The job of the Certified Coding Specialist (CCS) is to translate the notes and records generated by physicians into a universal numeric coding system. These professionals are among the most sought-after in the health care industry, and demand for their skills is today at an all-time high. This article provides a step-by-step guide to becoming a CCS, as well as strategies for finding that first job and maximizing your medical coder salary.
What a Certified Coding Specialist Does
The Certified Coding Specialist is responsible for initiating the process of medical billing and coding for a health care provider. After a physician has finished seeing a patient, the CCS is responsible for reviewing all notes on diagnosis and services provided, and then converting them into numeric codes for processing by other professionals. The importance of this responsibility is two-fold.
First, by assigning a unique code to represent a patient’s diagnosis, the potential for improper medications and other treatments being administered is all but eliminated. In the past, medical records could be inaccurate due to misspellings and other problems caused by attempting to read someone else’s notes. With the medical coding system used today by the CCS, the chances of this happening are minimal.
Second, the code that a Certified Coding Specialist assigns to services rendered by the physician enables the medical biller to accurately charge the patient’s insurance company. Again, the use of a coding system instead of traditional notes greatly reduces the likelihood of inaccurate billing.
Becoming a CCS
To become a CCS, you will have to pass the certification exam offered by the American Health Information Management Association. While it is possible to do this without the benefit of formal training, it is advised that you take at least some medical coding courses to assist you in preparing for the test as they specifically cover the material included.
The following represents a step-by-step checklist you can use as your personal road map to becoming a Certified Coding Specialist in just two years. As mentioned, some of these steps are not necessarily prerequisites to securing employment, but they do provide other important benefits.
Meet the Educational Prerequisites
While previous medical billing and coding certification is not necessarily a prerequisite for working as a medical coder, having a high school diploma or GED is. Employers will not consider a job candidate who cannot satisfy this requirement.
Earn an Associate’s Degree
With so much interest in the profession from job seekers, a lot of medical billing and coding schools are offering associate’s degree programs specifically tailored to the aspiring CCS. This is even the case in a growing number of medical coding online programs. Because the programs are relatively affordable and easy to fit into your schedule, it is recommended that enroll in one as soon as you decide to become a Certified Coding Specialist. The courses will help you prepare for the certification exam, and employers will reward your degree with higher starting pay.
Work in Health Care While You Study
This step is not a requirement for employment either, but it could pay huge dividends if you choose to take it. Many health care clinics and hospitals are willing to take on entry-level staff without prior experience as long as the person is enrolled in a related degree program. Take advantage of this to help pay your way through school, and to gain valuable work experience.
Pass the CCS Exam
Upon completion of your associate’s degree program, you will be eligible to sit for the CCS Exam offered by the AHIMA. The examination is made up of two sections (one is multiple choice, the other is written) and tests for proficiency in the CPT and ICD-9 universal coding systems – both of which you will have learned during your schooling. Once you’ve passed this exam, you’ll be ready to start your career!
Your Career as a Coding Specialist
If you’ve followed the process outlined above, getting that first job as a CCS may be the easiest step of your journey. By working while you were in school, you will undoubtedly have made contacts and developed a network of potential employers. Make sure you stress your credentials (an associate’s degree and, hopefully, a strong test score on the CCS Exam) on your resume, since this is where they’ll finally pay off.
Once you have your foot in the door, you’ll also want to be sure to remain current with changes in the medical coding and billing industry. Many people do this by enrolling in additional online classes in the evening. While you’re at it, you can also begin studying toward a specialized medical coding degree as a way to boost your salary and increase your value as a Certified Coding Specialist.MBCC Admin