Top Health Information Management (HIM) Certifications - AHIMA, AMT, AAPC

At first glance, the “alphabet soup” of health information management (HIM) credentials can be a bit overwhelming. With so many options, making the right choice can be daunting. Obtaining a credential takes time, money, and effort—which is why it’s important to do homework in advance to find the credential that makes the most sense for each professional’s unique career aspirations.

First, it is important to determine what specific area of HIM is the most interesting? Coding? Clinical documentation improvement (CDI)? Release of information (ROI)? Electronic health records (EHR)? HIPAA? Something else? Is there a specific position in mind, or has an employer requested a certain credential to keep a current job? The good news is that with HIM, there are many career paths to pursue—and many credentials that help demonstrate expertise.

Health information management is a growing and lucrative career. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there will be a 32 percent increase in jobs for medical and health services managers between 2020 and 2030. The average pay for medical and health services managers is $104,280 per year, although the top 10 percent of earners can make over $195,000 per year.

This is a behind-the-scenes career that is essential to high-quality patient care. Health information managers are responsible for a wide variety of tasks including overseeing, tracking, managing, protecting, and analyzing health data. Since the skills required for this job can vary widely, one way prospective employees can demonstrate their competence is through HIM certification.

This article delves into some of the top HIM certifying agencies, THE certifications they offer, and why professionals might want to consider one (or more) of them.

American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA)

The AHIMA is considered the leader in HIM certification. They were established in 1928 and serve over 100,000 healthcare information professionals. With five HIM and coding certifications and three specialty certifications, they cover a wide variety of professions and roles in information management.

Registered Health Information Administrator (RHIA) Certification

Holding an RHIA credential indicates knowledge of the medical, administrative, ethical, and legal requirements and standards related to healthcare delivery, as well as the privacy of protected patient information.

This credential is ideal for professionals looking for career advancement into roles such as DRG validator, quality improvement analyst, implementation support specialist, cancer registrar, health information technician, professor, ICD-10 educator, mapping specialist, e-MPI manager, or coding trainer. Those with an RHIA certification often ultimately decide to pursue managerial roles such as HIM manager, program director, HIM director, regional director of HIM, director of coding, or vice president of coding.

A bachelor’s degree from a Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education (CAHIIM) accredited school is required for this certification.

Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT) Certification

The RHIT credential demonstrates one’s ability to use computer applications to assemble and analyze patient data to improve patient care or control costs. It is designed for professionals with management aspirations who are working directly with medical records, computer applications, and coding. Additionally, cancer registrars who compile information on cancer patients often pursue this certification.

An associate’s degree in HIM from a CAHIIM accredited program is required.

Certified Coding Associate (CCA) Certification

The CCA credential indicates medical coding competency in doctor’s offices and hospitals as well as a strong commitment to the profession. This credential is ideal for those who have medical coding experience (ideally six months or more) and would like to demonstrate competency in an increasingly competitive job market.

Work experience or completing an AHIMA-approved program is highly recommended to earn this certificate. A high school diploma is required.

Certified Coding Specialist (CCS) Certification

The CCS credential holders are masters of the ICD-10-CM and CPT coding systems. This is the certification for those who seek career advancement into inpatient positions such as DRG validator, health information technician, coding professional, clinical documentation improvement specialist, HIM revenue cycle auditor, compliance auditor, ICD-10 educator, coding trainer, HIM manager, coding manager, director of coding, or vice president of coding.

To sit for this certification it is recommended that candidates hold another certification such as RHIA, RHAT, CCS-P, or CCA, have work experience, be credentialed from another organization, or complete a set of required courses.

Certified Coding Specialist — Physician-Based (CCS-P)

Those with a CCS-P credential have in-depth knowledge of the CPT coding system, as well as familiarity with the ICD-10-CM and HCPCS Level II coding systems used in physician-based settings such as physician offices, group practices, multi-specialty clinics, or specialty centers. If specialization in physician-based coding is the goal—particularly in an office or outpatient facility—then this is the certification needed.

It is recommended that candidates for this certification have work experience, proof of credentialing as an RHIA, RHIT, or CCS, and/or prerequisite coursework.

Certified Documentation Improvement Practitioner (CDIP) Certification

Those pursuing a career in clinical documentation integrity (CDI) will benefit from earning the CDPI certification. Professionals in this field have strong clinical documentation skills, are leaders in health information management, and are knowledgeable in the best ways to gather patient data.

Eligibility for this certificate includes holding another certificate from the AHIMA such as the RHIT, RHIA, CSS, CCS-P; being an MD or DO, or holding an associate’s degree and having three years of work experience as a CDI.

Certified Health Data Analyst (CHDA) Certification

The CHDA credential proves one’s ability to acquire, manage, analyze, interpret, and transform healthcare data into accurate, consistent, and timely information. This certification is ideal for professionals who already have another HIM certification or baccalaureate degree and three years of healthcare data experience. It’s designed for those who would like to work in positions such as data integrity analyst, mapping specialist, or others.

To be eligible for this certification, candidates must have either a bachelor’s degree or an RHIA or RHIT credential.

Certified In Healthcare Privacy and Security (CHPS) Certification

Competence in designing, implementing, and administering comprehensive privacy and security protection programs in all types of healthcare organizations can be demonstrated with the CHPS credential.

This certification is a good fit for those who have healthcare experience and a minimum of an associate’s degree. It’s ideally for those who would like to work in positions such as information security manager or privacy officer. A combination of extensive work experience and education or another AHIMA certification is required to earn this certification.

AHIMA Certification Testing

All certifications for the AHIMA require sitting for the required test. Testing fees range between $199 to $399. Applicants are required to submit documentation of certifications earned, education, or work experience in order to establish eligibility. Once documentation is received and eligibility determined, a four-month window is awarded for applicants to take the test.

AHIMA Certification Renewals

Certification holders are required to pay their recertification fees annually. They also must complete between 20 to 50 continuing education units every two years depending on the kind of certification held and if multiple certifications are held.

American Medical Technologists (AMT)

The AMT is one of the leading certifying organizations for allied health careers. They offer ten certifications in an array of fields including laboratory consultant, phlebotomist, dental assistant, and more. They offer a medical administrative specialist certification for those pursuing HIM careers.

Medical Administrative Specialist (CMAS) Certification

A CMAS is a skilled medical records manager. They have extensive experience with medical coding, insurance billings, clinic management, and budgeting. This certification is a step after earning a registered medical assistant (RMA) certification and relevant work experience.

Medical office administrators who are looking for advancement or are applying for senior administrator roles pursue this certification. Often this certification is required for those managing medical practices, inpatient centers, or outpatient clinics.

To be eligible for this certification, candidates must either:

  • Hold an RMA certification and have worked as a medical administrative specialist full time for two years
  • Graduate from an accredited medical administrative specialist program with at least 720 internship hours, of which 160 hours must be in an externship
  • Have been employed as a medical administrative specialist for five out of the last seven years

AMT Certification Testing

Pass the CMAS exam through the AMT. The fee is $120.

AMT Certification Renewals

Certified professionals just pay the annual renewal fee of $60 and complete 30 certification continuation program (CCP) points every three years.

American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC)

With more than 200,000 members the AAPC is the largest education and training organization in healthcare. Twenty-eight certifications are offered in a variety of fields, including practice management, medical coding, medical billing, clinical documentation, and healthcare compliance.

In addition to certification, the AAPC offers extensive training courses and workshops so members can further their education, improve their advancement opportunities, and complete their continuing education units.

Certified Professional Coder (CPC) Certification

The CPC credential is for those with proficiency in coding for physician and other healthcare provider services, including evaluation and management, anesthesia, surgery, radiology, pathology, and medicine.

Two years of coding experience is recommended and can lead to working in an office setting as a professional coder, auditor, or coding manager.

Certified Outpatient Coder (COC) Certification

The COC credential denotes one’s proficiency in assigning accurate medical codes for diagnoses, procedures, and services performed in the outpatient setting (i.e., emergency department, outpatient clinic, same-day surgery center, diagnostic testing center, or outpatient therapy facility).

Professionals with at least two years of coding experience are eligible for this certification and an associate degree is recommended.

Certified Inpatient Coder (CIC) Certification

Expertise in assigning accurate ICD-10 medical codes for diagnoses and procedures performed in the inpatient setting can be demonstrated by earning the CIC credential.

This certification typically requires an associate degree and two years of experience in inpatient coding. Earning this certification can lead to career advancement in inpatient coding positions.

Certified Risk Adjustment Coder (CRC) Certification

Professionals who earn the CRC credential have the ability to read a medical chart and assign the correct ICD-10-CM codes for a wide variety of clinical cases and services for various risk-adjustment models.

This certification is for those who like to work in either an office or facility setting and specialize in risk-based coding. Anyone who is reading medical charts in order to assign medical codes can seek this certification. A strong understanding of diagnoses, anatomy, and medical terms is necessary.

An associate degree is recommended for this certification and applicants must also have current AAPC membership.

AAPC Certification Testing

Each certification has its own unique test. Candidates are required to pass the exam for each certification they are seeking. All exams must be passed with at least a score of 70 percent or higher. Each exam costs $350 and includes one free retake. Applicants must register for their exam three weeks prior to their desired examination date.

AAPC Certification Renewal

In order to maintain certification, professionals must keep their AAPC membership current annually. Renewal costs $175 per year. Every two years, certification holders are required to submit proof of at least 36 continuing education units. If more than one certification is held, the number of units increases up to a possible total of 52 for those who hold five or more certifications.

Kimmy Gustafson
Kimmy Gustafson Writer

Kimmy Gustafson is a freelance writer with a passion for sharing stories of bravery. Her love for world-traveling began when her family moved to Spain when she was six and since then, she has lived overseas extensively, visited six continents, and traveled to over 25 countries. She is fluent in Spanish and conversational in French. When not writing or parenting she can be found kiteboarding, hiking, or cooking.