Certified Coding Specialist: Exam and Licensing Information

Jan 22, 2020

An American Health Information Management Association certification is a required credential for some coding professionals working in hospitals, physician's offices, and medical clinics. Get some quick facts about the training and requirements necessary to qualify for certified coding positions.

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Essential Information

Education Requirements High school diploma; completion of a coding training program
Required Experience One-three years of direct coding experience necessary for most certifications
Required Skills Know codes, diagnoses, and procedures; understand the ICD-9-CM and CPT coding systems
Exam Requirements Written multiple-choice and coding samples; taken pass-fail
Specializations Options Hospital, physician office, and coding instruction specializations available
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028) 11% for all health records and information technicians*
Median Salary (2020) $47,253 for Certified Coding Specialists**

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **PayScale.com

Eligible applicants for the CCS certification possess an RHIA (Registered Health Information Administrator), RHIT (Registered Healthcare Information Technician), or CCS-P (Certified Coding Specialist - Physician-based) credential. Said applicants should have completed a coding training program, have at least two years of coding experience, or possess a CCA (Certified Coding Associate) or other certification and have at least one year of coding experience. To receive the CCS certification, applicants must take a four-hour multiple choice and medical scenario exam.

Certified Coding Specialist 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 according to 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.

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.

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 (according to 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 11% during the 2018-2028 decade, which is much faster than average. The median salary for certified coding specialists was $47,253 in 2020.

Becoming a certified coding specialist for medical or emergency services requires the RHIA, RHIT, or CCS-P credential in addition to certification from the American Health Information Management Association.

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