Monday, August 24, 2009

Getting Involved

As Past President of the Northern Colorado Health Information Management Association (NCHIMA), I am currently in possession of the association’s archives dating back to 1960. On August 7, I was asked to give a presentation chronicling our association’s history. I’m sure that many people would look at 40 years of archives (which had been neatly thinned and organized by a former board member) as tedious and intimidating, but I found the process enthralling. The issues of the day, the speakers’ topics, and the sense of community as well as seeing the names of “new” professionals in the meeting minutes who would later become industry leaders and mentors, left me so excited I was, at times, actually shaking with enthusiasm (this is a common side effect of being a super-coder-geek!). On more than one occasion, I picked up the phone and called my mom, a veteran HIM-er, and told her about all the treasured tidbits I had found.

But with all my enthusiasm, I was worried. Worried that only a geek like me would find that information interesting. Worried that the presentation was lacking of my usual fervor to use pictures and other visual aids. Worried that no one would make the 2-hour drive north of Denver for the presentation and I would be left presenting to anyone at the hospital who would listen. Worried that my Power Point was too purple (this is a big problem with me, given that purple is my favorite color)!

My fears were completely unfounded, though. I had recently spent time “yearbooking myself” on the website (this picture is of me in "1960" - check out the website for yourself and see how you would look!), where I could upload a picture of myself and see how I would have looked with various trendy hairstyles from 1950 through 2000 and those pictures ended up in my presentation. The once nauseatingly purple Power Point presentation became a soothing shade of blue and I was excited to be the one to present this information to what happened to be a decent size group of about 20 people. And they were excited about the information. And I again felt that sense of community.

What’s my point? Well, we all need community because that’s how we get “discovered.” Very few movie stars are discovered sitting in a coffee shop minding their own business. Most work hard to get the roles that get them noticed and a well-prepared audition is often the career-launching vehicle they’ve been waiting for. A single man isn’t likely to find the woman of his dreams by spending all his time playing ball with the guys – he has to go where the women are. Likewise, novice coders are not likely to get hired without being noticed and in order to get noticed, you have to go where the professionals are.

Get Connected

Imagine meeting rooms filled with a dozens, or even hundreds, of coding professionals. And imagine that during such a conference, time is set aside for networking. It’s not fiction. It happens all the time. And all you have to do to get started is join one or both of coding’s premier national organizations: the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) and the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC). Let’s face it, in every business, who you know is almost as important as what you know. When I was going to school, we were strongly encouraged to join AHIMA. The great thing about AHIMA is that you automatically also become a member of the state component association for the state in which you live. So by joining AHIMA, I was also a member of the Colorado Health Information Management Association. I will never forget attending my first CHIMA meeting with my mother, who introduced me to all of her contacts. She stressed the importance of getting to know people and at the time I didn’t fully understand why. Years later, I became certified through the AAPC and it functions much like AHIMA in that as an AAPC member, you are an automatic member of your local chapter. And most local chapter meetings are free.

I cannot stress enough the importance of networking with the coding community. When I graduated, I was offered two jobs: one from the woman who gave my mom her first job and the other from the hospital where I had interned during my final year of college. I have received job offers and inquiries from many people who have crossed my path along the years – my current position included. And it is these networks that I have tapped into in spreading the word about The Coder Coach and am working to increase in an effort to help the wanna-be coders of the world get placed in positions.


I get asked this question a lot: which organization should I join, AHIMA or AAPC? I am not here to promote one organization over the other. I happen to belong to both, so I will try to give you an objective response. In general, AHIMA credentials are more recognized by hospitals whereas AAPC credentials are more widely recognized by physician practices. Having said that, I will tell you this: these are the only two major accrediting bodies for coders. Beware of getting credentials outside of these two organizations.

I am not saying that all other coding credentials are bogus, but I have seen people get coding credentials that no one in the industry has ever heard of. There are some specialty credentials, such as the Radiology Certified Coder (RCC) that are also of good repute and are accepted by coding professionals. If you are looking into a coding credential that is not affiliated with AHIMA or AAPC and would like to know if it is well recognized, I would be happy to answer any questions you have via email (

The statement I made above about AHIMA being for hospitals and AAPC being for physician practices is not a hard and fast rule. The lines between the two organizations are becoming a bit blurred as many professional coders get dually credentialed through both. Both organizations offer credentials in both hospital and physician coding. And I have seen many AAPC certified coders working in hospitals. But if you want to find an easier time getting hired, I recommend getting certified with the organization most widely associated with the type of coding you prefer. Better yet – check local job listings for coders and see which credentials they require. You will likely find that they require at least one of the following popular credentials. Please note that with the exception of the RHIA and RHIT credentials, college degrees are not required for certification.

  • Registered Health Information Administrator (RHIA) – bachelor’s degree in health information management with completion of board examination covering HIM topics as well as coding
  • Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT) – associate’s degree in health information management with completion of board examination covering HIM topics as well as coding
  • Certified Coding Specialist (CCS) – demonstrates excellence in coding hospital inpatient and outpatient records; recommended for people with at least 3 years’ coding experience
  • Certified Coding Specialist (CCS-P) – demonstrates excellence in coding physician records; recommended for people with at least 3 years’ coding experience
  • Certified Coding Associate (CCA) – demonstrates competency and general knowledge of coding rules and guidelines; eligible for entry level position

  • Certified Professional Coder (CPC) – demonstrates on-the-job experience and proficiency in physician coding
  • Certified Professional Coder – Hospital (CPC-H) – demonstrates on-the-job experience and proficiency in hospital coding
  • Certified Professional Coder – Payer (CPC-P) - demonstrates proficiency and knowledge of coding guidelines and reimbursement methodologies for all types of services from the payer's perspective
  • Certified Interventional Radiology Cardiovascular Coder (CIRCC) – demonstrates proficiency in coding of interventional radiology and cardiovascular coding
  • In addition, AAPC offers various specialty credentials certifying the coders’ proficiency in coding for certain medical specialties
  • Apprentice credentials (denoted with the suffix “-A” following credential) are given to coders who pass the examination but lack the required experience for a full credential

Worth the Money

So if you are in school for coding, or trying to get a job, you need to join up. There are annual dues associated with these associations that can seem daunting – especially if you are a student on a budget. But check out the student membership rates and remember that the cost of the membership pays for itself when you land your first coding job. Best of luck and I hope to see you soon at a coder convention through AHIMA or the AAPC!