What is CPC Certification
The field of medicine is in a state of constant expansion due to the reliability on technology and service to remote places. The more people that are served the more insurance and financial issues come into play. This development also includes job positions that are more needed today than they were only a few years ago. In a professional medical setting it is imperative to have competent and reliable workers who can understand the ins and outs of medical wording. The necessity for staff that can read and interpret correctly medical charts is on the rise, and those who can reach this stage of proficiency and work in a billing office for a medical institution are considered Certified Professional Coders.
A Certified Professional Coder must pass high-level examinations and prove through experience that they are qualified to read and interpret a medical chart in order to quickly resolve insurance issues and medical claims. The basic and most important duties of the CPC are the accurate allocations of:
- 1. ICD-9 (diagnosis)
- 2. CPT (procedure)
- 3. HCPCS Level II (supply)
The task may be performed for any level or type of medical instance. It depends on greatly upon where the CPC works and what is expected of them by their medical institution. However the job doesn’t stop there. CPCs are also expected to know a wider range of information:
- 1. Perfect comprehension of medical lexicon to efficiently perform tasks
- 2. Having knowledge about pathology, radiology, surgery, and anesthesia
- 3. Proficiency of medical coding policies and regulations
- 4. How to manage claims denials and bundling
- 5. Ability to work through the reimbursement process while using medical coding
- 6. Good, working knowledge of human anatomy and physiology
It is important to note that CPC certification is only received after a two-part process. Not only must you pass the exam, but you must also have 2 years of experience. There are a few options open to those who are taking courses or have still not yet gained their experience. There is an option called the CPC-A where you apply as an apprentice which means you are currently gaining your 2 years of experience but you just haven’t gotten there yet. This allows you to take the CPC exam and upon completing your experience at a later date, you can provide all of your proof and receive the certification. If you want a supplement for experience, you can substitute one year for an 80 hour course and 6 months for a 40 hour course. These options can give you flexibility and the ability to prepare from home.
Who Gets CPC Certification and Why?
The types of people who get a CPC certification varies widely as well as their reasons for doing so. It may be that the person is out of work, wants a change of pace, or desires working from home. A lot of times those who receive certification had prior medical experience and so they only needed to brush up on their skills and terminology before the exam. However the job is open to anyone with internal discipline and the will to learn.
Some common reasons as to why people choose to go with CPC certification are:
- 1. The job is in high demand. So in an economy that may at times be uncertain it is nice to have a good level of job security.
- 2. The worker is paid by the hour. The average is about $15.00 an hour and can go up with experience and/or handling more responsibility.
- 3. A normal work week. The average medical coder will work 40 hours a week and work normal day shifts. There are usually no night or weekend hours.
- 4. Ability to work from home. Many medical practices and institutions have medical coders that work out of their own homes. This opens up a job opportunity with stability to stay at home moms, those with little or no transportation, and those with physical disabilities that make it hard to participate in a labor-intensive job.
- 5. Gateway to higher positions. There is room for professional and career development. Your position as a medical coder can open up future doors for you.
How to Get CPC Certification
Apply for the Exam
If you are thinking that the job description of a Certified Professional Coder is something you would like to fulfill and learn more about, your next steps will be in accordance with rigorous examination study. The CPC exam and certification is given out by the AAPC, the American Academy of Professional Coders. You must first contact them in order to receive a special application packet for the exam. Here is their website: http://www.aapc.com/certification/cpc.aspx. There are a few important things to pay attention to upon receiving the packet:
- Information on what will be tested for by the exam
- The process of applying for the exam
- Other forms to submit in order to take the exam
The AAPC informs you that your application can take up to 6 weeks in order to be fully processed. Keep that in mind when you turn it in. Exam dates are posted on their website and so you must be aware of when you turn in your packet and the date you sign up for in order to take the exam.
Understanding the Exam
In order to be successful at your CPC certification exam, it is imperative you understand what you will be tested on. Although your packet will define the terms of the exam for you, here is a basic run-down of what the exam is like:
- Price: $300.00 (if a student then $260.00)
- Time: 5 hours and 40 minutes
- 1 free retake
- 150 multiple choice questions
- Use of pre-approved manuals on the test is allowed
- What will be tested for on the exam is detailed by the AAPC on their website and includes, but is not limited to:
- Knowledge of human anatomy and physiology
- Practice management
- Coding Guidelines
- Medical jargon
- Laboratory proficiency
Because of the wide range of different medical coding practices there are actually a few different exams you can take. It all depends on what kind of job you are looking to perform and for whom. The CPC certification is for physician coding but there is also a CPC-H, CPC-P, and CIRCC. Each has a different specialization for which you are tested if you want. The CPC-H, for example, is specifically for outpatient facilities. Although there are different types of CPC certification, we will focus specifically on the normal CPC certification and exam.
Prepare for the Exam
Now that you know which CPC certification you are going for, what the exam is like, and how much time you have to prepare, you best get started. The AAPC provides you with a 4-step program on how to prepare for the exam. Here is what they recommend:
- Take an online course for anatomy and medical terms. The courses offered through the AAPC are 2 months long each. However you can also improve your knowledge of vocabulary by studying yourself. You can buy a textbook full of the proper terminology you need to know. You can make flashcards and put them on a ring to take around with you wherever you go. If you are on a bus or watching commercials between your shows, use that downtime to break out those cards. Study all the time so that you know exactly what words you see on the page and so you can quickly and professionally identify a medical case.
- Take a CPC preparation course. There are two options for this, you can take a course over the internet or you can actually be in a classroom. It depends on what you want out of your experience, whether you are self-disciplined, and if you have the time. As mentioned earlier, the price for your exam will go down if you are a student of the AAPC. So keep that in mind and see if the money is worth it to you.
- Use a study guide. You can either make your own off of a practice test, or you can purchase one through the AAPC. Of course, the AAPC version will be much more detailed and include special techniques for taking the exam. It’s up to how much you want to spend on your preparation.
- Take a practice exam. You can find practice exams through the AAPC website. Practice exams are extremely helpful because it allows you to know exactly what it will feel like when you take the exam for real. You will be subjected to time constraints and questions that are very similar to the real thing. Put yourself in a room with no distractions; ask a friend to time you so you can’t cheat. Bring any pre-approved manuals with you that you will also be able to use on the test. Recreating what it will really be like will help you focus better and feel more confident the day of your exam. You can also learn your limitations, whether or not you need to speed things up, and how efficiently you use the manual to look up information you need.
- Attend a review class. Sometimes these are free of charge and can be a helpful pick me up right before the exam to really solidify your knowledge.
Taking the CPC Exam
In order to take the CPC certification exam you must sign up online. You will locate the closest exam site to you. Unfortunately this part cannot be taken online; you must be physically present in the classroom and adhere to the strict rules of the testing site.
CPC Certification Courses Online
The CPC certification courses offered through the AAPC online are great tools in order to get your certification. They are flexible no matter what type of schedule you have because the course is done by your pace alone. When you purchase the course you will receive an email with your special login information. You can login to take the courses and do your work at any time of the day. So if you have a day job or night job it won’t matter because the course is designed so that you can be successful as long as the work is completed in the end. You will also receive a textbook through the mail in order to complete some of your assignments. The courses have everything rolled into one for you so no extra fees on the side for books.
There are a variety of courses available for you online in order to be successful in your exam. As mentioned above the AAPC offers an anatomy and medical terminology course. However they also offer these 4-month courses:
- CPC Preparation Course
- Medical Billing and Reimbursement Course
If you feel you are rusty with specific areas that will be covered in the exam, you can also take courses at any vocational school or community college near you as long as you feel the class syllabus is in accordance with what you will need to know.
CPC Certification Courses in the Classroom
If learning at a distance over the internet is not your thing, then you still have the option of learning in a traditional classroom. The AAPC has an online search engine that helps you locate a medical coding class near you. Go ahead and check it out here: http://www.aapc.com/training/medical-coding-classes.aspx. These classes are the ones you can use to waive from 6 months to 1 year of your required experience for CPC certification. If you take an 80 hour in class course you can receive a certificate (if you applied beforehand) stating you have 1 year of experience.
So now you know absolutely everything you need to know about CPC certification and how to obtain it. There are great reasons why you may want to be a part of this growing and stable field. Good luck in your professional endeavors.