Certified Coding Specialist: Exam and Licensing Information

Certified coding specialists abstract data from a patient's medical record and then assign a numerical code to each diagnosis, procedure and medical service. Each code determines the amount the healthcare facility or provider will be reimbursed for by Medicare, Medicaid or an insurance company. Certified coding specialists are employed in hospitals, physician's offices and medical clinics.

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Certified Coding Specialists Exam Information

Professionals currently working in the coding field can earn certification by sitting for a national exam administered by the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA). The AHIMA offers two certification exams, which include the Certified Coding Specialist (CCS) credential and the Certified Coding Specialist--Physican-Based (CCS-P) credential. The CCS is awarded to professionals who code for hospitals and the CCS-P is given to coders who work for a physician's office, clinic or surgical center.

Certified Coding Specialist (CCS) Credential

According to the AHIMA, applicants must have a high school diploma or its equivalent to be eligible to sit for the CSS exam. Although not required, the AHIMA suggests that applicants should have at least three years of experience coding hospital-based inpatient and outpatient medical records; they should also have completed courses in anatomy, pharmacology and pathophysiology (www. ahima.org). The 4-hour exam consists of two parts. The first part contains a written test of 60 multiple-choice questions--only 50 questions are scored, and the remaining 10 questions are pretest items. Pretest questions are included to assess the item's performance for use in future exams and do not count toward the applicant's overall score. The second part of the exam requires applicants to code 13 medical records, a combination of seven outpatient records and six inpatient records. CCS exams are scored on a pass-or-fail basis, and the results are mailed to the applicant.

Certified Coding Specialist--Physican-Based (CCS-P) Credential

Eligibility requirements and test structure for the CCS-P exam are similar to the CCS exam, but there are two differences. The first includes the suggestion that applicants should (but are not required to) have three years of experience coding for physician services, which may take place in a physician's office or clinic in addition to a hospital's emergency room or operating room. The other exception involves the second part of the exam. Instead of coding 13 medical records, the CCS-P exam requires 16 medical records coded in the areas of emergency medicine, surgical services and physician services.

Certified Coding Specialist Licensing Information

Certified coding specialists are not required to obtain state licensure to practice, but the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC) does offer the Professional Medical Coding Instructor (PMCC) license. The licensure program is open to experienced professionals who are looking to teach students coding and prepare them for certification. To receive licensure, instructors must be a member of the AAPC, have at least five years' experience as a coder, complete the AAPC's PMCC license workshop and purchase the PMCC license for a specified fee (www.aapc.com).

Salary Potential and Employment Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the number of working medical records and health technicians - a category that includes medical coders - should grow 22% during the 2012-2022 decade, which is much faster than average. The median salary for medical records and health information technicians was $34,970 in 2013, reports the BLS.

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