s model, which includes standard competencies that prepare students to sit for a credentialing exam.

Jefferson students also have access to AHIMA VLab, a virtual lab that simulates a real-world coding environment. “VLab has hundreds of pseudo-medical records to code with three different types of end coders,” Staropoli says. “This gives students hands-on experience and prepares them for the real-world workforce.”

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