Anthem Education Group

History of Medical Billing and Coding

Medical coding has been around in some form for about 500 years. Natalie Taylor, a freelance writer who reviews medical coding technologies, cites the London Bills of Mortality that were developed during the bubonic plague outbreak in the 1660s, as the earliest form of medical coding.

Death rates held sway over what evolved into medical coding for hundreds of years. In 1893, French statistician, demographer, and physician Jacques Bertillon introduced the Bertillon Classification of Causes of Death, which was adopted by the International Statistical Institute that same year. (In keeping with the theme of death, Bertillon’s earlier work compared suicide rates among European nations.) Bertillon’s classification system allowed statisticians to record varying causes of death. By 1900, it was formally adopted as the international standard for collecting death statistics.

Bertillon later served as the official statistician for disease and death rates among French soldiers in World War I.  He established a system for hospitals to record injuries and illnesses as well.

In 1948, the World Health Organization took over the classification system and created the International Classification of Diseases, which it updates every 10 years. The latest version, ICD-10, is used worldwide except in the U.S., which will fully adopt it in 2013.

Other classification systems were created in the U.S. for domestic purposes. In 1966, the American Medical Association created the Common Procedural Terminology (CPT) set, which it updates every year. CPTs describe medical services and procedures. In the 1970s, the federal government released the Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System (HCPCS), which codified Medicare payment.

Taylor notes that in addition to physicians, codes were created for medical specialties, dental services, services for people with disabilities, and skilled nursing facilities, to name a few.

Medical billing began to automate in the 1980s, creating a whole new field of software and technologies to replace paperwork. Medicare now requires all bills to be sent electronically, and electronically transmits payment to providers. Most insurance companies also require electronic billing.

As coding became more complex and covered more specialties, a need arose for professionals who could concentrate on coding medical bills to send to insurance companies and Medicare.  It created a demand for courses in medical billing and coding answered by private training schools and community colleges.

Anthem College Online offers an Associate of Science degree in Health Information Management that includes training in medical billing and coding. To learn more about this program, please visit our Web site or call us at 1.866.837.1010.


JJ O’Connor and E F Robertson. Adolphe-Louise Jacques Bertillon. Copyright 2009, University of St. Andrews, School of Mathematics and Statistics

Natalie Taylor. “Medical Billing History—From Paper to Medical Coding Software.” EZine Articles, 2009

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