Inpatient Medical Coding vs. Outpatient Medical Coding

In the world of medical coding, there are two fairly distinct groups of medical coders Inpatient Medical Coders and Outpatient Medical Coders:

1. Those who perform medical coding for clinics, physicians offices, and hospital emergency rooms. These are typically referred to as “Outpatient Medical Coders”.
2. Those who perform medical coding in major hospitals. These are typically referred to as “Inpatient Medical Coders”.

If you are interested in a medical coding career, it will be important to understand the difference between outpatient medical coding and inpatient medical coding. This might be best understood through example. If you have a procedure performed that requires you to be admitted to the hospital and stay overnight, this medical coding activity will require the skills of an inpatient medical coder. If you have a procedure performed on a same-day basis and are not admitted to the hospital for an overnight stay then it is considered an outpatient event and is typically assigned to an outpatient medical coder.  A lot of surgeries and procedures that used to require admission to the hospital are now being performed routinely on an outpatient basis – which means you go in and have the surgery and come home the same day without ever being admitted to the hospital.

As you might expect, there is a significant difference in the skill set required to apply medical codes to complex inpatient operative reports vs. the skill set required to apply appropriate medical codes to a report for a laceration or a stubbed toe in a clinic or emergency room setting.

The reality is that most medical coding is outpatient medical coding. The trend is for physicians and hospitals to perform more and more of their procedures on an outpatient basis.

Most entry-level medical coders are going to begin their careers performing outpatient medical coding on outpatient medical records.

Inpatient medical coders are generally trained or mentored on the job and come from the ranks of outpatient medical coders. This creates plenty of opportunities for advancement in both career and income over time.