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Certified Coder Education Requirements and Career Information

Coders are administrative workers in the health care industry who review patient medical care files and assign codes to each procedure for insurance billing purposes. Coders may earn professional certification from an accredited medical coding organization.

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Education Requirements for Coders

Medical coding programs are offered primarily as certificate programs, although there are also a sizeable number of associate's degree and a rare few bachelor's degree programs. Coursework is likely to cover anatomy and physiology, medical finance, medical terminology, medical ethics, pharmacology, Current Procedural Technology (CPT) coding and International Classification of Diseases (ICD) coding. Associate's degree programs have a general education component that may include courses in communications, computer software, clerical procedures and office administration, all of which provide useful skills for coders.

Career Information

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

According to Payscale.com, as of March 2010, certified coders with 1-4 years of experience earned between $28,000 and $40,000 annually. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov) classifies certified coders as medical records and health information technicians. The bureau reports that employment of health information technicians is expected to grow 20% from 2008-2018. Growth will be driven by the aging U.S. population's increased need for medical care and by increased adoption of electronic medical records systems. Job openings will also arise from the need to replace workers who retire or chance careers.

Professional Certification

Although certification is not required for employment, the complexity of medical insurance as well as the importance of accuracy in the coding process, makes certification beneficial for many medical coders. The American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) and the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC) are the two organizations that certify medical coders. Each has similar but slightly different examinations.

AHIMA administers three exams leading to certification (www.ahima.org). The Certified Coding Associate (CCA) is an entry-level test that measures fundamental coding knowledge. The Certified Coding Specialists (CCS) is for coders who have mastered the process of classifying medical data based on patient records. The Certified Coding Specialist-Physician-based (CCS-P) is for coders who have achieved coding mastery while working in physician offices, clinics or specialty centers.

AAPC offers five coding credentials (www.aapc.com). The Certified Professional Coder, Certified Professional Coder-Hospital and Certified Professional Coder-Payer are somewhat similar. Exams for these certifications test basic coding knowledge, with concentrations in coding in a hospital or clinical outpatient setting and coding from the perspective of payers rather than providers.

The AAPC's Certified Interventional Radiology Cardiovascular Coder (CIRCC) and the Certified Professional Medical Auditor (CPMA) are certifications for coders who want to advance into more specialized areas of the profession. The CIRCC exam tests competence in coding for radiology and cardiovascular procedures. The CPMA tests competency in medical record auditing, quality assurance and risk analysis.

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