All medical coding and billing certifications have continuing education unit, or CEU, requirements. CEUs simply ensure certified professionals stay current as the health care industry, with Medicare its impetus, continually updates policies. A Certified Professional Coder (CPC) through the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC), for example, must earn 36 CEUs every 2 years to retain certification.
To help medical coders meet their CEU requirements, AAPC offers several avenues for continuing education, such as workshops, audio conferences, and national/regional conferences. A 3-hour workshop worth six CEUs costs $149 ($189 for nonmembers), for example. Audio conferences are also $149 and earn you two CEUs. And national/regional conferences offer the most bang for your buck--enabling you to earn as many as 20 CEUs for just a few hundred dollars more. There are, however, less costly or even free ways to earn CEUs.
Being a certified coder through AAPC grants you the following opportunities to acquire low- or no-cost CEUs:
· Local Chapter Meetings/Local Events: Log into the Members Area of the AAPC Web site and you'll see a personalized calendar of the pre-approved local chapter meetings and events in your area. Earn one CEU per hour and enjoy networking with your knowledgeable peers.
· Test Yourself: AAPC members receive the monthly Coding Edge magazine and bi-monthly EdgeBlast e-newsletter. Both publications have a Test Yourself section with questions pertaining to content. Simply answer the questions correctly to receive your free CEUs. Each Test Yourself exercise in Coding Edge is worth one CEU per issue and each EdgeBlast Test Yourself is worth one-half CEU. Think about it. This option alone can earn you as many as 24 CEUs every year absolutely free!
· Web-based Training: The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Service's (CMS) Medicare Learning Network (MLN) offers 17 Web-based training programs online. You can receive one-half to two CEU(s) for each program and post-test you complete with 70 percent or more accuracy. Details are on the CMS Web site.
· Article Summaries: Effective Jan. 1, 2009, approved publications will provide a test and CEU certificate for those successfully completing the publisher's test. All publications will be awarded one CEU per scenario/summary with a combined limit of six CEUs every 2 years. See the Medical Coding CEU Policy page on the AAPC Web site for more information.
· Teaching: Pre-approve the learning objectives and curriculum of your in-service and receive one CEU per hour of podium time for presenting. If you do not charge your peers and staff for this training, there is no fee by AAPC to pre-approve the training. See the vendor section for more details and to download the in-service application.
A variety of vendors supporting AAPC are also pre-approved to provide CEUs for members. Check the AAPC CEU vendor list for details.
Pay It Forward
If you're on a tight budget, but you don't want to miss out on the added advantages workshops and conferences provide, another option is to ask your employer to help compensate for the expense of earning CEUs. Many employers reimburse coders for their continuing education expenses because they know it will pay off in the long run with more accurate, compliant coding.
"It is a win-win for the clinic," said Kreeta Haffner, business office manager, Boulder Medical Center, when asked why she foots the bill for her clinic coder, Lisa Curtis, CPC, CPC-E/M, to earn CEUs.
Curtis said, "It's a tremendous benefit to the employers to keep their coders up-to-date. The providers have a lot on their plates focusing on patient care. Someone needs to keep up with the ever-changing coding world.
"I find there is a lot more to learn by attending workshops than just reading and doing (free) tests, although those are useful too; reading and doing the tests doesn't always mean the information will stick. Interaction with other coders is very important. It's an opportunity to meet and network with other coders in person that you wouldn't normally meet, and learn about their experiences. I'm looking forward to going to the conference in Las Vegas next year!"
And remember, you can use the CEU Tracker, available in the Members Area on the AAPC Web site, to easily keep track of your CEUs.
Brad Ericson, MPC, CPC, CPC-ORTHO, is director of publications at the American Academy of Professional Coders and has been writing and editing coding publications for 16 years.