Medical coding plays an important role in our healthcare system. Despite its critical nature, most people know very little about the role or what it entails. This can make it hard to picture what working as a medical coder is really like. You don’t typically see them portrayed in shows or movies, and you don’t encounter them the same way you encounter a physician or medical assistant—so what’s the job like? Is it stressful work?
In this article, we’ll help give you a better overview of the role of a medical coder and provide some insight into the potential stressors associated with it.
What is medical coding really like?
Let’s start with the basics. Medical coders use computers, electronic health records and healthcare or insurance software systems to assign standardized “codes” to patient and provider healthcare information. These standardized codes are used by healthcare providers and insurance carriers to help streamline the billing process. Additionally, having a large source of uniform information is an asset for organizations looking for ways to make patient care more efficient.
While the big picture summary of the work sounds solid, let’s look at what that means for their day-to-day work. At a fundamental level, medical coding professionals are tasked with reviewing patient charts and other medical documentation to translate this information into this standardized coding system. This “translation” process can be simple for relatively routine procedures, but there are also complicated scenarios that take expertise to get sorted out and properly categorized.
This work is a vital part of our healthcare system, and one of the perks of medical coding roles is the relatively short runway for getting started. For instance, you can get started by earning a Medical Billing and Coding Certificate from Rasmussen University in as few as nine months. With your foot in the door, you can then further expand your health information expertise as needed.
Another factor to consider is the overall job outlook for health information professionals. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that medical records and health information specialists earned a 2020 median annual salary of $45,240, and employment of these professionals is projected to grow 9 percent from 2020 to 2030.2
Now that you understand the bigger picture of a medical coder and their role in healthcare, your final questions may revolve around your ability to do this job or if working in the medical industry may be too stressful.
Let’s take a closer look at these concerns.
Is medical coding stressful?
There’s no uniform scale for measuring the stress of a job. The stressfulness of a role depends on the work environment, the person and how they handle potential stressors. Much of what can make medical coding stressful would apply to any other role—difficult coworkers, for example.
That said, there can be potential challenges for new coders as they are settling into the expectations of their job.
1. It’s a productivity-based position
The work of a medical coder is based on productivity and deadlines. Over the period of a workday, a coder will typically have a certain number of charts or CPT (current procedural terminology) codes that need to be entered into a system. Data entry is central to the work of a medical coder and with new cases and patients in hospitals every day, it is important for a coder to stay up to date in their work. While it’s impossible to speak for every employment situation, keeping up with quotas and productivity demands can be a source of stress—particularly when you’re new to the field.
2. Medical coders do interact with providers
Occasionally, entering codes may come with a few extra steps if there is some uncertainty surrounding a potential procedure. Sometimes providers may make mistakes or fail to provide all of the necessary information needed to accurately code the work.
Issues with finding the correct codes can involve follow-up emails and communications to make sure that everything is being reported properly. Most of the time, these issues are quickly resolved with a follow-up email. That said, if you’re not a comfortable communicator, this can be a source of potential stress.
3. The end of the month may be busier
For medical coders, the end of the month may be more stressful as they need to make sure all records for the month are fully updated. Healthcare providers and insurance organizations need a clear picture of where they stand financially at the end of the month, so there’s a push to get all missing or incomplete codes resolved in advance. This push for completion prior to a hard deadline can be an easy source for stress but isn’t unheard of in other professional roles—just ask accountants during tax season!
4. Different work settings will have different challenges
The type of healthcare facility you work in can also have a big impact on how your job feels. Medical coders work in clinics and hospitals—absolutely. But they also work in insurance agencies, educational institutions and even from the comfort of their own homes as they log in remotely.3
If the environment of a certain setting seems like a lot to deal with, you might be able to find a different situation that suits your preferences better. For more details on that, check out Where Do Medical Coders Work? 7 Settings That Might Surprise You.
5. Accuracy is important
When healthcare providers, private insurers, the government and patients all have a financial stake in the accuracy of how procedures and treatments are coded and billed, employers will obviously want to minimize the number of mistakes made. Medical coders are typically held to high accuracy standards and may be subject to audits of their past work. When paired with deadlines or quotas, this can certainly contribute to the overall stress level of the job.
Is medical coding stressful? Results may vary
So, is medical coding stressful? Only you can decide that for yourself. Like with any job, there’s the potential for the typical drivers of stress—the medical field is not immune from frustrating coworkers, stubborn bosses and challenging deadlines. That said, it’s a good idea to review the stress factors listed above and take stock of yourself before making any big decisions.
If a health information career still sounds like it could be a great fit for you, start with our article “Your 5-Step Guide to Become a Medical Coder.”