Certification is incredibly important for health information management (HIM) professionals. Having credentials sets you apart, like acronymic badges of honor displaying your expertise and commitment to life-long learning.
“That’s what employers are looking for,” says Wil Limp, program manager of the University of Wisconsin Bachelor of Science in Health Information Management and Technology.
According to the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA), these credentials are “your guide to career enhancement, increased salary, and greater success in your chosen profession.”
But which HIM certification should you earn?
It really depends on two things: the HIM experience you have and the job you want. In this post, we’ll dive into the most popular HIM certifications and give you the “who, why, and how” of each one—aka, who is it for, why earn it, and how to get it.
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Registered Health Information Administrator (RHIA)
WHO: You have some experience in coding, release of information, HIPAA privacy and security, project management, electronic health records, informatics, or other specialized HIM skill, and you want to move up to an HIM management position. Or your current employer is encouraging you to earn an RHIA credential, because your job description is changing and soon will require it.
WHY: Earning RHIA certification is a clear-cut path to advancement. When you are RHIA-certified, employers see you as a medical record management expert who understands the business of health care—that is, how coded data translates to payment, quality indicator requirements and patient safety scores for Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services, project management, process improvement, and more. Plus, last year in Wisconsin, only 20 people passed the RHIA exam and became registered health information administrators. With more employers requiring RHIA certification, jobs are ripe for the picking for RHIA-certified professionals.
HOW: To earn RHIA certification, you need to pass an AHIMA-administered exam. You are eligible to take the exam if you have a master’s or bachelor’s degree accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education (CAHIIM). For more about the exam, see our post, “13 Things You Need to Know Before Taking the RHIA Exam.”
Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT)
WHO: You have healthcare experience and are in the midst of a career change to health information technician or coding specialist. Your ultimate goal is to advance to management. (Want to know the biggest differences between RHIT and RHIA certification? See this story.)
WHY: Those with RHIT certification ensure the quality of electronic medical records by verifying their completeness, accuracy, and proper entry into computer systems. Having experience as an RHIT is a great stepping stone if you want to advance to a management position.
HOW: To earn RHIT certification, you need a CAHIIM-accredited associate degree and a passing score on the exam administered by AHIMA. Often times, employers will pay tuition reimbursement for the education required to take the exam.
Certified Coding Associate (CCA)
WHO: You have more than six months of experience directly applying codes, and you’re looking to distinguish yourself from other medical coders.
WHY: Coding accuracy is extremely important to healthcare organizations, because it affects revenues and health outcomes. So it makes sense that coding certification has become an industry standard. The CCA credential demonstrates your coding competency across all settings, including hospitals and physician practices. According to AHIMA, becoming a CCA shows employers that you are a leader who is committed to the coding profession.
HOW: You need a high school diploma to sit for the CCA certification exam.
Certified Coding Specialist (CCS)
WHO: You are experienced in coding inpatient and outpatient records and want to work as a coding analyst or coding manager at a hospital. You might have learned to code before your organization required it, but with the transition to ICD-10, you realize that advanced, ongoing training is key to maintaining your coding skills.
WHY: A CCS is skilled in classifying medical data from patient records in a hospital setting. The certification demonstrates a professional’s tested data quality and integrity skills.
HOW: To take AHIMA’s CCS certification exam, you need to meet one of several requirements in experience, certifications, or education.
Certified Coding Specialist—Physician-based (CCS-P)
WHO: You are a coding professional who would like to specialize in a physician-based setting, such as a physician’s office, group practice, multi-specialty clinic, or specialty center.
WHY: In physician-based settings, a CCS-P is an expert in health information documentation, data integrity, and quality—and certification is a testament to the professional’s coding capabilities. AHIMA reports the CCS-P employment outlook to be especially bright due to the movement of health services beyond the hospital.
HOW: To take AHIMA’s CCS-P certification exam, you need to meet one of several requirements in experience, certifications, or education.
Certified Professional Coder (CPC)
WHO: Similar to those with CCS-P certification, you are a coding professional with an associate degree currently working in a physician’s office setting—or are hoping to be soon.
WHY: CPC certification proves your mastery of all code sets, evaluation and management principles, surgical coding, and adherence to documentation and coding.
HOW: To earn CPC certification, you must pass a 150-question exam administered by AAPC. You are eligible to sit for the exam if you have two years of medical coding experience; an associate degree is recommended but not required.
Certified Health Data Analyst (CHDA)
WHO: You hope to be a healthcare data analyst or business operations specialist. You want certification as recognition of your expertise in health data analysis.
WHY: According to AHIMA, CHDA certification demonstrates your knowledge of acquiring, managing, analyzing, interpreting, and transforming data into accurate, consistent, and timely information. To employers, the credential is proof that you can balance the big picture strategic vision with day-to-day details.
HOW: To take AHIMA’s CHDA certification exam, you need to meet one of several requirements in experience, certifications, or education.
Certified in Healthcare Privacy and Security (CHPS)
WHO: You have experience in HIM, specifically healthcare privacy or security management, and want to become a documentation quality coordinator, documentation improvement specialist, or perhaps, an HIM consultant.
WHY: This certification indicates competence in designing, implementing, and administering privacy and security protection in all types of healthcare organizations. The CHPS credential also shows a strong commitment to leadership and the advancement of privacy and security management practices.
HOW: To take AHIMA’s CHPS certification exam, you need to meet one of several requirements in experience, certifications, or education.
Certified Documentation Improvement Practitioner (CDIP)
WHO: You have experience in clinical documentation improvement and are passionate about supporting the integrity of health records. You already have an RHIA, RHIT, or coding certification but want to demonstrate your competency in capturing the documentation necessary to communicate patients’ health statuses and conditions.
WHY: CDIP certification distinguishes you as an HIM leader and an expert in clinical documentation in patient health records.
HOW: To earn CDIP certification, you need to pass an exam administered by AHIMA. You are eligible to sit for the exam if you have at least two years of experience in clinical documentation improvement and an associate degree, doctorate, RN, RHIA, RHIT, or coding certification.