Outpatient facilities are medical facilities that cater to patients that suffer from acute or chronic medical problems that do not require a lengthy hospital stay. Patients that visit outpatient facilities typically don’t need to stay overnight, or even for more than a couple hours. Some common outpatient facilities include physician offices and clinics, although hospitals also have outpatient wards as well.
A hospital outpatient coder is a medical coder that assigns medical codes to medical procedures and services, which are then used for statistical and billing purposes. These medical coders typically work in outpatient wards in general and specialty hospitals.
Unlike outpatient medical coders, who need to perform coding services for every day a patient stays in a hospital, outpatient coders usually only need to assign codes to specific procedures and services that were performed during the patients’ appointments. Also, outpatient medical coders in hospitals typically use Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) codes, which are codes for various medical services and procedures.
The growth rate for medical coders, including hospital outpatient coders, is expected to grow faster than average, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is primarily due to the abundance of aging Baby Boomers and advances in medical technology. Because of this, qualified and driven medical coders will have no trouble finding employment in the next decade, even during troubling economic times. Besides having a stable career, outpatient hospital coders also often enjoy competitive salaries and benefits.
Duties and Responsibilities
Hospital outpatient coders examine patient medical charts and records and assign appropriate codes to the various treatments and services performed. Although most hospitals in the country use electronic patient records today, outpatient coders may also need to work from paper charts and physician notes.
Accuracy is an essential responsibility of a medical outpatient coding career. Therefore, these professionals must make sure that the codes that they assign are as accurate as possible. In some cases, outpatient coders may need to communicate with physicians and other health care professionals to clarify some aspects of a patient’s chart. In some cases, an outpatient coder may even be responsible to correct inaccurate patient charts.
Outpatient medical coders may also be charged with processing invoices and submitting them to insurance companies or billing patients. Because they work in offices, outpatient coders should be prepared to tackle additional office duties, including unrelated clerical work and answering telephones.
Necessary Skills, Education, and Experience
Computer skills are essential when pursuing an outpatient medical coding career in a hospital. Prospective outpatient coders should be very familiar with different medical coding software, for instance. They should also be able and willing to learn how to use new software as well as stay up-to-date on current trends in technology.
Hospital outpatient coders will also need to communicate with physicians, nurses, billing clerks, and other hospital staff members on a daily basis. Because of this, good communication and interpersonal skills are very important.
After earning your high school diploma or equivalent, you will also need to earn a medical coding diploma or degree if you’re looking to become a hospital outpatient coder. Medical coding diplomas can be completed at local community colleges, vocational center, or online. However, some hospitals may require that applicants have completed a minimum of a two year associate degree in medical coding. You must also hold a minimum of a two-year degree in order to sit for medical coding certification examinations.
Once you’ve earned a medical coding degree, you will also need to obtain a medical coding certification, as this is often required to work as a hospital outpatient coder. The Certified Coding Specialist (CCS), Registered Health Information Administrator (RHIA), and Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT) certifications are considered to be the industry standards. These can be obtained by passing the proper examinations administered by the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA). However, the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC) also offers the outpatient hospital-based Certified Professional Coder (CPC-H) credential.
Depending on the facility, you may or may not need prior medical coding experience. Some hospitals, for instance, are willing to work with medical coders with little to no experience, and may even provide some on-the-job training. On the other hand, some hospitals may require applicants to have a year or more of experience as a medical coder.
Tips for Getting a Job as a Hospital Outpatient Coder
Hospitals will often advertise outpatient coding jobs in newspapers and on online job boards. These jobs are also sometimes posted on internal job boards.
You may even be able to get wind of them by contacting the human resources departments at your local hospitals. Even if they aren’t hiring at the time, you should send along a resume highlighting your skills, education, certifications, and experience for future consideration. Paired with a strong cover letter and professional letters of recommendation, a powerful resume can be one of your most valuable assets when trying to land an outpatient coding position in a hospital.