What Is Medical Billing And Coding?
Navigating the intricacies of the healthcare industry involves a deep understanding of two vital components: medical billing and coding. But what is medical billing and coding, what do these terms really mean, and why are they important to your healthcare practice?
Medical billing is the financial engine of a healthcare facility with the singular aim of securing rightful payment for any services you render. While medical billing ensures the financial heartbeat of your practice, medical coding is the universal language that translates complex healthcare diagnoses, procedures and services into alphanumeric codes.
Let’s dive into both of these critical components and whether they require a specialized service for your healthcare practice.
What Is Medical Billing?
Medical billing is the process of submitting and following up on claims with health insurance companies in order to receive payment for healthcare services.
Medical billing isn’t one task, however. The billing and coding process is made up of several interconnected steps that collectively ensure healthcare providers are compensated accurately and in a timely manner.
These steps include:
- Patient registration
- Medical coding (more on this below)
- Claim generation
- Claim submission
- Claim adjudication
- Payment posting
- Patient billing
- Follow-up and denial management
- Accounts receivable management
- Reporting and compliance
What Is Medical Coding?
Medical coding is the process of converting healthcare diagnoses, procedures, medical services and equipment into standardized alphanumeric codes. These procedure codes are used for various purposes in the healthcare industry, including billing, insurance claims, electronic health records (EHRs) and medical research.
Medical coding serves as a universal language that allows healthcare providers, insurance companies and government agencies to accurately document and track medical services and diagnoses.
There are two primary coding systems used in medical coding:
- International Classification of Diseases (ICD): The ICD coding system is used to classify and code diagnoses and health conditions. It provides codes for a wide range of illnesses, injuries and medical conditions, enabling healthcare professionals to document a patient’s primary diagnosis and any secondary conditions.
- Current Procedural Terminology (CPT): CPT codes are used to describe medical procedures, services and interventions provided by healthcare professionals. They are maintained by the American Medical Association (AMA) and are widely used for billing and insurance purposes. CPT codes cover a broad spectrum of medical services, including office visits, surgeries, diagnostic tests and therapeutic procedures.
Medical coders are responsible for assigning the appropriate codes to the services and diagnoses documented in a patient’s medical record. Coders must have a deep understanding of medical terminology, anatomy, physiology and healthcare regulations to accurately translate clinical information into codes.
Here’s how the medical coding process generally works:
- Documentation: Healthcare providers document the services they provide, including diagnoses, treatments, procedures and any other relevant information in the patient’s medical record.
- Code Assignment: Medical coders review the medical records and translate the documented information into ICD and CPT codes. They ensure that the codes accurately represent the patient’s condition and the services rendered.
- Claim Submission: The coded information is used to generate insurance claims or bills, which are then submitted to insurance companies or government healthcare programs for reimbursement.
- Revenue Cycle Management: Effective medical coding is an integral part of the revenue cycle management process as we discussed above, helping healthcare organizations receive proper payment for their services.
- Compliance and Reporting: Accurate coding is also crucial for compliance with healthcare regulations and for generating reports for research, quality improvement and other purposes.
Medical coding also helps healthcare organizations track and monitor patient outcomes, disease patterns and healthcare utilization trends. Accurate coding is not only essential for the financial health of healthcare providers but for the delivery of quality patient care as well.
Why Effective Medical Billing And Coding Matters
Effective medical billing for a healthcare facility is crucial for several reasons, including:
- Financial Sustainability: Medical billing is a primary source of revenue for healthcare facilities. Timely and accurate billing ensures that healthcare providers receive payment for the services they provide, allowing them to cover operational costs, invest in equipment and technology, and continue delivering quality patient care.
- Resource Allocation: Efficient billing processes allow healthcare facilities to allocate resources effectively. When billing is streamlined, staff can focus on patient care, administrative tasks and other critical functions rather than being bogged down by billing-related issues.
- Compliance: Healthcare billing is subject to a complex web of regulations, including those related to coding, documentation, and privacy (e.g., HIPAA). Effective medical billing ensures that the facility complies with these regulations, reducing the risk of legal issues and penalties.
- Patient Satisfaction: Timely and accurate billing practices contribute to a positive patient experience. Patients who receive clear and understandable bills are more likely to be satisfied with their healthcare experience and are less likely to dispute charges.
- Data Accuracy: Accurate billing and coding translate to accurate patient records. This helps in maintaining an up-to-date and precise medical history, which is essential for effective patient care, treatment planning and research.
- Insurance Relationships: Consistent and reliable billing practices enhance your facility’s relationship with insurance companies. This can lead to quicker claim processing and fewer denials, reducing administrative burdens and potential payment delays.
- Revenue Maximization: Effective medical billing helps healthcare facilities maximize their revenue by identifying and billing for all eligible services, ensuring proper coding and minimizing claim denials and rejections.
- Cash Flow Management: Efficient billing practices contribute to better cash flow management. Healthcare facilities can predict and control their incoming revenue, which is crucial for budgeting and planning for future expenses.
- Business Sustainability: In a competitive healthcare market, efficient billing practices can be a competitive advantage. Facilities that consistently provide accurate and timely billing are more likely to attract and retain patients.
Properly documented and billed healthcare services are also essential in case of audits or reviews by regulatory authorities or insurance companies. Effective medical billing helps healthcare facilities prepare for these situations.
Should You Hire A Medical Billing And Coding Company?
Effective medical billing is essential for healthcare providers to maintain financial stability and provide quality patient care. It requires a deep understanding of medical coding, insurance policies and regulations governing healthcare billing practices.
Medical billing can be handled in-house by medical billers and coders, or outsourced to specialized medical billing companies. But which one is better for your healthcare facility?
It’s not always financially feasible for you to hire an in-house team to handle these important tasks. Running a medical clinic or other type of health care facility is expensive, and costs can quickly add up. The average base salary of a billing and coding professional alone is around $67,000. While your main priority is patient care, you must also ensure that your business is financially stable.
A medical billing and coding service can offer the solution you need to help your practice stay on top of the billing and collections process while reducing administrative costs and ensuring timely and accurate claims submission.
However, it’s important to work with a U.S.-based medical billing and coding company since the United States has a complex healthcare system that is largely driven by private insurance. Many other countries have government-funded healthcare systems. Why does that matter? Medical billing and coding in the United States involves dealing with multiple insurance companies, each with its own billing and coding requirements.
Reimbursement rates for medical services can vary greatly between countries as well. In the United States, reimbursement rates are negotiated between insurance companies and healthcare providers. In other countries, the government often sets reimbursement rates.
Outsourcing your medical billing and coding needs to a U.S.-based partner can offer additional benefits as well, including:
- Cost savings: In addition to saving funds on a staff position, you won’t need expensive software to maintain a technology infrastructure that can handle your billing and coding. Software alone can cost hundreds to thousands of dollars per month depending on your facility’s needs and size.
- More time: A professional medical billing and coding company can provide you with more time to focus on providing patient care rather than delegating time-consuming administrative tasks to billing staff members.
- Access to expertise and tools: Professional medical billing and coding companies invest in the latest technology and tools to help their clients manage the billing process efficiently and accurately, including electronic health record systems, practice management software and revenue cycle management software.
An experienced medical billing and coding service will also stay on top of the unique requirements and regulations that govern healthcare billing in the United States. These regulations are complex and are constantly evolving, so having a team that is knowledgeable on the latest rules you must follow as a healthcare business can ensure that your practice remains compliant.