Plotting Your Coding Career Path
Many professional coders enjoy lifelong careers with their core medical coding credential. Most healthcare business professionals, though, build on their coding education and branch into related roles. With multiple credentials and a diversity of skills and experience, the options along your career path are endless.
Chart a Course for Career Advancement
As you plan your career, think about your strengths and weaknesses, and what you most enjoy doing. Also, consider current industry trends in healthcare and opportunities at your current place of employment.
Your career path plan should include a list of activities needed to reach your goal, along with resources to support achieving it. AAPC has an array of credentialing opportunities for many of the diverse professional healthcare business roles available. Identify which certification(s) will support your desired role.
Newly credentialed coders entering the industry sometimes encounter difficulty landing their first medical coding position due to lack of experience. It is important to persist in your employment pursuits, but it’s also important to stay flexible and open to opportunities that will get you in the door. For beginner or entry-level medical coders, employment may include non-coding roles associated with billing or insurance claim processing.
Brenda Edwards, CPC, CDEO, CPB, CPMA, CPC-I, CEMC, CRC, CMRS, CMCS, has over 30 years of experience in chart audit, billing and coding, education, consulting, practice management, and compliance. She never dreamed she’d have “such a fun and interesting career in healthcare.” But for this music performance major, it began working the reception desk. She worked in scheduling, insurance, collecting on bad debt, pulling and filing medical records, and yes, coding. Now she serves as the executive management consultant at SCBI. Brenda’s advice to new coders? “Get that credential, take that entry-level position, volunteer to get experience, join a local chapter, and network your way up.”
If you have been a medical coder for a few years and are looking to advance your career, you have numerous opportunities to choose from. Seek to attain additional credentials to reinforce your technical coding skills and bolster your critical, analytical, and management skills.
Are willing to broaden your responsibilities? If you’re looking for a mid-career promotion, you might think about roles such as coder II and higher, coding educator, validation specialist, coding supervisor, and specialty coder.
While specialty certifications don’t apply to inpatient coding, they’re useful to CPCs and COCs. (COCs without physician-based coding experience would also need to take Evaluation and Management (E/M) Online Training.)
The average salary for coders with a specialty credential is $62,175 annually. This is 8.7% higher than the median salary of $57,201 for non-specialized CPCs. Specialty certifications include:
Another mid-career option to consider is adding a second core certification to your wheelhouse. If, for example, you’re a CPC, why not train for COC certification? This could be an invaluable move in view of the consolidation trend between hospitals and physician practices. A time may come when coders might need proficiency in both physician-based and facility coding.
Risk adjustment coding is also a key skillset to bring to the table. Used in all healthcare settings (inpatient, outpatient, physician practice), risk adjustment coding plays a significant role in securing optimal reimbursement, as well as MACRA incentive pay. Employers profit greatly from staffing CRCs —so much so that employers will often pay for CRC training. Mid-career coders leveraging this opportunity stand to raise their earning potential by 13.43%.
Additional Intermediate-Level Credentials
You also have the option to move into other healthcare business roles, such as:
- Certified Documentation Expert Outpatient (CDEO®) — As a CDEO, you may be responsible for evaluating medical records to ensure completeness, accuracy, and compliance with coding and payer guidelines.
- Certified Professional Medical Auditor (CPMA®) — As a CPMA, you may be responsible for auditing medical charts and physician documentation. This position requires proficiency in evaluating physician documentation for medical necessity and strong written and verbal communication skills to report findings.
- Certified Professional Compliance Officer CPCO® — As a CPCO, you may develop, implement, and monitor a compliance program for your physician office or help others in their compliance efforts. CPCOs generally perform audits on physicians to ensure that coding and documentation is in compliance with Medicare, other federal insurance programs, and third-party regulations.
- Certified Physician Practice Manager (CPPM®) — As a CPPM, you will oversee all facets of the physician office, including revenue, compliance, human resources, health information technology, and more.
“My main expertise is in rules and regulations. Every area within coding has rules, regulations, and guidelines that must be followed. Being a Certified Professional Medical Auditor (CPMA®) and Certified Professional Compliance Officer (CPCO®) is a natural fit for me because I’m very rule-focused. It seems only natural that I created and managed a team of auditors for last 10 years. I’m now working in risk adjustment and ramping up to earn my Certified Risk Adjustment Coder (CRC®) credential.
–Julie Davis, COC, CPC, CPCO, CDEO, CPMA, CRC, CPC-I, AAPC Fellow
Countless responsibilities, expectations, and deadlines come with management positions. If your career path is moving towards a position in leadership, know that higher education may be a necessity depending on the position and employer. You do not need to be an expert in all things, but you should be able to perform at a high level and effectively execute the roles and responsibilities related to your position. Whatever your aspiration, know that you can accomplish it with hard work, smart planning, and continual investment in YOU.
Advanced-level coding professional positions include coding manager, consultant, revenue cycle manager, performance improvement, HIM manager, compliance auditor, and fraud/waste investigator.
If you’ve put in the time and have the required technical and soft skills needed to become proficient not only in medical coding but also in associated functional areas such as revenue cycle management, compliance, and process improvement, you’re eligible for a master-level position.
For master-level positions, employers look for someone with 10 or more years of experience, with a number of those years spent in management. Employers may also prefer an individual with a master’s degree.
Whether you’re working for an organization or working for yourself, master-level positions require excellent communication and interpersonal skills. Your career path will need to include activities for developing business, relational, and clinical acumen.
Master-level positions open to you might include coding director, compliance officer, him director, project management, college professor, VP coding, operations director, and consultant (CEO).