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The access staff at St. John’s Medical Center in Tulsa, OK, were so committed to taking the new certified healthcare access associate (CHAA) exam, says NAHAM regional delegate Jeanice Van Liew, CHAM, that "if they didn’t have the money, they were charging it on their credit cards."
Their manager at the time was so dedicated to having her staff pass the test, Van Liew adds, that she took out her study guide for the National Association for Healthcare Access Management’s certification program for managers and made up a sample exam to help them prepare. "They had study groups, they had time set aside to study, and they came from all over," she says. "Some registered patients in radiology, some worked in bed control, and some were regular admissions people."
Seventeen of the 21 St. John’s staff members that took the exam when NAHAM piloted it in fall of 1999 passed the first time, and the rest were successful on a second try, Van Liew notes. As new access employees are hired, they are applying to take the test, she adds, and the process is still generating a sense of excitement.
The hospital’s administration — which has tied passing the exam to a $1 per hour increase in pay — continues to support the effort, Van Liew says. "That is absolutely key. It makes the staff feel like the administration knows they are important. They all feel a sense of, I do know how to do my job, I’m doing it well, and I have the certification to prove it.’"
Other hospitals are following suit, and the interest in the exam appears to be intensifying, says Van Liew, who represents the central states region for NAHAM and was temporarily covering the Midwest region. "It’s gotten so much interest I’ve had to put another book together to keep track."
Van Liew, a former access manager who now works for Cerner Corp. in Kansas City, KS, spends many of her weekends traveling to different facilities to serve as proctor for the exam, she notes. So does Maxine Wilson, CHAM, the southeast region’s NAHAM delegate and director of customer service for physician services at Methodist Medical Center in Oak Ridge, TN. Although the organization’s official count was that just under 400 people had passed the exam as of late April, both Van Liew and Wilson said that figure was changing weekly and exponentially.
"The Baptist Health System, which has several facilities in several states, is going to certify 300 people," Wilson says. "It will be a requirement, and [the health system] will give [access personnel] 18 months to do it." Among other organizations promoting the exam for their access employees are Baycare Health System, Clearwater, FL, and Knighton Health System in Shreveport, LA, she adds.
Virtually every hospital and health system that is promoting the CHAA certification "is either paying for the exam or offering an increase in salary for passing," Van Liew says. "Some are doing both. Several are in the process of re-creating their job descriptions. For example, [registrars] will come in at the entry level, and after being there so long, are expected to take the exam. If they pass, they get their increase. Each facility is doing it a little bit differently."
Taking the exam "is having a tremendous effect on staff," Wilson adds. "It’s a great morale booster."
It costs $75 to take the CHAA exam, Wilson says, which includes a study guide — it now comes with a sample exam — and the opportunity for one "retake" if the applicant fails the first time. The format is 100 multiple-choice questions covering admissions, registration, billing, insurance, customer service, laws and regulations, continuous quality improvement, medical terminology, Health Care Financing Administration regulations and compliance, and Joint Commission issues, among other subjects, she adds.
As NAHAM moves forward with the next edition of the test, points out Nancy Farrington, MBA, CHAM, president-elect of the organization, more questions on the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 will be included. "We will continue to look for ways to continue to improve the program and the process," she adds.
The exam for the CHAM (certified healthcare access manager) credential costs $150, Farrington notes, with a study guide available for $50. The exam has four sections, she adds, and applicants who fail a part of the test may retake just that portion.
[Editor’s note: For more information on the CHAM and CHAA certifications offered by NAHAM, visit the organization’s web site at www.naham.org, or call the national office at (202) 367-1173.]