AHIMA or AAPC – Where Should I Get Certified?

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Both AHIMA (American Health Information Management Association) and AAPC (previously known as the American Academy of Professional Coders) have great benefits to offer their members. But, if you’re wondering to which association you should get credentialed and pay your monthly or yearly dues, this article will tell you the main differences between the two organizations.

Introducing AHIMA

AHIMA, a 64,000 member organization, is the main organization in the United States pertaining to medical record management and its related issues. AHIMA counts among its member medical coders, data analysts and medical record privacy experts. Founded in 1928, AHIMA has been established as the go-to source for all things related to the business of medical records and all of the issues that surround it.

AHIMA was originally founded under a different name: ARLNA (Association of Record Librarians of North America), whose goal was to bring together medical record librarians to discuss the future of medical record keeping with physicians. Several other name changes occurred over the years: American Association of Medical Record Librarians (1938) and the American Medical Record Association (1970). The American Medical Record Association turned into AHIMA in 1991.

AHIMA Credentials

AHIMA offers credentials in five areas:

  • Health Information Management
  • Health Data Analysis
  • Coding
  • Healthcare Privacy and Security
  • Clinical Documentation Improvement

The health information management credential, RHIA, (Registered Health Information Administrator) allows its holders to serve in administrative positions. This position requires study at a baccalaureate level. Registered Health Information Administrators can earn anywhere $29,000 to $85,000 per year. Your salary will depend on your level of professional experience.

Coding, healthcare privacy and security, and clinical documentation improvement are the other three areas of AHIMA credential system. The CHPS (Certified in Healthcare Privacy and Security) designation requires either an associate’s degree and six years of related experience, or a baccalaureate degree with four years of related experience. The certification allows people to implement security precautions for medical records in healthcare facilities.

The CDIP (Certified Documentation Improvement Practitioner) designation requires either another professional certification from AHIMA and three years of document improvement experience, or an associate’s degree with two years of related experience. People with this designation can expect to earn anywhere from $40,000 to $86,000 a year. The Clinical Documentation Improvement program allows interested medical coding workers to learn how to keep the various medical coding processes working at its peak capacity.

The Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT) and Certified Coding Associate (CCA) are the two that most entry level coders attain, the former of which can be obtained after passing the certification exam. It is recommended that you have at least six months of experience before taking the CCA certification exam. Those who hold the RHIT designation can earn an hourly wage that ranges from $11.43 to $20.80 ($24,424 to $46, 485 yearly). Those who hold the CCA designation can expect to receive an hourly wage between $10.63 and $19.56 ($21,651 to $41,012 yearly).

An Introduction to AAPC

Founded in 1988, the AAPC has emerged as the premier educational and credentialing association for medical coders in North America. As of 2012, the AAPC has over 119,000 members in all 50 states and North America. Most healthcare employers now consider an AAPC designation to be the gold standard in various coding related certifications.

The AAPC doesn’t just offer credentials for aspiring medical coders, but also those interested in medical auditing, compliance and medical practice management. While the AAPC has no formal academic requirements for the medical auditing, compliance and medical practice management programs, the organization recommends that those who are seeking these certifications have at least an associate’s degree in healthcare.

In order to get certified in the latter three fields, you must have either direct experience, or past employment that’s relevant to the certification you are seeking. There are no formal post secondary requirements needed for these three certification programs; however, you should check with the AAPC’s website as educational requirements are subject to change at any time.

Should I Join AHIMA, AAPC or Both?

If you choose, you can be affiliated with both organizations. It certainly wouldn’t hurt as both offer credentialing, information on continuing education credit requirements and other benefits that would certainly be of use to all medical coders in North America. Both websites are chock full of information for those who want to know the credentialing requirements and job duties for different positions within the field.

Key Differences Between the Two

  • AHIMA may be more advantageous if you see yourself advancing beyond medical coding in the future, whereas AAPC may be better for those who wish want to stay within the confines of the field. This is because their certifications are more directly related to the immediate needs of coders and auxiliary positions, such as compliance and medical practice management.
  • AHIMA certifications, such as the CHDA (Certified Health Data Analyst) and the CHPS (Certified in Healthcare Privacy and Security) are more academic in nature than those offered by the AAPC.
  • AHIMA is perhaps a better resource for entry level coders, as this is the organization that offers the RHIT professional designation. Certifications awarded by the AAPC are for those who have at least three years of experience in the field.

Go to the websites of AAPC and AHIMA to learn all that is available to you in the exciting field of medical coding. If you like what you see, sign up for a membership with one or both organizations and consider the various certifications they offer.

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