May 8, 2012 by Staff Writers

How Do I Become Certified?

There are essentially four paths to obtaining medical billing and coding certification. Understanding these four paths to certification and the level of education required for each can help you decide which one is right for your goals, your lifestyle, and your budget.

Path 1 – Diploma Program

The quickest and least expensive road to certification is a medical billing diploma program that offers a basic medical and billing certificate. These six to nine-month programs require a high school diploma to enroll, typically cost several hundred dollars, and are offered at medical billing schools, community colleges, career schools, or online.

Path 2 – Associate Degree Program

Your next option is to enroll in a two-year medical coding degree program. These programs offer more in-depth information and training in medical billing, coding, or both. Although it is a greater investment of your time and money, often costing several thousand dollars, some organizations such as AHIMA require an associate degree for certification, and many employers prefer to hire billers or coders with these credentials.

Path 3 – BA Program

Opt for a Bachelor of Arts program in health information and management if you want to gain a broader range of knowledge in the health information field, or if you’re interested in health management and related opportunities. According to the 2010 AAPC survey, the average salary of a certified coder with a bachelor’s degree was $51,389, compared to $41,017 for a certified coder with a technical school degree. There are also master’s and doctorate degrees available in the health information and management field.

Path 4 – Online Programs

Online classes for diploma programs, associate degrees, and bachelor’s degrees are also available. Many of these programs are more convenient for students and can be less expensive than traditional classroom instruction after factoring in savings from the lack of campus maintenance, residency, and commute fees. Be aware, however, that some medical coding and billing certificate programs are scams. Some red flags that the program or school may only be out to get your money include:

  • Promising certification in a very short amount of time.
  • Promising unbelievably high wages for future employment.
  • Asking for a large sum of money up front or, conversely, touting extremely low fees.

An excellent first step when selecting any program is to ensure that it is accredited by one of the following professional organizations:

  • AHIMA
  • AAPC
  • CAHIIM

For example, you can go to CAHIIM’s website to search for an accredited program by name, state, education level, and availability of distance learning. Most accredited academic programs are reputable, offer quality learning opportunities, and suitably prepare students for employment upon completion. In addition to checking for accreditation, research the program. Checking with the Better Business Bureau and searching online for forums where students can rate and discuss their personal experiences with the programs or organizations can be very helpful.

Which Medical Coding and Billing Certificate is Right For You?

In addition to these four paths, keep in mind that there are several types of certification. The AAPC lists some of the most popular medical coding credentials you may pursue based on the type of coding you perform.

  • Certified Professional Coder (CPC U+00AE). The CPC is the standard medical coding certificate, which demonstrates proficiency in medical coding, coding procedures, and coding rules and regulations.
  • Certified Professional Coder ó Outpatient Hospital (CPC-HU+00AE). A variation of the basic CPC, this certificate designates proficiency in coding in a hospital, clinic, or other outpatient setting.
  • Certified Professional Coder ó Payer (CPC-PU+00AE). In addition to basic coding proficiency, this certificate denotes the coder has special expertise in the perspective of the payer, including private insurers, Medicare, Medicaid, or the patient.
  • Certified Interventional Radiology Cardiovascular Coder (CIRCCU+00AE). This certificate validates a coderís special knowledge in the field. The AAPC medical coding salary survey found this is one of the highest paying specialties in the field of medical coding.
  • Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT). Offered by AHIMA, this certification ensures that the holder has an associate degree along with extensive knowledge in medical coding, medical billing, medical transcription, and health information in general.

The AAPC offers 20 specialty coding certifications for experienced coders to show expertise in their respective disciplines, including chiropractic, dermatology, family practice, pediatrics, and plastic and reconstructive surgery. So, whether you want to invest six months in an online diploma program or four years in a university setting, thereís a viable path for you to earn certification in your area of interest.

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