Tales of a Coder Part I: Choosing an Online Medical Coding Training Program

Picture yourself in a medical coding career!Recently, my friend Bob approached me with an idea. He has decided that he wants to become a medical coder. When he first told me he was interested in exploring coding as a career, I didn’t really think he knew what he was talking about. As Bob itemized the reasons for his interest however, I became more and more convinced it could work.

Bob told me he’s looking for:

  • Something challenging that will stretch his brain.
  • Something he could potentially do from a home office.
  • Something in demand in the market.
  • Something he could train for in a year or less.
  • Something for which the training expense was affordable for him ($2000 or less.)

Knowing this gentleman fairly well, I think the characteristics he has that will potentially make him a good candidate to train for a coding career are:

  • Enjoys reading.
  • Has the ability to focus on details.
  • Has the ability to retain details.
  • Has good communication skills for interacting with physicians, patients & insurance companies.
  • Has good computer skills.
  • Has an interest in healthcare.

Bob had thought it through pretty well so I agreed to research programs and help him choose one. We narrowed the field down to certificate/diploma programs as he is unwilling to spend the time and money to obtain an associates degree at this point in his life – he is an older adult learner.

I found many training programs out there – so many in fact that I think choosing one can be a time-consuming and potentially difficult task for anyone.

Here is how I chose a short-list of recommended training programs for my friend Bob. I looked for schools or programs that:

  1. Are accredited, either nationally or regionally or both, or have an established reputation.
  2. Provided clear, cohesive information online about the program details, tuition and what’s included in the certificate without having to complete any information or give my email address!
  3. Took no longer than one year.
  4. Looked legitimate online! (Subjective, I realize.)

Each of the following programs on my list met Bob’s basic requirements, but varied greatly in cost, time to complete and comprehensiveness.

Program Name AverageProgramCost Add’lFees** Pymt.Plan Anatomy& Term.Included*** #MonthstoComplete AssociatedTestAuthority AccreditationNational orRegional
AAPC $1215* Y Y N 4-12 AAPC None found
AHIMA $2000 Y Y N 15 AHIMA N & R
Allied Medical $2000 N Y Y 3-18 AAPC N
Blackstone $1442 N Y Y 6-12 AAPC, AHIMA N & R
Career Step $2200 N Y Y 4-12 AAPC, AHIMA None found
Medical Mgmt Institute $1100 Y Y Y 2-4 AAPC, ARHCP None found
Penn Foster $1750 Y Y Y 6 AAPC, AHIMA N & R
Practice Mgmt Institute $999 Y Y N 1 Own exam None found
US Career Institute $1279 Y N Y 4-12 AAPC, AHIMA N

*AAPC price includes the certification exam

**Additional fees may include books (procedure & diagnosis) and membership fees

***Most programs either require or strongly recommend a prerequisite of Anatomy & Physiology and Medical Terminology

Bob’s list is not intended to be an all-inclusive one. I spent a significant amount of time researching programs, but I could have gone much deeper, given an unlimited amount of time. I called the programs listed above to verify basic information, but I recommend program-seekers take it further.

Other criteria that I am advising Bob to include in his final review are:

  1. How long has the school been in business and how long has it offered medical coding education?
  2. What is the pass rate of students taking the various certification exams?
  3. What are the interest rates on payment plans?
  4. Is any financial aid offered?
  5. Who are the instructors and what are their qualifications?
  6. What student support is offered? Online chat with teacher or other students? Externships? Time extensions available?
  7. Would classes transfer as credits to an associates or bachelors degree if I decided to continue my education?
  8. Is there a refund policy if I decide that coding is not for me?
  9. Is the online course compatible with a Mac?
  10. How is the course provided? Online interactive/non-interactive modules? Online videos? DVDs? Workbooks?
  11. Are there module or chapter tests? Is there an end of program test to pass to receive the certificate? What grade or test score constitutes passing?
  12. Is a certification exam included in the price of the training program? Are exam retakes included?
  13. How deeply does the course dive into ICD-10?
  14. Do these programs prepare you to take certification exams from the:
    • American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC)
    • American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA)
    • International Association of Registered Health Care Professionals (ARHCP)
    • National Healthcare Association (NHA)

Additionally, I am recommending that Bob research local schools in his county and state that offer online programs. Many state universities and community colleges offer great values in coding programs for state residents. Bob should look for websites that list and describe all the coding training programs offered by his state university and community college systems.

Next time: what program did Bob choose?

Posted in: Collections, Billing & Coding

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10 Comments

  1. C Bonde September 28, 2011

    So which one did he chose? :)

  2. Mary Pat Whaley September 28, 2011

    Part II will be coming soon!

    Mary Pat

  3. Mark Gibbons November 3, 2011

    Wow, thanks for this article…my wife is in the midst of a career transition and is strongly considering Medical Coding. With her background in nursing, and previous software, content, quality assurance experience in the medical softwae space we think this might be a great fit! Just subscribed to your blog, and look forward to Part II of your article.

    Thanks and God bless,
    Mark G

  4. Mary Pat Whaley November 3, 2011

    Hi Mark,

    Thanks for visiting! Part II should be up on our site next week.

    Best wishes,

    Mary Pat

  5. Ken Asch November 30, 2011

    I am a graduate of the Allied School Coding and Billing and Anatomy cirriculum May 2010. I then studied for the CPC ( Certified Professional Coder ) exam offered by AAPC. I did really well with Allied’s exam, but found the Certification exam very difficult and after failing it in June 2010, studied extra hard and passed it in Sept. I am similar to Bob in that I wanted to become qualified to work in the medical industry as fast as possible as this was a total career change and not a young man. I found dispite me accomplishments, especially becomeing Certified thru AAPC, that gaining an entry type level position EXTREMELY difficult. I offered myself to hospitals, physician practices as a free Extern, still no takers. I am down here in South East Florida where the medical profession is huge, but yet employers only wanted minimum 2 years experience. I think the most important draw back doing an online program and not going to a local school offering that program was that the local schools have agreements with local medical facilities to bring in students as Externs with the possibility of employment. Allied did not have those contacts. Of course I would be strapped with a student loan if I had gone to a brick and mortor school. I was lucky to meet a consultant at a seminar who had a client that needed some help and I got my start position. But I was exclusively coding diagnosis, and most positions in medical facilities are focused on billing and working claims, so I am still very, very limited in progressing my career. Just sharing my experiences.

  6. Mary Pat Whaley December 4, 2011

    Hi Ken,

    Thanks very much for sharing. I am hearing from many people trying to enter the coding field that they cannot get work because they do not have any experience. I think there is a definitely a place for coding apprentices and would like to figure out a way to employ them during their apprentice years. I think schools are doing students a disservice by not pointing out that many employers want coders with experience and that many new coders may have to take lower-paying jobs for the first two years to get their career started.

    Best wishes,

    Mary Pat

  7. Joan June 22, 2014

    I am currently a therapist in the hospital setting and I have a BS degree in occupational therapy and an AS degree in HIM. I worked for one year as an out patient coder in west palm beach florida and then moved to central florida and went back into OT as coding jobs were not available in the rural area that I moved to. that was almost 10 years ago and I am looking into re entering the coding field but I know I should take another course in coding since it has been so long. I need to take an online course as I live in an area where there are not many coding programs. I wanted to know if you have any advice on an online program and being that I have some past experience would I have chance in landing a job in the field? I am looking to do this on the side at first, as needed staffing and then go from there. I live in sebring florida area. any advice would be appreciated. Thank you

  8. Mary Pat Whaley July 13, 2014

    Hi Joan,

    I am going to connect you via email to a coder friend who may be able to steer you in the right direction.

    Best wishes,

    Mary Pat

  9. ana September 9, 2014

    You never did tell us what school Bob chose?

  10. Mary Pat Whaley September 16, 2014

    Hi Ana,

    That is because he was not happy with the school he chose and I do not want to talk about them negatively in public. If you want to know, drop me an email at marypat@managemypractice.com.

    Best wishes,

    Mary Pat

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