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Choosing the Right Path to Earning Your Medical Billing and Coding Certification

Posted Tuesday, Dec 19, 2017 by Kevin Arnold

If you’ve decided to pursue a career as a medical billing and coding professional, you’ve made a smart move. Employment in this field is predicted to grow 13%, or faster than average, from 2016-2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).*

Here’s the problem: You’re not the only person who will be entering into this field in the next few years. There are a lot of other people who have identified this opportunity whom you’ll have to compete against once you’re finally ready to start your career. So how do you differentiate from other candidates and stand out to prospective employers? The answer is by getting certified before entering the workforce.

In this article, we’ll look at the various paths to certification, which organizations offer it, and why you’d want to become certified as a medical billing and coding professional.

Medical billing and coding certification basics

So, why would you want to get certified? Here are two great reasons:

  • Certification is something many employers will look for and expect when hiring according to the BLS.
  • Certified medical coders typically earn 20% more than non-certified coders according to AAPC (formerly known as the American Academy of Professional Coders).

With that in mind, there are two main organizations through which medical billers and coders can become certified: AAPC and the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA). They each offer multiple certifications that could work for you, depending on your needs.

Certifications from AAPC are recognized by many organizations in the healthcare industry. Some of their offerings include:

  • Certified Professional Coder
  • Certified Outpatient Coding
  • Certified Inpatient Coder
  • Certified Risk Adjustment Coder
  • Specialty Coding Certification

Certifications from AHIMA can help with career advancement and understanding of the industry. AHIMA offers three coding certifications:

  • Certified Coding Associate
  • Certified Coding Specialist
  • Certified Coding Specialist-Physician-based

The type of certification you ultimately need is largely based on your career goals and what your potential employer might require of you. For example, AHIMA says that certified coding specialists usually work with patient records in a hospital, while coders who seek a Certified Coding Specialist-Physician-based credential usually work in physicians’ offices or specialty clinics.

Keep in mind that some of these certifications have specific requirements for testing as well, so the path you take to getting certified can matter, too.

Path 1: Complete a medical billing and coding program before certification

The certification exams for each of the focus areas mentioned above will test you on your ability to understand and perform the duties and responsibilities that relate to your career.

A training program can help you prepare for such an exam. Your coursework will help you become proficient in medical terminology, cardiovascular and lymphatic systems, musculoskeletal systems, and industry software.

Each certification is different and has its own requirements of those taking the test. For example, AHIMA requires those who want to become a certified coding specialist to either have experience, a related coding credential, or education that includes specific courses. The Certified Coding Specialist exam is made up of 97 multiple-choice questions and eight medical scenarios.

Once you complete your training program, you can pursue the certification that best matches your career interest.

Path 2: Become certified before medical billing training

Can you jump right into medical billing and coding certification before you complete a training program? Yes, but it will require much independent study. The AAPC certification exam is extensive: 150 multiple-choice questions covering Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) codes, coding guidelines, medical terminology, anatomy, and more. To be certified through the AAPC, you’ll also need to have two years of medical coding experience.

Completing an advanced training program can help you feel more confident and prepared to take the certification exam. Some colleges even offer flexible coursework schedules that allow students to continue working and gaining real-world experience in the field while receiving advanced training.

Making your decision

There are several options to pursuing certification in medical billing and coding. It’s important to choose the right path based on your work experience and learning style. Learn more about hands-on training and certification preparation for medical billing and coding at Altierus.

Kevin Arnold, Medical Billing and Coding Instructor

Kevin Arnold has a wealth of knowledge to share in medical billing and coding, as well as health insurance as a full-time medical billing and coding instructor at Altierus. He finds the blended format of the MBC program works well for his students. They can listen to lectures on their own time at home and then come to class ready to put what they learned into action by working through coding scenarios and operative reports. Kevin lives for the ‘ah ha’ moment in a student’s eyes when everything they’ve been studying connects. Seeing their confidence shine from within is what makes his work in the classroom worth all the effort.

Train for a career in Medical Billing and Coding

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