What certification do I need?
While requirements for individual healthcare employers will vary, nearly all of them will require at least one credential from the AAPC or AHIMA, the two professional organizations that administer certification exams.
Entry level coding jobs will require a CPC (certified professional coder from the AAPC) or CCS (certified coding specialist from AHIMA).
To get an idea of what certification you will need, it can be helpful to view local job listings to see what major healthcare employers in your area are looking for.
The path to certification
To be eligible to take the AAPC or AHIMA certification exams you must satisfy certain educational requirements. For example, the CCS exam requires applicants to have completed a coding training program that includes anatomy & physiology, medical terminology, reimbursement methodology, intermediate/advanced ICD diagnostic/procedural and CPT coding.
There are a variety of educational options to prepare you for medical coding certification.
Your local community college may have an associate’s degree or certificate programs in various areas of Health Information Technology.
The AAPC and AHIMA offer online educational programs geared towards helping you pass their certification exams. They advise you that these are not comprehensive programs and you will need to supplement your training with anatomy & physiology, medical terminology and reimbursement methodology and other health information management topics. In comparing the cost of these programs to online professional training schools like Career Step, the AHIMA and AAPC programs may seem cheaper at first glance, but once you add in the supplemental courses needed and the cost of books (which is included with Career Step’s tuition) their programs are actually similarly priced.
A variety of online schools offer medical coding programs. It is important to evaluate these programs carefully to be sure you choose a comprehensive program that can qualify you to sit for the certification exams. Career Step has a complete curriculum that was written by AHIMA consultants and includes a thorough practicum to prepare students to succeed on the certification exams. Any program that promises you’ll be ready for the certification exams in a matter of weeks, or that only costs a few hundred dollars is unfortunately a scam that is all too common in this field. Training to become a medical coder is not a simple process, to get your CPC or CCS credential, you will need to dedicate yourself to significant study to pass the challenging exams.
Comparing your options
Community colleges are a perfect option for traditional learners who thrive in a classroom setting and have the time to attend school full-time for two years. The main benefit of the community college option is that it often requires a semester or two of an internship which will further prepare you for the certification exams and possibly get your foot in the door with an employer.
The downside of the community college option is it will cost an average $8-10,000 depending on your school’s tuition and number or credits required.
Community colleges may not work for those who are currently employed, or have young children at home and looking towards a career change. You may need to attend classes and internships during business hours.
Online courses are ideal for those who are self-motivated and want to study in the evenings or weekends. An online course gives you the flexibility to work at your own pace and if you work hard, finish in less than one year. Online courses also tend to be far cheaper than a two year community college program, saving you thousands of dollars. Online courses do not have an internship component, but many have job placement assistance or even partnerships with health information management companies and other employers to help you get your foot in the door. In addition, Career Step‘s program includes an extensive practicum coding real medical records which should definitely noted on your resume, especially for employers who are familiar with Career Step’s training. The AAPC also offers a practicum component; however, it is an extra fee to add this to your coursework.