Certified Coder Education Requirements and Career Information

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a certified coder. Get a quick view of the requirements, as well as details about education options, professional certification, and employment outlook to find out if this is the career for you.

Essential 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. A certificate in medical coding is usually the only requirement to become a coder, but associate's degree programs are also available. Coders may earn professional certification from an accredited medical coding organization. This professional certification could enhance job opportunities for coders.

Required Education Certificate
Additional Requirements Professional certification may be required by some employers
Projected Job Growth* (2012-2022) 22% for medical records and health information technicians
Median Salary* (2014) $35,900 annually for medical records and health information technicians

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

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.

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. 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. 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.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) classifies certified coders as medical records and health information technicians and reports their median annual salary as $35,900 in 2014. The BLS reports that employment of medical records and health information technicians is expected to grow 22% from 2012-2022. 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.

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