If you'd like to carve out a career in the booming health care industry, you have many options. You don't even have to deal with patients or sweat through years of college to do it. For example, every health care facility from your doctor's office to the largest hospital needs medical coders. You can learn the profession in two years or less, and show employers your commitment and professionalism by earning professional coding certifications.
The American Health Information Management Association administers several professional credentials in health care records management. Its Certified Coding Associate credential for new coders, and Certified Coding Specialist credential for skilled coders, are widely recognized in the industry. You earn a CCA after as little as six months in the industry, but you'll need either two years' experience or formal training to take the CCS exam. The CCA and CCS credentials are primarily intended for coders in hospitals and large clinics, but AHIMA also offers a CCS-P credential for coders in physicians' offices.
The American Association of Professional Coders is the other primary source of certification for medical coders. To earn the AAPC's Certified Professional Coder credential you need at least two years' experience in coding, and pass the association's certification exam. An associate degree in medical coding or medical records sciences is recommended, but not required. You can take the certification exam without meeting the experience requirement, and if you pass you become an "apprentice" CPC. Once you've gotten your two years of experience, you may apply for an upgrad to the regular certification. The regular CPC credential is primarily for staff in doctors' offices, but the AAPC also offers a CPC-H for hospital staff and CPC-P for coders working for insurers.
Other Certification Options
Other organizations also offer coding or coding-related certifications. The Certified Medical Administrative Specialist credential from American Medical Technologists includes coding, as well as bookkeeping and other office-management skills. The National Healthcareer Association administers the Billing and Coding Specialist certification, or CBCS, for coders in any environment. The National Center for Competency Testing offers the NCICS credential for insurance and coding specialists. These credentials aren't as broadly recognized as AHIMA's or the AAPC's, so before you spend your money to earn one it's a good idea to check with employers in your area to see if they're locally respected.
The Professional Association of Healthcare Coding Specialists takes a different approach to coding certification. Its Basic Medical Coding Specialist certification verifies your basic coding skills, and serves as a standalone credential. However, the PAHCS also offers a number of certifications for coders working in specialist practices, including as anesthesiology, gastroenterology, dermatology and urology. By verifying your mastery of the codes used in these branches of medicine, a specialized PAHCS credential makes it easier to find work in the field of your choice.
Everything a doctor does in a normal day has a corresponding code. Every diagnosis and every procedure must be tracked for the patient's medical records for billing purposes. Coders work from a doctor's written and verbal notes, entering and saving the appropriate codes on the office computers. A skilled coder ensures that doctors are paid for their work, and that insurers and patients aren't accidentally over-billed for services. It's a position of responsibility, and coders are in high demand. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projected 21 percent job growth for medical records technicians between 2010 and 2020, higher than the 14 percent average for all occupations.
- Explore Health Careers: Medical Coder
- American Health Information Management Association: Certified Coding Specialist
- American Association of Professional Coders: Certified Professional Coder (CPC)
- National Healthcareer Association: Billing and Coding Specialist Certification (CBCS)
- National Center for Competency Testing: Certification Information
- Professional Association of Healthcare Coding Specialists: Certification Specialties
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook -- Medical Records and Health Information Technicians
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook -- Overview of the 2010-20 Projections
Fred Decker is a trained chef and certified food-safety trainer. Decker wrote for the Saint John, New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal, and has been published in Canada's Hospitality and Foodservice magazine. He's held positions selling computers, insurance and mutual funds, and was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.