How Can I Become a Certified Coding Specialist (CCS)?

Research what it takes to become a certified coding specialist. Learn about education requirements, job duties, average wages and job outlook to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Insurance Billing & Coding Specialist degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Certified Coding Specialist (CCS)?

A certified coding specialist is a health information technician who specializes in medical coding, also known as a medical coder. They evaluate patients' medical information and input it into electronic health records and databases based on a procedure coding system. They may also facilitate communications between clinical care providers and medical billing offices. Although certification is not required, it can improve future job prospects.

Find out more about the job skills and education requirements of a certified coding specialist by referencing the following table.

Degree Required None required, certificate or associate's degree recommended
Education Field of Study Medical coding
Certification Required AHIMA Certified Coding Specialist
Key Skills Detail oriented, computer knowledge, general medical knowledge
Job Growth (2014-2024) 15% for all medical records and health information technicians*
Average Salary (2015) $40,430 for all medical records and health information technicians*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Would I Do as a Certified Coding Specialist?

Medical coding is a system of keeping track of medical records in a numerical format. As a medical coding specialist, you give items in patients' records numerical values. Coding in this fashion allows hospitals and doctors to report information to insurance companies and government agencies efficiently. The skills you need as a medical coding specialist include knowledge of medical terminology, hospital procedures and medications, an eye for detail and an insistence on precision.

What Education Do I Need?

You can begin preparing for this career in high school by taking classes in biology, math, health and computer science. Because the coding is facilitated through computers, you'll want to be comfortable and familiar using them.

Although you don't have to complete an accredited program, the Commission for Accreditation on Health Informatics and Information Management Education (CAHIIIM) accredits degree programs in medical coding at the associate's, bachelor's and master's levels (www.cahiim.org). These accredited programs cover medical terminology, computer skills and software applicable to a career as a coding specialist. You could also complete a certificate program in medical coding, which teaches the same basic skills without general education requirements, at a community or technical college.

How Do I Become Certified?

The American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) offers the Certified Coding Specialist (CCS) designation (www.ahima.org). You're eligible to take the exam to become a CCS with a high school diploma or equivalent, though AHIMA strongly recommends you have at least three years of experience in hospital-based, inpatient and outpatient coding and have completed coursework in anatomy, pharmacology and pathophysiology.

The AHIMA also offers the Certified Coding Specialist - Physician-based (CCS-P) designation that demonstrates your expertise in doctors' office and specialty clinic coding. Each certification type you earn is valid for two years and requires you to complete continuing education. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics noted that most employers prefer to hire certified workers (www.bls.gov).

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

As a health information technician, you could choose to specialize in a different area; for instance, jobs are available for cancer registrars. These professionals specifically collect, compile and evaluate data about cancer patients. Another possible medical office job is a position as a medical transcriptionist. In this occupation, you would use specialized software to transcribe audio recordings made by medical professionals into text formats. That way, the information can be easily transferred into medical records. Medical transcriptionists need to complete a postsecondary certificate program to build the skills they need for the job.

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