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What Is a Coding Certification?

Medical coders work behind the scenes in healthcare-based environments. If you have completed educational training in preparation for becoming a medical coder, you might want to consider earning a coding certification. Learn more about this credential here.

Overview of Coding Certification

Medical coding involves the process of assigning a certain financial code to medical information so that insurance companies, Medicare and Medicaid can cover and record the performed procedures. Medical facilities must be correctly reimbursed for the work that they perform, so medical coders must have in-depth knowledge of disease processes and payer codes. Certification is a credential that is earned by coders who take tests to measure their knowledge and training against industry standards.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that certification is often necessary and could possibly increase your job prospects or ability to advance to a higher position (www.bls.gov). There are a variety of certification agencies for coders, all of which have specific requirements for earning a credential. You might choose to receive certification from the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA), the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC) or the Professional Association of Healthcare Coding Specialists (PAHCS).

Important Facts About This Occupation

Median Salary (2019) $41,000* (for medical coders)
Work Environment Hospitals, surgery centers, physicians' offices, nursing care facilities
Job Outlook (2016-2026) 13%** (for medical records and health information technicians)
Key Skills Analytical skills, detail-oriented, integrity, interpersonal skills, technical skills

Sources: *Payscale.com; **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

AHIMA

AHIMA recognizes three different medical coding classifications (www.ahima.org). The industry standard in medical coding is the organization's Certified Coding Associate (CCA) credential. To take the certification examination, AHIMA recommends that you receive six months of coding experience or successfully finish a certificate program in medical coding.

AHIMA also offers advanced coding certifications such as Certified Coding Specialist (CCS) and Certified Coding Specialist-Physician-based (CCS-P). The CCS certification can qualify you to apply for work as a coder at a hospital and will test you on specific coding methods used for inpatient and outpatient medical records. The CCS-P certification can attest to your qualifications to work in physicians' offices and clinics. To take these certification examinations, you must complete a coding training program that includes pharmacology, anatomy and physiology, medical terminology, etc, or have two years of work experience directly applying codes. You can also have a CCA certification and one year of relevant work experience to be eligible for these credentials.

AAPC

Like AHIMA, the AAPC lists three basic coding certifications in addition to interventional radiology cardiovascular coding and an extensive listing of specializations (www.aapc.com). If you want to receive the most basic AAPC certification, you can apply for the Certified Professional Coder (CPC) designation. You might also become a Certified Outpatient Coding (COC) or a Certified Professional Coder-Payer (CPC-P). To apply to take these certification tests, you must have accumulated at least two years of coding experience. The AAPC recommends that you also hold an associate's degree.

PAHCS

PAHCS is a professional coding organization that offers examinations for basic certification as a Medical Coding Specialist in addition to 18 specialty certifications for credentialed medical coders (www.pahcs.org). PAHCS can offer online continuing education and test-preparation courses as well as job search assistance within the professional community of medical coders.

Specializations

Once you have a basic coding certification, you may study to take specialty examinations that can qualify one to work in a particular area of medical coding. Every medical specialty has its own coding language and requires specialists to correctly codify procedures and patient care in order to ensure payment by insurance companies. There are specializations for oncology, obstetrics and gynecology, general surgery, radiology, mental health and psychiatry, pediatrics, cardiology, anesthesia, urology, orthopedics and dermatology.