April 25, 2024

Comparing AHIMA vs AAPC Certifications for Medical Coders

By Janine Mothershed

Two books on a Gold Mechanical Weighing Scale with AAPC and AHIMA certification logos on each bookCoding Clarified wants to help clarify how to determine which credential is right for you. 

Getting a Medical Coding certification is highly recommended

In healthcare, accurate medical coding is crucial for billing, insurance claims, and maintaining patient records. Two prominent organizations, the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC) and the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA), offer certifications for medical coders. Understanding the differences between the AHIMA and AAPC certifications is essential for aspiring coders to make informed career decisions.  

What is the AAPC Certification?

The AAPC offers multiple certifications, including the Certified Professional Coder (CPC) credential, which is widely recognized in the industry as the core credential to obtain. To obtain the CPC certification, candidates must pass a 4-hour 100-question exam covering medical coding guidelines, anatomy, physiology, healthcare regulations, and more. Additionally, AAPC offers specialized certifications such as Certified Outpatient Coder (COC), Certified Inpatient Coder (CIC), and Certified Professional Medical Auditor (CPMA), among others. AAPC certifications are primarily focused on outpatient coding but also cover a broad spectrum of coding specialties. 

What is the AHIMA Certification?

AHIMA provides Certified Coding Associate (CCA) and Certified Coding Specialist (CCS) credentials, among others. The CCA certification is an entry-level credential that employers often recognize as an apprentice credential because they know this credential only requires the student to be a high school graduate and a coding course is only recommended. The CCS certification is designed for experienced coders seeking advanced proficiency. AHIMA certifications emphasize mastery of diagnosis and procedure coding. Additionally, AHIMA offers specialized certifications such as Certified Coding Specialist-Physician-based (CCS-P) and Certified Documentation Improvement Practitioner (CDIP) and microcredentials.  

Both agencies use all or a combination of coding medical manuals depending on the credential/job which is the International Classification of Diseases manuals (ICD-10-CM) for diagnosis and Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) for codes procedure codes in outpatient settings and inpatient procedure codes for facilities (ICD-10-PCS) and HCPCS codes for supplies & drugs. 

What is the Difference Between AHIMA and AAPC certifications?

One key difference between AAPC vs AHIMA certifications is their focus areas. AAPC certifications tend to concentrate more on outpatient coding, including physician office visits, ambulatory surgery centers, and outpatient hospital services. On the other hand, AHIMA certifications encompass both outpatient and inpatient coding, making them suitable for coders working in various healthcare settings, including hospitals, clinics, and long-term care facilities.  

Recognition and Industry Preference: Both the AAPC and AHIMA certifications are widely recognized in the healthcare industry. However, the preference for one over the other may vary depending on the employer and specific job requirements. Some employers may prefer AAPC-certified coders for outpatient settings, while others may favor AHIMA vs AAPC certified coders for their proficiency in both outpatient and inpatient settings.  

What are the Benefits of AHIMA or AAPC certifications for Medical Coders?

AAPC and AHIMA certifications can open doors to a wide range of career opportunities in medical coding, billing, auditing, and healthcare compliance. Advanced certifications offered by both organizations allow coders to specialize further in anesthesia, cardiology, orthopedics, and more. Additionally, certified coders may pursue leadership roles, such as coding manager or compliance officer, with the potential for career advancement and higher salaries.  

Choosing between AAPC and AHIMA certifications is a significant decision for aspiring medical coders. While AAPC certifications focus primarily on outpatient coding, AHIMA certifications encompass both outpatient and inpatient coding, providing a broader skill set. Ultimately, individuals should consider their career goals, preferred work environment, and industry demand when selecting the certification that best suits their needs. Regardless of the path chosen, obtaining certification from either AAPC or AHIMA demonstrates a commitment to excellence in medical coding and opens doors to rewarding career opportunities in the healthcare field. 

For those seeking the AAPC CPC credential Coding Clarified offers a comprehensive coding course with great resources and support



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