A promotion to a “Certified Patient Access Representative,” and a 5% salary increase. Those two events happen immediately after employees obtain their Certified Healthcare Access Associate (CHAA) certification at Greater Baltimore (MD) Medical Center.

“Certification is a way for the staff member to be acknowledged for their body of knowledge in the patient access field,” Patient Access Operations Manager Cherie Patterson, CHAA, CHAM, explains. The next rung on the patient access career ladder is Team Lead; the first requirement is CHAA certification. “Obtaining their CHAA puts them one step ahead on the leadership track,” Patterson says.

Several employees started as a patient access representative and earned their CHAA shortly afterward. They were promoted quickly to Team Lead, and eventually became supervisors. “While supervisory positions don’t come along often, we always strive to promote from within when faced with a Team Lead or supervisor vacancy,” Patterson says.

There is another less tangible benefit: After employees obtain their CHAA, they tend to stay in the department longer. “They are serious about their career in patient access,” Patterson reports.

This means improved retention rates for the department. “Having obtained that certification gives them a sense of pride and confidence,” Patterson explains. To advance on the career ladder at Newport News, VA-based Riverside Health System from Tier I to Tier II, patient access employees must obtain their CHAA within two years of hire.

This requirement is included on the department’s job descriptions. To emphasize its importance, the hospital pays for the exam application fee. “Upon certification, they move into the next tier of the career ladder if they have the experience required,” says Robin Woodward, CHAM, system director of patient access. If the employee hasn’t acquired the necessary experience to move to Tier II, he or she receives a one-time bonus of $500. “This is usually for new hires who have no previous revenue cycle experience,” Woodward explains. Previous work scheduling, coding, billing, or registration are counted as part of the “revenue cycle experience” that’s required in Tier II. If employees move to Tier II, the employee also receives an hourly pay increase, and is responsible to maintain their certification. Should it lapse, the employee reverts to the original tier level and pay grade.

“We have not had that happen,” Woodward reports. “Their leaders also get notification and oversee that the employee maintains their CHAA.” Many different types of patient access employees take the CHAA exam. Some work offsite and only perform scheduling or authorization of benefits duties, while others work at outpatient centers. The CHAA exam is more challenging for these employees. “I find that employees who are not exposed to ER processes, inpatient processes, or who work in scheduling and benefits find it difficult to know each area,” Woodward says.

To help these employees, the department sends them links to flashcards and other resources to study for the exam. “We encourage individuals to have study groups to quiz each other prior to testing,” Woodward says. “This seems to be received very well and many take advantage of this.” After obtaining the CHAA, employees realize how much the patient access role includes. Almost all take a certain action right away after they find out they’ve passed. “Upon certification, nearly every employee will update their email signatures to add the CHAA behind their name,” Woodward notes.