CIRCC: Certified Interventional Radiology Cardiovascular Coder

An explanation of the CIRCC certification offered by the AAPC, including everything you need to know about what it qualifies you for and how to get it...

Among the many medical coding certifications offered by the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC) is the CIRCC, otherwise known as Certified Interventional Radiology Cardiovascular Coder.

Cardiovascular coding is perhaps one of the most difficult types of medical coding possible. The reasons for this are twofold.

Cardiovascular coding does not simply include the heart, as an organ system. It also includes all of the rest of the arteries and veins that run throughout the body.

The types of procedures performed on the cardiovascular system differ greatly. For example, some cardiovascular codes are for procedure on the heart or to repair a damaged blood vessel, but other procedures are performed on the cardiovascular system in order to perform a different type of service, such as a catheterization of an artery in order to perform an angiography.

This means that the correct procedure codes for cardiovascular services are found in three sections of the CPT book, rather than in their own chapter, even though there is an entire chapter on cardiovascular surgery codes. Furthermore, cardiovascular services are complex and hard to differentiate from one another.

The CIRCC is a specialized certification, which has been developed by a wide range of experts, such as cardiologists, interventional radiologists, technicians, coders, and billers. Earning a CIRCC credential means that you have a very specialized, expert knowledge on one of the most complex types of coding possible.

What is a CIRCC qualified to do?

Because of the complexities of Cardiovascular coding, error rates are very high. A certification in this type of coding validates a coder's knowledge in this specialty, reducing the risk of errors and ensuring correct insurance reimbursement.

More specifically, a CIRCC is specially certified to code for interventional radiology cardiovascular services. In order to explain this type of coding it is necessary to explain a little bit more about cardiovascular services.

An interventional radiology cardiovascular service is a complex procedure, usually requiring multiple codes.

These are services that are typically performed percutaneously, meaning through the skin, rather than openly. Technological advances in percutaneous therapies are increasingly annually, so there are more and more of these types of procedures being performed each year.

Some of these procedures include the following, which are tested for in the CIRCC exam:

  • Diagnostic angiography
  • Non-vascular interventions, such as biliary procedures, biopsies, ablations, and spine interventions
  • Percutaneous vascular interventions
  • Diagnostic cardiac catheterizations
  • Basic coronary arterial interventions

The first code that is necessary in many of these services is a catheterization code. This is the percutaneous insertion of a catheter into a patient's blood vessel or artery.

A catheterization is inserting a small tube inside the patient's blood vessel, and carefully threading it through the blood vessel to where the doctor needs to perform the service.

The second code is typically an injection procedure.

For instance, once a patient's femoral artery is catheterized, the doctor will inject some sort of material directly into the femoral artery. Sometimes this is a contrast material, which will aid in a radiological service, and sometimes it is a therapeutic material, which will help treat the patient somehow.

The last code is usually a radiology code, such as an angiography or ventriculography, which is the taking of a picture where the cardiologist inserted the catheter and contrast material.

Some catheterization codes include all 3 services in one code, whereas other catheterizations must be coded using three separate codes for each component of the service. The CIRCC's expertise is needed to help determine when to use which code, and when not to, depending on the situation.

The CIRCC must also be knowledgeable in basic coding, medical terminology and anatomy, and have an advanced knowledge of the body's cardiovascular system to aid in catheter placement selection.

Why get the certificate?

The answer to this one is simple:

Cardiovascular coders make some of the highest wages out of all types of coders.

Being certified in cardiovascular coding means that you would be in the top percentage of wage earners out of all coding specialties.


The CIRCC and CEUs

Just like all other certifications offered by the AAPC, this certification comes with the requirement of continuing education units (CEUs), which are education opportunities that the certified coder must take advantage of in order to keep their certification up to date. These CEUs consist of the most current information in your certification area, including any future changes.

Because of the CIRCC's very specialized type of credential, the CEU requirements are a little different, half of which must be in the specialty of CIRCC, and the other half being more generalized CEUs.

More on coding CEUs.

How do you get the CIRCC certification?

Just like all other AAPC certifications, you must be a member of the AAPC in order to take any of their certification exams. This is as simple as paying an annual membership fee and remaining within their standards of ethical practice.

Of course, this goes without mentioning that in order to take the CIRCC exam, you have to be confident in your ability to pass the test. Because cardiovascular coding is one of the most difficult types of coding, you must be very knowledgeable in the field, preferably with real-world experience in interventional radiology cardiovascular coding.

After you have the right education, or background in training, and have paid the AAPC membership fee, you are ready to register for the exam. In order to take the test, you will have to pay the specified fee and follow the directions on the AAPC website.

More information on registering for the test.

How do you prepare for the test?

Whether or not you have an extensive education or background in interventional radiology cardiovascular coding, you want to use AAPC study manuals to help you prepare for the test. These materials are specially produced by the AAPC, and so they have all of the correct information, which you will need to study for the exam.

Furthermore, the AAPC offers practice exams, in the exact same form as the exam itself, which will help you figure out how much time you can spend per question, as well as practice taking the test and answering the questions.

The AAPC has an extensive amount of materials, which will help you prepare for the CIRCC exam. They include the following:

  • Medical Terminology and Anatomy Courses
  • CIRCC Study Guide
  • CIRCC Online Practice Exam
  • Additional course preparation materials from Medical Asset Management, Zhealth Publishing, and Medical Learning, Inc.

You may also find that you are in an area where a local chapter of the AAPC is present. If this is the case, you may want to check with them to see if they have any additional resources or study sessions for those taking the upcoming CIRCC exam.

The CIRCC credential is a great way to demonstrate your knowledge in a highly complex, high dollar field of reimbursement, which is in great need of qualified, intelligent individuals. Good luck!

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