How to Become a Certified Coding Specialist

Learn how to become a certified coding specialist. Research the education and career requirements, certification info and experience required for starting a career as a certified coding specialist. View article »

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  • 1:23 Steps to Be a Coding…

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Should I Become a Certified Coding Specialist?

A certified coding specialist, also referred to as a medical coder or health information technician, is a medical professional responsible for overseeing patient records and ensuring bills are paid properly and on time. These medical professionals work as intermediaries who are in contact with the insurance company, billing office and health clinic. They work at hospitals, physicians' offices, government organizations and nursing care facilities. They spend long periods sitting at desks, on computers. Most coding specialists work full-time and need to serve overnight and weekend shifts.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Associate's degree
Degree Name Medical billing and coding
Experience 2-3 years
Certification Certified Coding Specialist (CCS), Certified Coding Specialist-Physician-based (CCS-P)
Key Skills Detail-oriented; communication and analytical skills; use of medical software programs
Salary $37,110 (2015 median salary for all medical records and health information technicians)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Monster.com job postings (November 2012)

Certified coding specialists have associate's degrees in medical billing and coding, and they earn certification through the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA). They are detail-oriented professionals with good communication and analytical skills and the ability to use medical software programs.

According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the annual median salary for medical records and health information technicians, which includes certified coding specialists, was $37,110 in 2015.

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Steps to Be a Coding Specialist

What do I need to do to be a certified coding specialist?

Step 1: Pursue a Postsecondary Education in Medical Billing and Coding

Many coding positions seek individuals with an associate's degree in medical billing and coding. Courses provide knowledge in medical terminology, reimbursement methods, pathophysiology and commonly used coding systems, including CPT and ICD-9. Students are also taught the details of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) as well.

Step 2: Gain Work Experience

While work experience is not a requirement to become certified, obtaining 2-3 years of work experience is also highly recommended. Hospitals, clinics, physicians' offices and insurance companies are common work environments for medical coders. Individuals enrolled in a degree program also have the opportunity to enroll in an internship to gain hands-on training and some recommended work experience.

Step 3: Pursue Certification

The AHIMA oversees the certification exam for aspiring coding specialists. It offers several certification designations, including the Certified Coding Specialist (CCS) and the Certified Coding Specialist-Physician-based (CCS-P). The CCS is geared towards hospital-based coding professionals. Both tests consist of two parts, including multiple-choice questions and patient-case scenarios for medical coding. Both the CCS and the CCS-P exams test on ICD-9 and CPT coding systems. The CCS-P also includes testing on the Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System (HCPCS).

Step 4: Take Continuing Education Courses and Renew Certification

The BLS reported that health information technicians (which include certified coding technicians) need to regularly renew their certification and take continuing education classes. The AHIMA offers seminars, conferences and webinars that provide beneficial experiences for certified coding specialists and meet these requirements. CCSs and CCS-Ps must complete at least 30 continuing education units (CEUs) like these every certification cycle, as well as pay a renewal fee. CEUs are completed through college courses.

Step 5: Consider Pursuing a Bachelor's Degree

Coding specialists looking to pursue promotional opportunities may need a bachelor's degree in health administration or a related field, so coding specialists should keep that option open to them if they wish to advance.

Certified coding specialists have associate's degrees and certification. They use medical software programs while overseeing and updating patient records, and they earn a median annual salary of $37,110.

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