Thinking of writing the CCCS exam? How one coder found studying success

Thinking of writing the CCCS exam? How one coder found studying success

As soon as Anita Lochhead heard about the new Certified Classification and Coding Specialist professional designation, she knew she wanted in. And Anita, a data quality analyst at Queen Elizabeth II Hospital in Grande Prairie, Alberta, is all in. “Coding is what I live and breathe,” she says.

Because the classification and coding process of health care data is an already-complex function that will only increase in complexity, and because the accuracy of coded data affects health care decisions at every level, the CCCS professional designation is intended for early career HIM professionals interested in deepening their knowledge in the field to advance their career path. It is also for experienced coding and classification professionals who want to write a specific exam and have a designation specifically aligned to the classification and coding segment of the CHIM profession. 

Anita is in the latter group. She began her career in 1996 as a coder at a 25-bed health centre, where she was responsible for everything from coding outpatients to release of information. Over time, the role evolved into more specialized functions. Anita became a faculty coach for CRA’s Coding Specialist Program and spent time mentoring students. Four years ago, she took on a role as a data quality analyst, supporting a team of coding specialists, examining the quality of data, and understanding where education is needed to get better data. She has also been on a data collection task force as part of a province-wide move to a single clinical information system, which will begin implementation this fall.

“I’m always learning and keeping up in the field,” Anita says. “If I knew that designation was out there, would be something I’d love to have.” She submitted her resume and a letter of recommendation from her employer, asking to be among the first wave of experienced HIM professionals challenging the exam. And then she began to study. 

Anita used the practice exam in a unique way, taking it without relying on the resources she would have available to her in the actual exam — such as coding standards — to determine where she needed to strengthen her knowledge. As she studied, she focused on areas that weren’t part of her hospital’s scope of work, such as radiation and cardiac interventions. “It wasn’t easy,” she says, “but I don’t think it should be easy.”

When it came time for the exam, Anita noted that everything was relevant. She found that two aspects of the exam presented significant challenges for her. “Multiple choice is hard because it is all about planting a seed of doubt,” she says. “But I eliminated the answers I knew were wrong.” The other challenge was not being able to revisit previous exam questions because of its online nature. “The last time I took an exam, we had to put pencil marks on a page!”

Still, the hardest part of the exam process for Anita was waiting three weeks to hear whether she received the 80% required to pass. “It was a Friday when I got the good news,” Anita says. “I did celebrate—with a beautiful sleep after many nights of wondering whether I had passed the exam or not, and then I had a wonderful weekend with my family.”

“Those I work with likely still think of me the same ol’ Nita, but I feel like those who don’t know me may see my designation and appreciate that I have chosen to attain this goal in my professional development.” She adds, “I never like to come off as too braggy, but I am proud as punch and I feel obligated to be a champion for the designation and to encourage others to attain their goals in our profession.” Perhaps even more importantly, Anita says, “This designation gives me a sense of validation and confidence in what I’m doing.” 

Anita has one last tip: “A lot of facilities or health entities are moving toward encoders, so some HIM professionals might lose the basics of searching. I think it’s important for anyone—and especially those considering writing the exam—to be familiar with the ICD-10-CA Folio software [ICD-10-CA/CCI Folio (v. 2018) software] or Canadian Coding Standards [Canadian Coding Standards (v. 2018)]. It’s most important to start with a lead and sub term in the index. From there, click on the code and look at the tabular to see if it’s a good fit. If it isn’t, look at the choices around you.”

As she considers the importance of coding and the new designation, she concludes, “To be a good coder, it’s very important to adhere to coding standards so you have quality data and can tell the best story you can for the best patient care outcomes.”

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