Radiology Coders get a Credential of their Own

Vol. 12 •Issue 16 • Page 28
Radiology Coders get a Credential of their Own

The RCC was developed as a result of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ (CMS) suggestion that organizations employ certified coders

For years, coders looking to confirm their skills by obtaining a credential had two choices and two choices only: you could be an inpatient coder or an outpatient coder. Those with a more specific field of expertise, particularly radiology, were often overlooked and underserved. But that changed last year with the introduction of the Radiology Certified Coder (RCC) credential. Today, there are 306 RCCs working throughout the country, and the numbers continue to grow.

The Tale of the Test

The RCC was developed as a result of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ (CMS) suggestion that organizations employ certified coders. “Walt Blackham, who does the coding seminars for the Radiology Business Management Association (RBMA), investigated the certification exams available at the time and determined that they were very general, with only a small part of the exam addressing radiology,” recalled Cindy Pittmon, president of specialty group services for the Radiology Coding Certification Board (RCCB). “He brought his concerns to RBMA and a taskforce was formed to determine the feasibility of creating a special credential for radiology coders.”

The taskforce determined that establishment of such a credential was both feasible and necessary, and the RCCB was created as a separate entity to oversee both the creation and administration of the RCC exam. With the help of Knapp International, a test-development firm, the RCCB surveyed radiology coders and their supervisors to determine what key points of knowledge were essential to effective radiology coding. A panel of coding experts then reviewed the results of the survey and determined the content outline for the test. Test questions were written by experienced radiology coders. The questions were then reviewed by an expert panel and analyzed by Knapp International.

“They performed statistical analysis to determine which questions were valid,” explained Pittmon. “They let us know if a question was leading or if the wording was unclear.”

In the end, they created an exam that consists of 200 questions divided as follows:

•CPT–60 percent

•Anatomy and Terminology–20 percent

•ICD-9–10 percent

•Ethics and Compliance–10 percent

According to Pittmon, test development continues to be an ongoing process. “Coding is an ever-changing field, so we’re constantly re-evaluating the test to determine if outdated questions should be deleted or if new ones need to be added.”

Oh Say Can You RCC?

In order to take the RCC exam, candidates must possess a high school diploma (or equivalent) and have one year of full-time radiology coding experience or have two years of full-time experience within the last four years. Those who do not meet these requirements, but who feel that they have adequate experience, may petition the RCCB to be allowed to take the exam.

And for the next few years, candidates must also live close to a testing site or be able to travel to one. “Ultimately, we’d like to be able to administer it through a testing agency, but right now that is too expensive,” said Pittmon. “But we try to scatter the testing sites throughout the country and to offer it in conjunction with RBMA meetings, so that as many people as possible have access to it.”

The next exam will be held in conjunction with the RBMA meeting in Las Vegas on October 20. Tentative locations for 2003 include San Antonio, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Charlotte, Las Vegas and possibly a location in Florida.

Taking the test costs $450 for members of an RBMA membership practice and $500 for non-members. Those who pass receive a certificate and a subscription to the RCCB newsletter. They also have their name posted on the RCCB Web site and in the RCCB directory.

Those who do not pass the exam may try two more times. After three unsuccessful attempts, candidates must produce proof that they have participated in continuing education to be allowed to re-take it. About 62 percent of those who have taken the exam have passed it.

“My first reaction when I saw that statistic is that I would have liked to have had about 90 percent pass the exam,” admitted Pittmon. “But when we started looking at other certification exams, 60 percent is pretty standard for accredited certification exams.”

As with any credential, the RCC must be maintained through continuing education. RCCs must complete 12 continuing education units (CEUs) every two years. In lieu of acquiring CEU credits, RCCs may also retake the exam every two years.

So is it worth the time, expense and stress to become an RCC? Because the credential is so new, there are not yet any statistics to prove whether having this new credential increases compliance for employers, secures a higher salary for coders or increases their job opportunities. But a glimpse of past ADVANCE salary surveys shows that in almost every field, those with credentials earn more than those without. And anecdotal evidence suggests that employers understand the value of a certified coder.

“I have been contacted numerous times by people who are looking to hire an RCC and want to know if we can help them find one,” affirmed Pittmon. “And I’m sure that is going to happen more frequently as recognition of the credential grows.”

For more information or to register for the RCC exam, visit

Gretchen Berry is a free-lance writer in Phoenixville, PA.