Education: Becoming an AHIMA-Approved CDI Trainer
By Susan Chapman, MA, MFA
For The Record
Vol. 35 No. 1 P. 6
Health care organizations have experienced an increased need for clinical documentation integrity (CDI) specialists. Some of the driving factors for this trend include enhancing revenues due to the COVID-19 pandemic and improving claim accuracy, documentation quality, and patient care while also reducing claim denials.1 In response to this growing demand, qualified CDI professionals are needed in order to train other professionals in this critical field.
AHIMA offers an educational opportunity for those professionals in the CDI industry who are interested in advancing their careers by stepping into training roles. Qualified CDI professionals can become AHIMA-approved CDI trainers through an online course that reviews the following:
• CDI fundamentals;
• clinical validation and treatment plans;
• coding concepts;
• metrics and statistics;
• policies and procedures; and
• other important skills such as effective communication, leadership, and adult learning principles.2
The workshop is open to experienced CDI professionals who must meet a number of prerequisites before they can take the course.
A CDI professional who is interested in becoming an AHIMA-Approved CDI Trainer must be a member of AHIMA. To learn more about AHIMA membership, visit the organization’s website at ahima.org.
Interested individuals must also have been working in the CDI industry for five or more years. “That work experience may look different for each potential candidate, depending on the individual, but there should be that level of CDI experience,” says Tammy Combs, RN, MSN, CDIP, CCS, CNE, an AHIMA-approved ICD-10-CM/PCS/CDI trainer who serves as AHIMA’s director of CDI and clinical foundations.
“Within those five years of working in the field, candidates also need to have earned AHIMA’s Certified Documentation Improvement Practitioner, or CDIP, credential, which is the credential for CDI professionals and demonstrates competency in clinical documentation. Additionally, we have a recognition for our international audience, the International CDI Specialist. So, if we have someone coming in from a different country who has the requisite experience, then we have an avenue for them to sit through the workshop as well, even if they don’t have the CDIP credential, because the CDIP credential is focused on information related to the United States.”
In order to be eligible for the CDIP, applicants must have earned an associate degree or higher or hold a CCS, CCS-P, RHIT, or RHIA credential. According to AHIMA, “Both employers and colleagues view CDIP holders as role models within the broader health information community.”3
CDI professionals also must meet one of the following criteria:
• They have to have written an article, blog, or newsletter piece that has been published by a reputable publication;
• They have to have presented at the local, state, or national level on a specific topic within CDI; or
• As part of their employment, they have to have trained a team or other group of individuals.2
If the potential candidates meet the criteria, they can take the workshop, which is self-paced. Because those taking the workshop have been working in CDI for many years, the course focuses on how they can teach others about CDI and how the candidates can become educators and leaders in their field. There are seven different modules that the candidates take that cover a lot of the information they would use to train other individuals. The students have a year to complete the program, and they can earn 18 continuing education or nursing contact hours once they’ve completed it.
After completing the course, students have to take and pass a written exam, which is graded immediately so that the students know whether or not they have passed. “We’ve got some pretty high rigor with this exam,” Combs states. “Everything on the exam is what was covered in the course modules. It’s an open book exam, but students have to pass it the first time. They only get one opportunity to pass.”
Beyond taking the workshop and passing the exam, the students also have to record themselves teaching on a topic covered in one of the modules. They then submit the video to AHIMA, where a subject-matter expert reviews it based on a rubric that the students receive in advance. “We’re pretty open on what the topic is, but it does have to come from the subject matter within the course. We give each candidate seven to 10 minutes. And we want to be able to see them present in a very clear and concise manner but with the depth of knowledge that we would expect the CDI educator to provide whenever they are training others,” Combs notes. “Once the video is graded according to the rubric, we notify the students if they’ve passed. Once they have completed all of the requirements, they gain recognition as an AHIMA-Approved CDI Trainer.”
If potential candidates do not successfully complete all the requirements, they have the opportunity to retake both the workshop and the test. “But they do have to go through the entire process again,” Combs advises.
Additional Avenues for Accreditation
CDI professionals can be hired as trainers without AHIMA recognition, and other enterprises may offer CDI trainer certifications, including vendors that educate and certify trainers to teach about their specific software. While employers prefer the AHIMA accreditation, it’s not always required. “Many of those who do this workshop and want a higher level of recognition are already in an educational or trainer role and want this accreditation, too,” Combs says.
Benefits of AHIMA Accreditation
The accreditation may or may not result in a higher salary for those who earn it, but there are other benefits of being a trainer in the AHIMA environment. “All of our approved CDI trainers have access to a private networking area. We have a program, Access, where we have different groups. It’s a private group just for CDI trainers and, so, AHIMA-approved CDI trainers can share resources with each other. They also receive access to educational material from AHIMA that they can use, some of which may offer AHIMA continuing education or nursing credits,” Combs explains. “That’s a great resource for them whenever they’re out there training their teams, and then they get to network with their fellow trainers as well.”
Additionally, trainers are invited to AHIMA’s quarterly meetings. “They’re part of our focus groups that we reach out to, once each quarter, just to see how things are going and to share what’s going on in the industry,” Combs says. “They have a pathway to express any issues, concerns, and needs that they have with AHIMA. So, we’ve got that strong communication with all of our trainers as well. Those are great benefits to being an AHIMA-approved trainer. Those resources and access to our experts are invaluable.”
Keeping the Accreditation Current
AHIMA-Approved CDI Trainers must renew their accreditations annually in order to maintain their status. “As long as they stay current with their annual renewal, then trainers needn’t go back through the workshop. To renew, trainers pay for their annual renewal and maintain the prerequisites that were needed prior to the training, such as the CDIP and their AHIMA membership,” Combs says. “As long as everything is in good standing, then the renewal fee is all that is required to maintain that recognition.”
AHIMA also hosts a website that allows users to search for AHIMA-approved trainers, including CDI and other accreditations. “This search engine allows for all of our training programs to be searched. Not only does AHIMA offer the CDI trainer program, but we also have the AHIMA-approved ICD-10-CM/PCS, ICD-10-CM, data analytics, and revenue cycle training programs,” Combs says. “So, if an employer does want their potential employee to have that recognition, or if they have an employee they’d like to gain that accreditation, there is a website they can go to in order to see who a current AHIMA-approved trainer is.”
So, while the path to becoming an AHIMA-Approved CDI Trainer is rigorous, the rewards in terms of AHIMA support, resources, and potential employment opportunities may make the commitment well worth the investment.
— Susan Chapman, MA, MFA, PGYT, is a Los Angeles–based freelance writer and editor.
For More information
• To learn more about becoming an AHIMA-Approved CDI Trainer, visit https://my.ahima.org/store/product?id=66652.
• To explore the process of becoming a Certified Documentation Integrity Practitioner, visit https://ahima.org/certification-careers/certification-exams/cdip/.
• For international candidates who are interested in learning more about becoming an International CDI Specialist, visit https://international.ahima.org/business-solutions/customized-training/.
To find an AHIMA-Approved Trainer, visit the AHIMA Trainer Search website at https://my.ahima.org/certification/trainersearch.
1. Malli-Dawson C. How clinical documentation improvement benefits healthcare organizations. Oxford Global Resources website. https://www.oxfordcorp.com/en-us/insights/blog/how-clinical-documentation-improvement-benefits-healthcare-organizations. Published September 2, 2021.
2. Train the trainer programs. AHIMA website. https://www.ahima.org/education-events/education-by-product/train-the-trainer-programs/
3. Certified Documentation Improvement Practitioner (CDIP). AHIMA website. https://ahima.org/certification-careers/certification-exams/cdip/