In hospital settings, procedures, diagnoses, and treatments that patients get are not only recorded in written form; the information is also coded because hospitals must submit information this way to health insurance companies to get paid for providing health care services. Medical coders who work in hospitals and who code inpatient procedures and inpatient treatments are called inpatient medical coders. These coders do not code procedures for outpatients, or patients who are treated and released from the hospital the same day. Becoming an inpatient medical coder requires good academic skills and persistence. However, if you are willing to do the necessary work, you can learn inpatient coding.
Identify a medical coding program that can enable you to get a medical coding credential. For example, identify at least an associate's degree medical program that is approved by the Commission on Accreditation for Health Infomatics and Information Management Education (CAHIM). The purpose of this is to make sure that the academic program is of adequate quality in medical coding such that you will be able to get a job after graduation.
Complete the medical coding program. Coursework will include general courses such as English, chemistry, and biology. Coursework will also include more specialized coursework that is directly related to medical coding such as anatomy, physiology, procedural coding, diagnostic coding, and a medical coding practicum.
While doing the practicum part of your medical coding program, do supervised work in a hospital setting. Supervised work involves actually going to the hospital and coding hospital health care inpatient information. Working in an inpatient setting such as a hospital will give you the experience you need to be able to seek a job doing inpatient coding when you complete your schooling.
Toward the end of your coding program, prepare for the American Health Information Management (AHIMA) exam. This is an important exam because passing it will enhance your chances of securing employment. Looking over notes from your coursework will serve as partial preparation. Also, taking a course offered by the American Academy of Coders will prepare you for the exam.
Fill out the AHIMA exam application then take and pass the AHIMA exam, which enables you to become a Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT) or a Registered Health Information Administrator (RHIA). Individuals with the RHIT graduated from an associate's degree program, and individuals with the RHIA graduated from a bachelor's degree program. After you have the RHIT or RHIA designation, seek work as an inpatient medical coder in a hospital setting.
After graduation, participate in an education program that is geared toward individuals who already have coding experience. For example, as part of continuing education, seek a hospital coding specialist certificate. This type of certificate is geared toward inpatient coding and is offered at University of California, San Diego, for example. The purpose of the program is to provide classroom training for students who already have coding knowledge and to enhance the skills of individuals who are already working as coders.