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The benefits of an associate’s degree in computer science

PIT-AssociateDegree_IMAGE-0421Article Written by: Magaly Olivero

Earning an associate’s degree in computer science can provide the foundation for expanding your educational credentials and landing a dream job.

An associate’s degree program allows you to gain the skills and knowledge necessary to join the workforce or pursue a more advanced educational degree. Earning an associate’s degree is a great way to jumpstart your career and improve your earning potential over a lifetime. Associate’s degrees are awarded at junior colleges, community colleges, vocational schools and technical colleges.

Consider these four reasons to purse an associate’s degree in computer science.

Explore career options
If you’re not ready to make a commitment to a four-year bachelor’s degree program or haven’t settled on a specific career path, then pursuing an associate’s degree might be an ideal way to explore your options. Working toward an associate’s degree may also allow you to complete your general educational requirements while you consider the direction you want your career to take. You’ll be able to explore career options with faculty who are knowledgeable about their industries.

Stepping stone to a bachelor’s degree
With an associate’s degree, you have the flexibility to transfer the credits you earned to a four-year bachelor’s degree program, either right after graduation or later on in your career. Many associate’s degree programs include the general educational requirements needed in a bachelor’s degree program. Most associate’s degree programs involve 60 credits and can be completed in two years of full-time study. Tuition for an associate’s degree typically cost less than a four-year degree.

Enter the workforce
An associate’s degree prepares you for immediate career opportunities in the field of your choice right after graduation. Many associate’s degree programs offer a combination of coursework and hands-on experience so you can develop the skills, knowledge and confidence required to enter the workforce. Once you’ve landed a job, you may consider whether you want to pursue a bachelor’s degree part-time.

Earning power
Graduates of associate’s degree programs typically earn more than those who hold lower degree certifications or high school diplomas. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, people holding an associate’s degree in 2014 had a median weekly salary of $761 – that’s $93 more than a high school graduate and $273 more than someone who didn’t graduate from high school. Those wages can add up to a significant amount of money during the course of a professional career.

 

A place to develop core tech skills

PIT-EssentialCourses_IMAGE-0421 Article Written by: Jennifer Nelson

Thinking about developing apps, writing code and getting in on the ground floor of a software engineering start up? A two-year computer science degree from the Pennsylvania Institute of Technology is the ticket.

Students have the sort of hands-on experience with core courses like CSS, JavaScript, JavaScript Frameworks and Ruby on Rails, to separate themselves from the competition. “Our graduates write code and can hit the ground running better than students who left a 4-year degree program,” said Professor Abbas Abdulmalik, Computer Science Program Manager at PIT.

They become computer programmers, mobile app developers, systems analysts and design specialists and find jobs in many, different industries. There is hardly a sector today in which technology has not been playing larger role. That includes even manufacturing, whose machinery runs more efficiently because of innovations in software.

The state-of-the-art hardware and software used in class enable students to learn on exactly what leading companies are working with. That makes them valuable to the IT industry from the start.

One complaint Abdulmalik hears from the real world is that no one knows how to code. “Our students know how to code,” he said.

A detailed, well-rounded education

The Computer Science degree program at PIT backloads tech courses early in the first semester so students develop the skills they need. They get a feel for what they will be working on in the real world almost from the beginning.

What’s more, employers continually say that new hires often don’t communicate well or know how to write reports and submit presentations once they land a job. Those are skills a PIT degree focuses on, as well. More and more employers desire not only tech-savvy talent, but holistic thinkers, problem-solvers and those adept at communicating well. Humanities courses like Composition 1 and 2 cover those bases.

The “sexy” words in computer science programs, the types of courses that get everyone excited about are probably Ruby on Rails, jQuery and AngularJS right now. “This is what employers look for, tools that allow new hires to quickly develop reliable code,” says Abdulmalik. “They can write code from scratch, but frameworks are important tools that help you get things done quickly. These classes are very popular picks.

Workers who can contribute

Abdulmalik says in the past some engineering firms were willing to hire graduates who lacked the skills and knowledge to contribute fully early on but showed great potential. The companies gave these young professionals time to develop. But given the competitiveness in the business world today, that is increasingly less possible.

Start-ups, small- and mid-sized companies do not have the luxury of waiting for their employees to learn fundamental skills on the job. They need workers who can contribute quickly.

With a computer science tech degree from PIT, students are fully ready to do outstanding work. They have theoretical and practical knowledge to work for a wide range of technology companies and other organizations.

Students also have a better background than many other students to succeed at a four-year degree program. Many PIT graduates are so well prepared that they opt to continue their education, earning bachelor’s degrees and even beyond.

Instructors at PIT come from real world tech backgrounds or hold positions in the IT field. They possess a keen sense of the skills that many organizations are seeking. They can also speak in-depth about common work issues in IT. PIT instructors care about students’ success.
PIT has the right combination of resources to help any graduate achieve their career goals.

How medical billing became a great career

MBCCareerBy Bob Weinstein

With the passage of new federal guidelines that require health care providers to keep their patient information on secure computer databases, the electronic medical records market has been growing rapidly.

The new guidelines — added to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) in 2013 — have dramatically increased the demand for medical billers and computer coders, also called medical records technicians and health information technicians.

With spending on software for electronic medical records and electronic health records (EMR/HER) projected to grow to about $3.8 billion in 2015 from about $2 billion in 2009, according to a study by market research firm IDC, medical billers and coders have become vital players in most health care and related businesses.

“Simply, medical billers and coders deal with people’s money,” said Rosa Rossello, founder and CEO of Pennsylvania Medical Billing Inc., in the Philadelphia suburb of Southampton, Pa. “When patients go to a medical provider — physician, physical or occupational therapist, for example — the provider sends the patients’ bills to us for processing so that they can be paid. We process and submit physicians’ bills to insurance companies for payment.”

From that point on, the medical billing process gets complicated, Rossello said.

“We deal with a few different coding systems, because every medical procedure and treatment has its own code,” she said. “Once the codes are entered on standardized insurance forms or claims, and then submitted to patients’ insurance companies for reimbursement, health care providers can be paid.”

Since medical billing and coding became a standard bookkeeping procedure in the early 1980s, the medical billing process has become very structured and sophisticated.

 

Standardizing and streamlining procedures

Before medical providers were required to transfer all their medical records to computers, patients’ records were coded and stored in cumbersome paper files. With the new HIPAA guidelines, the federal government’s goal is to standardize and streamline all recording procedures, Rossello said.

As the electronic medical records industry grew, “the medical billing and coding process also became increasingly complicated, because the rules and procedures are always changing, and medical records and coding software is constantly being updated,” Rosello said.

That constant pressure on the medical information industry to update and standardize its practices has led to medical billers and coders becoming critical cogs in the nation’s health care industry.

 

Highly specialized field

Medical billers and coders are employed by health care providers, insurance companies and billing companies of all sizes. Their job titles vary according to their particular functions. Large health care providers tend to separate the functions and hire both medical billers and medical coders.

“When medical procedures are performed, coders look at patients’ charts and assign codes to each procedure,” Rossello said. “They have nothing to do with the billing process.”

Pennsylvania Medical Billing combines the coding and billing functions. To reflect their broad job responsibilities, Rossello calls her billing professionals “billing coordinators,” because they have a hands-on knowledge of the billing, coding and collection process.

“We’re involved in the entire process, from patients’ encounters with health care providers to getting providers paid,” Rossello said.

Pennsylvania Medical Billing’s clients are smaller medical practices, such as family practitioners, psychiatrists, psychologists, physical therapists and chiropractors.

While medical coding is a specialty all its own, Rossello said there is a greater demand for medical billers, because they’re required to have a working knowledge of both the billing and coding processes.

 

Combination of skills

It takes a few different skill sets to be a successful medical biller, with analytical skills at the top of the list, Rossello said.

“It also takes organizational skills, because medical billers have to be able to multitask and keep track of many things at the same time,” she said.

Along with understanding medical terminology, anatomy and medical-billing procedures and terminology, medical billers also have to be comfortable with computers, especially word processing, database management and spreadsheets.

Good communication skills are also important, Rosello said, because billers must be able to explain charges to patients so that the patients understand what they are paying for.

 

Educational qualifications

Medical billing and coding is taught at technical vocational schools and community colleges. Rossello prefers candidates who have a medical billing and coding certificate from an accredited school, along with certification from either the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC) or from the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA).

To learn more about certification requirements, along with information about the medical billing/coding field, visit the AAPC website and The American Health Information Management Association website.

 


Bob Weinstein is a workplace journalist, syndicated columnist and author of 13 books.

Medical billing and coding poised for growth

By Morgan Chilson

The medical billing and coding job market is expected to grow explosively in the next eight years, offering opportunities and good pay for allied health professionals.

MBCGrowth

 

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projected job growth of 22 percent between 2012 and 2022 for medical records and health information technicians, an increase that it labeled “much faster than average for all occupations.” The demand for qualified billing and coding professionals is expected to continue on that upward trend as the population ages.

 

A growing demand

“An aging population will need more medical tests, treatments, and procedures. This will mean more claims for reimbursement from insurance companies,” BLS reported. “Additional records, coupled with widespread use of electronic health records (EHRs) by all types of healthcare providers, could lead to an increased need for technicians to organize and manage the associated information in all areas of the healthcare industry.”

The accelerated growth in medical and billing jobs is evident in membership in the American Association of Professional Coders, a professional association that offers training and certification globally. From 2008, when the economy struggled with a recession, the organization grew from 60,000 members to 141,000 members today, according to its website.

 

Average salaries in the field

An AAPC survey from 2012 shows the average salary for a certified professional medical coders was $47,796. Individuals with a hospital outpatient specialty can earn upwards of $56,000. Those who continue their education and receive a certification for Professional Medical Auditor can see salaries nearing $60,000.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported lower average salaries, which include those medical billers and coders who are not AAPC certified. The annual median wage in 2012 was $34,160, which means half of those working in the field earned less than that amount and half earned more.

 

Professional growth opportunities

Other organizations also offer certifications that can be beneficial for people exploring the billing and coding field. BLS reported that such certifications include Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT) and Certified Tumor Registrar (CTR).

Specialization within the medical billing and coding profession is possible. The BLS reported an expected need for cancer registrars, for instance.

In addition, medical billing and coding experience can also be a strong base to pursue other health-care degrees. Medical and health services management, for example, requires a bachelor’s degree. People in this profession earned a median income of $88,580 in 2012, according to the BLS website.

 


Morgan Chilson is a business writer who specializes in health and science topics.

Five reasons to become a medical assistant

MedAssistantReasonBy Michael Kerr

 

There’s never been a better time to be a medical assistant. Health care-related fields are set to add 15.6 million new jobs between 2012 and 2022 — far more than any other sector of the economy, according to a December 2013 report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

A medical assistant handles the clinical and administrative duties of a physician’s office. As a medical assistant, you would be responsible for interviewing patients, taking vital signs and filling out patients’ charts. Depending on your training, you may also prepare treatment rooms, give injections and perform certain diagnostic or laboratory tests. Medical assistants may handle scheduling, billing and bookkeeping tasks as well.

 

The five best reasons for becoming a medical assistant are:

 

1. Job opportunities

While employment in the entire health care sector is projected to grow 10.8 percent over the decade, medical assistants are on track for 29 percent job growth. To put those numbers in perspective, nearly 163,000 of the 15.6 million health care jobs created between 2012 and 2022 are projected to be for medical assistant positions — many more than the average for all other professions, according to the BLS.

 

2. Relative ease of entry

In most states you don’t need any special education to become a medical assistant. While people with a high school diploma can learn on the job, most medical offices prefer to hire medical assistants with at least some postsecondary education or a certification. Accredited programs are available at many universities, community colleges and vocational or technical schools, and they usually take about a year to complete. Certifications are also available from organizations such as the American Association of Medical Assistants. Programs feature classes and labs that include instruction in anatomy and medical terminology.

 

3. Fulfilling work

If you enjoy working with people, few professions are as gratifying as that of a medical assistant. While the job can be fast-paced and challenging, the opportunity to help patients is one of the main reasons that people cite for choosing the career. Medical assistants greet people at the front desk, take patients’ vital signs and even remove sutures. It’s a job in which you can truly make a difference in people’s lives — and what’s better than that?

 

4. Job security

Along with the massive employment growth expected in the field in the next decade, medical assistants can count on a level of job security unprecedented in most other fields. Although the median pay is lower than that of many other health care professionals ($30,780 per year, according to the BLS), most medical assistants can typically expect to work a full-time, 40-hour week. Because many clinics and offices have weekend hours as well, you may be able to negotiate with your employer for a schedule that fits your lifestyle.

 

5. Personal and professional growth

As physicians’ offices and clinics switch to electronic health records over the next few years, medical assistants’ jobs will continue to evolve. Medical assistants will increasingly be responsible for analyzing electronic data and handling technical issues related to software and digital security. Many doctors offer their employees opportunities for continuing education as well. For those with drive and ambition, a career as a medical assistant can lead to other well-paying professions in the health care industry.

 


Michael Kerr writes about health care, technology and business for publications including Forbes.com, Portland Business Journal and Bplans, among many others.

How computer skills can translate to the medical office

By Jennifer Nelson

ComputerMedicalSkills
As medical offices continue to shift toward all-electronic systems for billing, insurance claims and health records, personnel with computer skills will be highly desirable.
Today’s medical offices handle administrative and management duties while the doctors and health professionals care for patients. What kind of computer skills do you need in a medical office? Health care personnel set appointments, receive patients, manage health records and take care of billing and insurance — all electronically. Specialties also include medical coding and medical transcription.

 

Computer skills needed

Employees who can type quickly and accurately and who know or can easily learn state-of-the-art software and computerized medical billing, coding and scheduling will have the upper hand in being hired for a position in the medical office place.

Skills such as handling written communications, writing reports, managing databases, scheduling appointments and processing billing translate straight to the medical office. Health care staff also need to be familiar with the use of basic word processing and spreadsheet software, such as WordPerfect, Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel.

With the numerous changes in the health care industry due to federal incentives for the conversion to electronic health care information systems through 2016, medical insurance personnel with excellent computer skills will be vital to the operation of hospitals, clinics and private physicians’ practices.

Did you know that the median salary for medical service managers — those who run or manage a clinic, a hospital department or a physician’s office — was $88,580 in 2012? According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statics, medical-service-manager jobs are projected to grow 23 percent from 2012 to 2022, due to requirements of the Affordable Care Act, increased numbers of people with health insurance, and growing demand for medical services from the aging baby-boomer.

Likewise, positions for medical record personnel and health information technicians are expected to grow at the same rate. Those positions earned a median salary of $36,490 in metropolitan Philadelphia in 2013.

 

Doctors, nurses, billers and coders

Wherever medical services are performed, health care support staff — such as medical coders and billers — are also employed, including nursing care facilities, short-term rehabilitative hospitals, outpatient surgery centers, physical therapy clinics and nonprofit health care clinics.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ report on National Health Expenditure Projections for 2010-2020 report projected that, by 2020, national health spending is expected to reach $4.6 trillion.

As the healthcare industry continues to evolve and expand, trained, professional health care support staff and managers will be needed to meet the challenges of keeping the health care industry running smoothly.

 


Jennifer Nelson is a Florida-based writer who has written for WebMD, MSNBC, CNN and others.

Allied health professionals provide critical components to patient care

By Morgan Chilson

While doctors and nurses may be the most visible members of America’s health care workforce, allied health professionals actually make up more than 60 percent of positions, filling vital roles in medical facilities, laboratories, doctors’ offices and in-home care, according to the Association of Schools of Allied Health Professions.

HealthCareProfessional

What an allied health professional does

People categorized as allied health professionals work in a wide variety of positions, from medical billing and coding technicians to medical assistants, pharmacy technicians and dieticians, to name just a few. Such positions require post-secondary education, either through a certification program or an associate’s degree. Many of these healthcare jobs offer excellent career opportunities and often make leading lists such as College Quest’s “The Top High-Paying Jobs with an Associate’s Degree.

A wide-open job market for these health care specialties is encouraging for students. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has predicted that the health care field will add the most jobs to the labor market through 2022.

 

What employers are looking for

For Mercy Health System’s Director of Laboratory Services Geralyn Fattore, the need for qualified allied health professionals is a fact of her everyday world. The employees at Mercy Health have a variety of educational levels, with many holding certifications or associate’s degrees before choosing to go on to complete a bachelor’s degree, or even further, Fattore said. Employees will often be hired with a medical-assistant or phlebotomist certification, and then they discover an affinity for the work and continue studying for an associate’s degree to become medical laboratory technicians.

Fattore herself started with an associate’s degree as a medical laboratory technician and then returned to school for her bachelor’s degree.

Using phlebotomists or medical assistants as an example, Fattore said professionals at Mercy Health operate in a variety of settings, drawing blood in laboratories, on the hospital floors or through a program that travels to area nursing homes. People who excel in such professions tend to be customer oriented.

“When I interview candidates, it’s basically about customer service,” she said. “In the hospital, it’s customer service, just like if you’re going to buy a pair of shoes at Macy’s. I look for someone who is upbeat and happy and professional. That’s very important to us because customer service is very important.”

Such traits are even more important than experience, Fattore said, pointing out that skills can be refined in the health care setting.

“I feel like you can always teach the skill; a lot of these kids come out and don’t have experience, and I’m really a big advocate in giving these candidates a chance, because we were all there at one point,” she said. “You can perfect skills but you can’t change their attitude and their personality.”

 

A day in the life of an allied health professional

Eric Schmidt is a pharmacy technician at Nazareth Hospital in Philadelphia. Every day he uses people skills and the health care skills he learned during post-secondary education.

“We work hand-in-hand with the pharmacists once the orders are entered by the doctors,” Schmidt said. “It’s rewarding. And it’s definitely a fast pace, and I like being busy. You’re overloaded, but it makes the day go fast. You get to work with all the different departments, which is interesting.”

During his day, Schmidt will help stock the carts used during emergency situations, such as when someone is in respiratory distress. He stocks the Pyxis Medstations (automated medication dispensers) and makes up IV bags used to infuse patients in the hospital.

Schmidt, who said he wished he had gone on to pharmacy school, said it’s fulfilling to know he’s helping people who “are the most vulnerable at that point in time.”

The fulfilling aspect of the work draws many people to allied health professions, Fattore said. As an administrator, she said, she misses patient contact tremendously, and so she makes an effort to visit with patients, which “brings you back to why we’re all in this profession.”

“It’s about the patients and it is very fulfilling,” she said. “You don’t realize sometimes what people are going through, how sick they are….Sometimes people might need the simplest thing, and you give them a smile and they’re happy.”

 


Morgan Chilson is a business writer who specializes in health and science topics.

Affordable Care Act boosts job growth in medical records, billing

Medical_iPadWritten By: Jennifer Nelson

 

The Affordable Care Act is creating greater demand for medical office personnel who can handle its new requirements for billing, coding and digitizing medical records.

Not only are clinics, hospitals and private physicians’ offices restructuring how they do medical billing and record keeping to meet standards for uniformity, but through the ACA, also known as Obamacare, millions more people are obtaining health insurance, leading to more visits to doctors.

“Providers will see more patients, there’s more revenue over time and their practices will become more efficient,” said Daniel Kivatinos, chief operating officer and co-founder of DrChrono.com, a cloud-based electronic health records and electronic medical billing company that helps doctors bill their own claims electronically.

Frustration with new billing procedures and the abundance of work may also prompt doctors and clinics to outsource their billing, creating even more jobs with companies whose sole mission is to tackle health providers’ medical billing.

“Last year, $500 million of medical billing went through our software,” Kivatinos said.

 

Coding boom

Along with billing, medical coding requirements are being revamped extensively. Under the ACA, the system for coding medical procedures, called the International Classification of Diseases, Tenth Revision — or ICD-10 — is requiring an increase in the number of codes from 13,000 to nearly 70,000 in 2015. Not only have coders been trained and brought up to speed on the new diagnostic codes that are required to submit claims, but also the increased workloads for coders have created additional job growth.

 

Medical records explosion

Another provision of the ACA requires that hospitals, clinics and doctors’ offices make patients’ medical records available electronically. As a result, more than half of U.S. doctors and 80 percent of hospitals have digitized their records, according to recent reports.

The federal government has also created an incentive program to encourage medical practices to implement electronic medical records technology. The program, in which doctors and hospitals were paid between $44,000 and $64,000 to digitize their records, was said to cut health care costs by way of more accurate diagnoses, better communication and more selective medical testing.

“Facebook has your photo, but your medical record doesn’t yet,” Kivatinos said. “Someone’s face on a chart reduces medical errors dramatically.”

Plus, electronic medical records will be able to include drawings, images and video, and will allow doctors to upload information from the Internet and from FDA-approved devices like a patient’s blood pressure cuff or glucose meter.

Kivatinos said the focus will be on how to incentivize doctors to move to digital systems by creating great experiences for them with these new technologies.

These changes, and more on the horizon, will continue to create opportunities for people interested in working with medical records and billing. Additional training and increased numbers of positions are expected, at least in the short term, while medical-records personnel digitize all types of health records and patient information.

“It’s a healthcare renaissance,” Kivatinos said.

 


Jennifer Nelson is a Florida-based writer who has written for WebMD, MSNBC, CNN and others.