FAQs About the CIRCC® Exam: Is it Right for You?

A lot of coding professionals are looking to level up by adding a specialty certification and according to the AAPC, the Certified Interventional Radiology and Cardiology Coder® (CIRCC®) is one of the top earning coding credentials. But is this the right one for you?  The CIRCC® exam is difficult to pass and the credential has unique CEU requirements you should know about before you decide to jump on this bandwagon.  Here, I will cover the FAQs I get about the CIRCC® exam, plus one very important question people don’t ask, but should.

Is the exam hard?

This is a loaded question.  Interventional radiology coding is hard.  In fact, after spending more than a quarter of a century and more than half my life as a coder, it’s pretty darn near the hardest thing I’ve ever had to code (and I have a penchant for coding the tough stuff!).  So yes, the test is hard.  If you’re looking for a sliding scale of difficulty, having taken 4 certification exams in my lifetime (RHIT, CCS, CPC, and CIRCC®), the CIRCC® exam is right up there with the CCS as the most difficult exam I’ve ever taken.

Will I make more money if I get the CIRCC®?

I can’t guarantee that passing this exam will get you more money, but there are increasingly more employers looking to fill IR positions with CIRCC®-certified coders.  A bit of warning, though: as with any specialty in coding, I recommend making sure you really like it before getting certified.  I’ve trained many coders in this specialty, and I would estimate that only about half of them really have an interest in it.  In my view, paychecks follow passion: if you love it, it will open doors you didn’t realize were an option.  If you don’t like it, you’ll just be miserable, and really, is there any amount of money that’s worth the misery?

What does the exam cover?

If the first place you are looking to see if you really want to take the CIRCC® exam is this blog post or on social media, take a break now and go look at the AAPC’s website because the answers to most of your questions are there. Once you get there, read all information about the exam under all of the tabs (exam breakdown, approved manuals, certification requirements, history, and FAQs).  In short, the exam consists of 150 multiple choice questions, and you have 5 hours and 40 minutes to complete the exam.  The exam covers only CPT and HCPCS, so leave your ICD-10-CM (and PCS!) books at home.  The test covers nonvascular interventional radiology (e.g., fine needle and core needle biopsy, biliary procedures, urinary procedures, kyphoplasties, etc.), interventional radiology (diagnostic angiography and percutaneous interventions, such as angioplasty and stenting), diagnostic cardiac catheterization, and basic coronary artery interventions. 

I don’t have vascular anatomy memorized; how should I study for this?

While you will need a strong knowledge of vascular and coronary anatomy to take this exam, here’s the good news: you can take your choice of IR anatomy cards to the exam with you.  For example, Haugen Consulting Group’s VIR Flip Bits are exam approved!  Appendix L of the AMA’s CPT Professional code book also has valuable information to help with anatomy and vessel ordering.

How do I prepare for the exam?

If you have IR coding experience or have had formal training before, you should be able to prepare using the AAPC’s study guide and practice exam.  I took the exam after about 10 years of experience and was able to pass using these tools.  At the time, I felt confident with my coding skills in vascular and cardiology, but had less experience with nonvascular procedures, so I focused mostly on that area and wrote lots of notes in my CPT book.

If you are brand new to IR, you will need formal training.  As someone who was self-taught in IR and then received formal training, I can say that trying to figure this out on your own is not recommended.  You can choose either an instructor-led course or do self-paced study.  If you prefer the latter, Haugen Consulting Group has a full suite of educational materials to get you up to speed and ready to take the exam while also satisfying CEUs for existing credentials:

The Question No One Asks

There is one very important question you should be asking before taking this exam, but most don’t.  How much does it cost to maintain the credential?  Most people stop reading once they see how much the exam is going to cost, but this credential also has a unique maintenance requirement: there are only three companies who can issue CIRCC® CEUs.  Those three companies are ZHealth Publishing, MedLearn Publishing, and Medical Asset Management.  Other companies can provide IR education, including exam prep courses, but cannot issue CIRCC® CEUs.  Before you decide to take this exam, check out the cost of education through these companies.  You will need 16 CEUs every two years (or 8 CEUs per year), and there are usually no free options and very few low cost options (that you really have to hunt for).  If you are a person who is used to getting your CEUs from industry magazines, this can be culture shock. 

Is CIRCC® Right for You?

Only you can answer if the CIRCC® exam is right for you.  If you’d like to explore this specialty more, check out this month’s webinars as we cover two IR topics: endovascular aneurysm repair and lower extremity revascularization procedures.

Kristi Pollard, RHIT, CCS, CPC, CIRCC, AHIMA-Approved ICD-10-CM/PCS Trainer

Kristi Pollard, RHIT, CCS, CPC, CIRCC, AHIMA-Approved ICD-10-CM/PCS Trainer

Senior Consultant

Kristi is a senior consultant with more than 20 years of industry experience. She develops and delivers training on ICD-10-CM/PCS and CPT, both virtually and in classroom settings.
Kristi also performs DRG and APC audits and is known for her vast knowledge on coding vascular interventional radiology procedures. Kristi has an extensive background in coding education and consulting and is a national speakers on topics related to ICD-10 and CPT coding as well as code-based reimbursement.

1 Comment

  1. Melinda

    I really appreciate your honesty regarding CIRCC. I have been CIRCC certified for years and have been able to get several of my CEU’s at no cost when sponsored by another organization. Regrettably this stopped abruptly when the Covid shutdown sent us home. I am disappointed that this has become a revenue stream for a small group of companies with out regard to the cost. Maybe they think as an elite group of coders we earn a premium salary and can afford the cost of maintaining our education? Sadly, for those of us that made a choice at a time when this was a new and exciting option, it has become a financial burden without recourse other than to let it go. It makes me sad. The strangle hold of these well funded and highly profitable companies is a limitation that is both unnecessary and unsustainable.


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