These days, laboratory tests are some of the most important medical procedures. They are frequently used to diagnose diseases and medical disorders, and they can also be used to test for pregnancy and the presence of drugs and alcohol. Instead of labeling laboratory tests with long-winded and complicated medical descriptions, they are identified with medical codes.
Coding medical laboratory tests serves a few different purposes. First of all, these codes make it easier for medical laboratories to bill patients and insurance companies for these procedures. Laboratory medical coding also makes it easier to keep track of and record the different types of medical procedures that each patient has had.
Duties and Responsibilities of Laboratory Medical Coders
Like other types of medical coders, laboratory medical coders work to encode the medical charts and records of patients. Instead of working in a hospital, physician’s office, or insurance company, however, these medical coding specialists work in medical laboratories, including clinical research and diagnostic laboratories.
Laboratory medical coders typically receive patient records from the laboratory they work for, or from a patient’s physician. They are then responsible for reviewing these records and assigning each laboratory procedure with an accurate and corresponding medical code.
These types of medical coders may use a variety of different popular medical coding sets, such as International Classification of Diseases (ICD) and Diagnosis-related Group (DRG) code sets, but they are more apt to use the Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) code set on a regular basis. This set of medical codes is used to describe various diagnostic procedures, including medical laboratory procedures.
At times, a laboratory medical coder may find that they are having difficulty assigning a code to a particular procedure. In this case, depending on the circumstances, the medical coder may need to contact the physician that ordered the laboratory test or look up a certain code in a medical coding handbook.
Necessary Skills, Education, and Experience
Laboratory medical coders use very specialized medical coding software each and every day. Therefore, they must be computer savvy as well as willing and able to keep up with the latest technological advances in the field. A laboratory medical coding specialist should also be aware that they will need to keep up with the latest news and changes in their field, as modern medicine has many advances every year.
Communication skills are a must for anyone looking to become a laboratory medical coder. They must be able to effectively communicate with their co-workers and supervisors, as well as the physicians and nurses that send patient records their way.
As for education, some medical coders have gotten their start by completing a short medical coding diploma program. However, applicants with associate or bachelor’s degrees in medical coding or health information technology are more likely to be considered for medical coding positions.
If you’re looking to become a laboratory medical coder, you should also consider becoming certified. Medical coding certification can be obtained through the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) and the American Association of Professional Coders (AAPC). The AHIMA offers the following certifications:
• Certified Coding Specialist (CCS)
• Physician Based Certified Coding Specialist (CCS-P)
• Certified Coding Associate (CCA)
• Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT)
• Registered Health Information Administrator (RHIA)
The AAPC offers the following certifications:
• Certified Professional Coder (CPC)
• Hospital Based Certified Professional Coder (CPC-H)
• Physician Based Certified Professional Coder (CPC-P)
Depending on the employer, you may or may not need previous experience as a medical coder. Many laboratories, for instance, may require applicants to have a year or more of experience, while some may be willing to hire applicants fresh out of school.
Tips for Finding a Job as a Laboratory Medical Coder
Laboratory medical coding jobs are often listed on online job boards as well as in local newspapers. You might also be able to directly contact medical labs, hospitals, and similar facilities to inquire about medical coding jobs.
When you apply for a laboratory medical coding job, make sure that you have a strong resume and custom cover letter to present. Your resume should highlight your education, experience, certifications, and skills. Professional letters of recommendation for past supervisors or instructors, if available, should also be included when applying for a job.