In the Health Care Careers e-Letter of the American Medical Association (AMA), a number of readers have responded to an e-mail from a Certified Coding Associate, who described "the gap between my medical coding education and the real world of coding in the job market," and her inability to find an entry-level position in medical coding.
Many readers have written to the e-Letter to describe similar difficulties. For example:
“I spent $17,000 on an education to become a Medical Coder and Medical Biller through the National Association for Health Professionals (NAHP). Now, I am unable to obtain employment because this certification is not recognized through the AAPC or American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA).”
The AHIMA has developed a helpful primer of information for prospective students so they can be sure that their educational investment will well-spent (see below). You can also visit https://hicareers.com for more information on the many career opportunities in health information.
The American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) provides criteria and an approval process for coding programs that voluntarily seek ACCP (Approval Committee for Certificate Programs) recognition. A list of approved coding programs is available on the AHIMA site.
Coding certifications including the CCA (Certified Coding Associate), CCS (Certified Coding Specialist) and CCS-P (Certified Coding Specialist-Physician-based) have national recognition in the healthcare industry. For individuals new to the coding profession, we advise students to insist on some type of practice experience as an opportunity to demonstrate skills and network with other coding professionals. Many coding programs offer a combination of online simulations and a field practicum.
In addition, coding students are advised to develop while in school, and maintain thereafter, a portfolio of the various types of cases you have coded, evaluations of your coding skills, and documentation of continuing education activities you have completed. First jobs might be found in hospital ambulatory care services, physician practices, billing companies, or insurance companies. The lure of coding from home is unrealistic for the novice coder who needs guidance and interaction with other coding professionals early on.
The need for coding accuracy cannot be emphasized enough as related to reimbursement regulations and comprehensive coding skills with ICD-9-CM. You do have to market your abilities and continue to keep your knowledge and skills current, particularly with the complexities of inpatient coding, where such jobs most often require several years of experience. AHIMA membership affords entrance to various "communities of practice" where you can network with other coding professionals, receive a coding newsletter, and access the AHIMA job board to post your resume. In addition, publications, audio seminars, and distance education modules are available at reduced cost to members to help them continue to build their skill sets.
If you are interested in obtaining a college degree, consider an associate’s degree in Health Information Management (HIM), also called Health Information Technology (HIT), which provides graduates with not only comprehensive coding skills based on a strong biomedical science foundation, but also:
- Competence in areas of health record analytical skills
- The fundamentals and technical use of electronic health records and clinical information workflow
- Privacy, confidentiality and release of health information rules
- Personnel supervision abilities
The Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education (CAHIIM) requires through its Standards that all accredited education programs have an internship, either in the traditional form of supervised daily onsite experience in a health care facility or a hybrid combination of online, simulated aspects of HIM practice with a modified practical experience. Students often say their networking and potential jobs begin with their clinical practicum.
Graduates from a CAHIIM-accredited program are eligible for the nationally recognized certifications offered by the AHIMA of Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT). In addition, many graduates achieve the CCA, CCS, or CCS-P certifications as coding specialists. The combination of credentials and a college degree can:
- Distinguish these professionals to employers
- Provide additional skills that are adaptable to a broad range of health care providers, organizations and technology vendors in the health care industry
- Enhance your ability to command better salaries
- Start you on a solid career pathway to advanced education at the baccalaureate and graduate levels.
Visit www.hicareers.com for more information on the options available for careers in health information.
Patt Peterson, MA, RHIA, Director of Education, AHIMA
Claire Dixon-Lee, PhD, RHIA, CPH, Executive Director, CAHIIM