Medical Assistant vs. Medical Coding Specialist: Understanding Key Differences

Medical assistant

While both medical assistants and medical coding specialists perform essential work that improves the lives of patients and their families, there are many differences between the two job descriptions. At the same time, because of the high level of specialization in the healthcare industry, individual job descriptions for the same job title often vary, depending on the size of the workplace and the type of medical care provided. Explore programs offered at Northwestern College in Oak Lawn, Illinois, and serving the greater Chicago area to see which one might be right for you – medical coding specialist or medical assisting?

Please note, we are not currently enrolling students in our Medical Coding Specialist Certificate Program. However, students enrolled in our Health Information Technology degree program have the opportunity to  receive the instruction, hands-on experience, and support students need to earn a medical coding specialist certificate.

Medical Assistant: Job Roles on the Patient Care Team

The many roles of the medical assistant encompass both administrative duties and hands-on work with patients. This depends on the setting, which might be a private physician office, urgent care center, specialty medical facility, or hospital, to name a few. Medical assistants are often trained to:

  • Handle patient intake and ensure paperwork is ready for meeting with the physician, nurse practitioner, or physician assistant
  • Schedule follow-up appointments
  • Explain how to take medications that have been prescribed during the visit
  • Take patient histories and other information
  • Keep the patient’s electronic health record up to date
  • Record vital signs, such as temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure
  • Assist the medical team with patient examinations or in-office procedures
  • Give injections or take blood and urine samples for the lab
  • Remove sutures and apply bandages and dressings

Additionally, these professionals often specialize in a type of medical care, for example, dermatology, ophthalmology, or radiology.

Medical Billing and Coding: Job Roles in Healthcare

Medical coding specialists are integral to the economic viability of any healthcare setting. These professionals translate the medical diagnoses, equipment used, and treatments prescribed found in the patient’s medical record into codes that are approved and paid for by insurance companies. These codes are connected to specific languages, which include the following:

  • ICD-10-CM: International Classification of Diseases tracks death and disease
  • CPT: Current Procedural Terminology, used for medical services
  • HCPCS: Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System, used with Medicare

In this way, medical coding communicates the process and experience of patients. This information is used for billing and payments, but also to track public health worldwide, and yields important research data for investigators who study human diseases or quantify medical services. These statistics are also important, at both an institutional level and for countries, for evaluating the quality of medical care provided to patients.

Crossover Roles in Medical Assisting and Medical Coding Jobs

As is true in many aspects of healthcare, the medical assistant job may overlap with the medical coding job by utilizing some knowledge of coding. Medical assistants secure pre-approval authorizations from insurance companies and know the codes that are commonly used within a specific medical practice. When they input coding and billing information to the patient’s electronic health record, this ultimately helps with the efficiency of the filing and billing process. In this way, the medical assistant job and the medical billing and coding job work together for efficiency, better communication, and, ultimately, better care for the patients.

Learn More About Medical Assistant and Medical Coding Courses

Which of these high-demand jobs appeals more to you? Find out more about earning a certificate for medical assisting and medical coding in Oak Lawn, IL, and the greater Chicago area. Contact Northwestern College.