Industry Insights

How your college can narrow the medical coding skills gap

Lisa Qing

Lisa Qing, Consultant
Community College Executive Forum

As health care providers shift toward electronic medical records (EMRs), the health informatics workforce is poised for rapid growth. According to a new report from Burning Glass Technologies, employers across the U.S. posted 72,000 health informatics job openings in 2013. These positions reflect a wide range of educational qualifications, but they all require a rare combination of clinical expertise and IT skills.

Medical coders, or workers who translate diagnoses and procedures into standardized codes for reimbursement, represent one especially high-demand role. Employers are struggling to find the talent to meet their hiring needs. The typical online job posting for medical coders stays open for 40 days—seven days longer than the average across all occupations.

Colleges and universities already graduate nearly 34,000 new medical coders each year. What more can we do to ensure that program graduates meet employers' needs?

Plenty of coding graduates, but few with industry certifications

At a quick glance, the labor market for medical coders looks well-supplied. Between the 34,000 new graduates each year and the pool of 125,000 current coders, there should be more than enough workers to fill the 45,000 related job openings.

Why, then, do employers still struggle to hire qualified medical coders? Burning Glass’s analysis of job postings reveals that employers commonly require candidates to have not only a college credential, but also an industry certification. Less than 60% of recent medical coding graduates attain these certifications, the most common of which include AHIMA’s Certified Coding Associate (CCA) and AAPC’s Certified Professional Coder (CPC).

To narrow the skills gap in medical coding, colleges must focus beyond program completion—they must also prepare students for industry certification.

Integrating certification and job search prep into capstone courses

Delaware County Community College (DCCC) in Media, Pa., enrolled 270 students across its medical coding and billing programs in 2013-14. Graduates commonly find work in hospitals and physician offices after attaining industry certification.

Like many successful coding programs, DCCC’s Medical Coding and Billing Certificate ends in a capstone course that provides hands-on experience with coding software and EMRs. DCCC’s instructors take three additional steps to ensure that graduates meet employers’ hiring needs:

Learn More about the Health Informatics Labor Market

Burning Glass’s latest report explores employer demand for medical coders, health information technicians, and related positions at the intersection of health care and IT. Read the report for more information on this rapidly growing field.

Download full report

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