How to Learn Inpatient Medical Coding

Coders in inpatient facilities master a broad range of diagnostic and billing codes.

Coders in inpatient facilities master a broad range of diagnostic and billing codes.

The messiness of a doctor's handwriting is a humorous stereotype, but in real life, it's no joke. High-quality patient care relies on accurate recording of doctors' diagnoses and notes, and correct payment relies on turning those notes into billing codes. There are thousands of codes, and each practice environment emphasizes some more than others. For example, coders working in hospitals or long-term care facilities must often master the codes associated with inpatient care.

Graduate from high school, ideally with a strong grounding in basic sciences, computer skills and health.

Enroll in a medical coding program. They're offered primarily through vocational and community colleges, but can also be found at some universities and teaching hospitals. If none of the colleges in your area offers a specific focus on inpatient coding, ask people in the HR departments of your local hospitals which program they find most credible.

Complete the required course work, as well as a practicum or externship, if that is required by your program. Programs vary in length, from a few months to a full two-year associate degree.

Secure a coding position in an inpatient facility, such as a hospital or long-term care facility. Education provides the basic knowledge needed for inpatient coding, but real expertise must be earned through practical experience.

Apply for voluntary certification through an organization such as the American Health Information Management Association, American Academy of Professional Coders, Professional Association of Healthcare Coding Specialists or National Healthcareer Association. Earning a certification demonstrates both competence and professionalism, and can improve both your employment prospects and pay.


  • Training programs for coders are available in a wide variety of formats. Some offer traditional classroom instruction, some are geared to self-study, and others are offered online. It's also possible to learn coding on the job in some workplaces, with administrative staff learning the position under the supervision of experienced coders.
  • Some schools offer coding as a standalone course of instruction, while others incorporate it into a broader program of health information management.
  • Coding requires a relatively short and inexpensive training period, making it a pragmatic point of entry into health-care system employment. If you're an organized and detail-oriented person, coding can be the first step into a career in health-care administration.

About the Author

Fred Decker is a trained chef and certified food-safety trainer. Decker wrote for the Saint John, New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal, and has been published in Canada's Hospitality and Foodservice magazine. He's held positions selling computers, insurance and mutual funds, and was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.

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