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Inpatient VS Outpatient Medical Coding

By Nancy Higgins

Medical coding professionals form an important link between healthcare practitioners and health insurance carriers like Medicaid and Medicare. Part of the health information management team in a healthcare establishment, medical coders assign standardized codes to the diagnoses, treatments and other clinical procedures being performed there.

These codified documents then pass into the hands of medical billing professionals who use them to bill health insurance companies, government, or patients directly.

Thus, if it were not for these professionals soldiering on, healthcare practitioners would not be getting reimbursed for their services, at least not as efficiently and smoothly as they are now.

Inpatient VS Outpatient Coding

The field of medical coding offers two broad career paths that aspirants can pursue – outpatient coding and inpatient coding. There are some differences in not just the training required for the two career paths, but also in the job itself. Here’s some more information on inpatient vs. outpatient coding:

Outpatient medical coding: As the name suggests, outpatient coding involves coding the medical charts of patients who are discharged from a healthcare facility within 24 hours. So, outpatient medical coders are responsible for charting the medical records of patients who receive treatments or undergo diagnostic procedures in clinics, doctor offices or hospital emergency rooms on the same-day basis.

Inpatient medical coding: This refers to coding the records of patients who are required to stay in a hospital or any other healthcare unit for more than 24 hours, hence the name inpatient coding. Since the medical records of patients who are admitted to a hospital for treatment tend to be a lot more complex, this naturally makes the job of inpatient medical coders that much harder.

Due to advances in medicine, a lot of procedures that earlier required a hospital stay can now be performed on a same-day basis. What this means is that outpatient coding is a lot more prevalent than inpatient coding.

Another factor to consider when choosing between inpatient and outpatient coding is that employment opportunities may be more for outpatient medical coders as they can find jobs in a variety of healthcare settings that include hospitals, physician offices, diagnostic labs, outpatient care centers, nursing care facilities, etc.

On the other hand, most inpatient coding jobs are limited to large hospitals though inpatient medical coders may also find employment with long-term care facilities or health insurance companies.

Medical Coding Training

Like mentioned earlier in the article, there may be some differences in the coursework of an inpatient medical coding training program and an outpatient medical coding training course.  However, a large part of the curriculum remains the same for both inpatient and outpatient coding.

Most medical coding training programs include courses in different coding systems (ICD, CPT, etc.), healthcare reimbursement process, medical record types and formats in addition to topics like medical terminology, pharmacology, anatomy, etc. that provide students a thorough understanding of the clinical world.

Aspirants can also choose a medical billing and coding training program that provides them the skills for both inpatient and outpatient coding. However, it’s important to remember that most medical coding professionals start their careers as outpatient coders and then move up the ranks to inpatient coding.

Now that you know what the two jobs involve, it’s for you to pick the one that suits your career goals and temperament better.


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Article Citation
MLA Style Citation:
Higgins, Nancy "Inpatient VS Outpatient Medical Coding." Inpatient VS Outpatient Medical Coding. 29 Jan. 2012. 2 Aug 2014 <>.

APA Style Citation:
Higgins, N (2012, January 29). Inpatient VS Outpatient Medical Coding. Retrieved August 2, 2014, from

Chicago Style Citation:
Higgins, Nancy "Inpatient VS Outpatient Medical Coding"

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