A coding specialist is a subspecialty of the career known as a medical records technician or health information technician. These employees work with medical records to identify and document specific diagnoses, procedures and treatments using numbered codes to expedite insurance company reimbursements. At one time, coding specialists were trained on-the-job after completing a high school diploma. Now, most new advertised vacancies require a coding specialist certification in addition to an associate's degree as a health records technician. Regardless of a current coder's educational background, however, a coding specialist certification by examination is available from one or both of the specialty's two major certifying organizations.
Individuals in the US who have completed a two-year associate's degree program in health information may test for certification as a Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT) through the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA). Successful certification as a RHIT indicates that an individual has been trained in the basics of coding in addition to other aspects of medical record review. For those specifically seeking a coding specialist certification, AHIMA offers three, the first of which is considered by the organization as the minimal standard for entry in the field: a Certified Coding Associate (CCA), a Certified Coding Specialist (CCS) and a Certified Coding Specialist-Physician-based (CCS-P). Despite the prerequisite of an associate's degree for a RHIT certification, a coding specialist certification is available from AHIMA for anyone holding the minimum educational preparation of a high school diploma. After successful completion of an AHIMA-sponsored written specialty examination, a coder can be awarded a CCA, CCS or CCS-P coding specialist certification.
The American Association of Professional Coders (AAPC) is this career's other primary credentialing organization. AAPC offers coding specialist certification in the general field as well as an array of subspecialty certifications. Similarly to AHIMA, AAPC requires the minimum of a high school diploma in order to take the certification exams, although an associate's degree is encouraged. Coding specialist certification areas include Certified Professional Coder (CPC®), Certified Professional Coder-Outpatient Hospital (CPC-H®), Certified Professional Coder-Payer (CPC-P7®) and Certified Interventional Radiology Cardiovascular Coder (CIRCC®). Specialty coding specialist certification is also offered in the following areas:
- Ambulatory Surgical Center (CASCC™);
- Anesthesia & Pain Management (CANPC™);
- Emergency Department (CEDC™);
- General Surgery (CGSC™);
- Obstetrics Gynecology (COBGC™);
- Pediatrics (CPEDC™), and 14 other areas.
All certifications from both credentialing bodies require an application for membership, a membership fee, a testing fee and successful completion of the written certification exam. Membership is maintained by annual or biannual membership fees and continued education.