Can a Felon Become a Medical Coder?

All people imagine themselves in different careers. Some may base these dreams on their own personal ambitions. Others may base them on an understanding of their own strengths and attributes. Whatever the cause, hopes and dreams are what spur people to strive to find accomplishment and meaning in life.

Felons are no different. At different points in life, they may have seen themselves succeeding in numerous positions. Upon release from prison, however, these goals may feel impossibly distant. Careers may be gone, and reputations may be lost. It can feel as though a person is forever stained by the stigma of their conviction.

Hopes and ambitions do not need to be thrown aside. They may seem more difficult to achieve, due to the mark on a felon’s record from their conviction. Felons will find that most fields provide options for those with strong work ethics, who are looking to re-establish an honest career in a growing and secure line of work.

Wages and Growth For Medical Coders

The medical and healthcare field is among the most rapidly growing in the American economy. A felon may have had a prior interest in the medical field. Many felons will also be compelled to explore new skills and opportunities after prison. For individuals in either of these circumstances, they may want to consider medical coding as an opportunity for long-term and secure employment.

The Bureau of Labor and Statistics estimates that medical coding jobs will increase by 11% over the next ten years, adding 23,100 jobs. This is much higher than the average field. This is due in part to America’s aging population, which will require increased medical care as they grow older

In 2018, the median wage for a medical coder was $40,350 per year, or $19.40 per hour. This figure is the mid-point between the highest and lowest wage, and not an average. Salaries will also differ depending on location, as in general, jobs on the west or east coast often are more highly paid.

Job Description For Medical Coders

Medical coding is a unique field, and is becoming one of the most important support roles in the healthcare industry. Medical coders work to transcribe patient information from doctor, nurse, or physician notes into codes that are entered into databases. These databases may be controlled by a doctors’ office, a hospital, an HMO, or a healthcare insurance agency.

The codes allow for accurate and quick verification of a patient’s history or condition. This in turn allows insurance claims, referrals, and prescriptions to be issued and reimbursed with little delay. Essentially, medical coders are at the forefront of the healthcare industry’s attempt to modernise their record keeping and patient care.

How To Become A Medical Coder

Medical coders are also unique for the fact that people can enter the position without earning a degree. Instead, medical coders are required to earn a certificate from the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC). This requires passing an exam, which certifies that a coder has the necessary skills and knowledge to perform competently in the profession.

Important skill sets and knowledge for a medical coder includes:

  • Proficient to excellent computer skills
  • Strong organizational abilities
  • Excellent verbal and written communication
  • Interpersonal adeptness
  • Attention to detail
  • Basic understanding of human physiology
  • Knowledge of primary code sets

There are a number of preparatory courses for people interested in medical coding as a career. All prep programs should be evaluated on the basis of whether they cover the three main code sets used by medical professionals, which are CPT, ICD, and HCPCS. Additional information can be found at the AAPC website, including suggested coursework and resources for testing.

A working knowledge of diseases, medications, diagnoses, and physiology is important. Effective healthcare depends on accurate information, and medical coders ensure that the communication between a physician and all other parties is precise and complete. This also helps medical providers to remain compliant with regulatory agencies, or for any type of fraud to be detected and traced with ease.

Medical Coding Testing And Certification

Training programs for the AAPC assessment may take six months of study, practice, and preparation. Coders can also attain more than one certification. The AAPC recommends this, and says that job candidates with more than one certification are more likely to be hired, and will earn a higher wage.

The Certified Professional Coder (CPC) exam costs $425, or $325 for AAPC members. The test consists of 150 multiple choice questions that must be answered in a 5 hour and 40 minute span of time. Approved manuals are permitted during the exam, easing the strain on the test takers. A score of 70% or higher is considered passing.

After taking coursework and passing the AAPC exam, coders will be prepared to begin working. In general, the scope of their work includes reading and analyzing physician notes, filling in blanks and making interpretations as needed, and entering those into the required database. They will work with both written and digital files, and the pace of work might be rapid in certain environments.

Is Medical Coding Suitable For Felons?

Felons may find many of these aspects appealing as they consider a career in medical coding. The pace of work, rapid flow of information, and the importance of the role in any professional healthcare environment are all fulfilling parts of the job. An efficient medical coder will be a quick typist, and will be comfortable working independently, as most physicians cannot take the time to assist a coder with questions.

There are no federal restrictions on whether felons are allowed to take coding courses and take the AAPC exam. The AAPC has numerous chapters throughout the country, so felons should contact their local chapter to learn if their background could disqualify them from being hired. Different employers will have different standards as well.

Felons can expect background checks to be performed when applying for positions. Medical coders handle sensitive information, both regarding health and identity, so companies must be careful when hiring candidates. Certain felonies, such as fraud, child abuse or molestation, or drug histories may find it difficult to get work.

It is always advisable for felons to be honest about their past. If they know that a felony conviction will show up on a background check or their criminal record, they should disclose this to an employer during the hiring process, and make clear that they are not defined by the mistakes of their past.

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