life of a medical coder

A day in the life of a medical coder

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Since I’m not in the healthcare industry, I usually look at hospitals from the patient’s perspective. Let’s suppose. I, the patient, have a serious health problem and need medical attention. I go to the hospital and fill out the tedious forms with all my personal and insurance information. I wait, I get treated and I leave. I inform my wonderful health insurance company and a few weeks or months later I receive a receipt from the hospital, proof that I owe them nothing else.

The sequence of events above would be impossible without medical coders and billers.

Medical coders and billers are the key links between health insurance companies and the hospital and without them, I would owe the hospital thousands of dollars. So their job is very crucial to the payment processing procedure.  Few of us are aware of this crucial healthcare profession that requires the detective skills of Sherlock Holmes, the persistence of a seasoned writer, the accuracy of a mathematician and the speed of light. I did a little digging and to find out what a day in the life of a Medical Coder involves.


Hospital medical coders often work in shifts and many prefer the early shift for its silence. Some begin as early as 4:30 am. They are some of our most diligent workers. Most mornings are filled with copious amounts of coding.

The Primary Task: Codinglife of a medical coder

The morning is a great time to catch up with the patient charts that trickle in with every new patient. Every patient’s name at the hospital will eventually reach the coding department. The work will pile up if targets are not met so there is no time to waste. This is where the ‘speed of lightening’ factor comes in.

  • What is coding?

  • They take the doctor’s notes about the patient. Some are hand-written, some are typed.

They make a list of all the procedures and tests that were carried out for the patient. This is where those Sherlock detective skills are tested because the Medical Coder must make sure that all the documentation that the health insurance company needs to verify the claim is in place. Even a small mistake could cost the patients and the hospital.

They assign alphanumeric codes to each procedure and test. These codes come out of a new coding manual called the ICD 9 which is soon to be replaced by the ICD 10 that has about 68,000 codes. The familiar ones are easy to remember but for the rarer cases, the Medical Coder refers to the ICD 9 or 10 and also gets help from other coders. This coding system is in place because it is recognized by the health insurers and provides a succinct method of describing the care received.

A coder may go through 70 patient files in one day! Their work is audited very often so a coder needs to accurately assign codes without allowing falling behind in the work. What a task!


After a much-needed break for lunch, coders tackle some of their other miscellaneous duties like filing, processing checks, filing claims and sorting out more complicated patient files. No day is alike.


Sometimes the system fails, the files don’t go through the right channels and an insurance nightmare ensues. That’s when medical coders are called in to help make sense of the situation, assign accurate codes and make a case for the hospital to receive what is due (which ultimately works in the patient’s favor).

At the end of the day

  • People who like to meet targets, break out detective skills, work with a small group of comrades, become an expert in the field, and have a day full of a variety of tasks will find Medical Coding and Billing to be a very rewarding profession.
  • The medical coding salary ranges from $35,000 to 47,000 per year. Getting qualified to be a Medical Coder is not difficult, especially if you go through a program like Career Step.

At the end of the day, you can leave work behind with a feeling of accomplishment and return home and enjoy time with family. It’s not an easy job but it’s easy to separate the challenges of the workplace from the comfort (and different challenges) of the home so that you can enjoy both of them to the maximum.

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