New Year, New Me… A New Year’s Coding Resolution

Tune in to this monthly online coding column, facilitated by AHIMA’s coding experts, to learn about challenging areas and documentation opportunities for ICD-10-CM/PCS.

This is your year to be the best coder that you can be. You are going to master ICD-10-CM and PCS coding! No shortcuts, no quick fixes, no depending on the encoder. Just like with weight loss and our other favorite resolutions. Nothing works but work. Maybe you are new to coding, or looking to get started. How exactly are you going to master coding? Or maybe you’re already experienced, or even a master coder. Trust me, there is always room for improvement, even when we might not recognize the opportunity right away. Whatever the circumstances, this is your year!

Review Coding Guidelines Regularly

Let’s start with the coding guidelines. It’s important to read these at least once a year. Coding guidelines are updated every year. Some years there are more changes than others, but it is always a good idea to read the most recent version. You never know what you have forgotten or the changes of which you might not be aware. There are so many times that I have ended a coding debate just by pointing someone to the guidelines.

Don’t Forget about Coding Clinic

Quarterly Coding Clinic updates—read these, too. Some of you are fortunate to work for an organization that presents the updates to you quarterly, and some of you might even get CEUs for your participation. For those that are not so lucky, it’s still important to read them on your own. I know we all love CEUs, but in the end they aren’t the main reason for keeping up with this info—the knowledge attained is the real prize. It is a good idea to check Coding Clinic whenever you are coding. Whether you have been coding for 20 years or five months, there is no way that you have read AND memorized every Coding Clinic since its inception in 1984. Organizations across the country are concerned with productivity, but I would be willing to bet that they are even more concerned with denials. Quality over quantity!

YouTube: Not Just for Cat Videos

Become very familiar with YouTube—it’s not just for cute cat videos and other video-based entertainment, I promise. There are some great surgical and informational videos mixed in with all of the craziness. How many times have you read a surgical report and not fully understood it? To top it off, you have to craft a PCS code to represent the procedure performed. The surgical videos will help you to understand the procedure better, which, in turn, will help you to understand the operative report better.

Take Advantage of Educational Opportunities

Use your resources. Some organizations provide free educational opportunities. Take advantage of it. I can remember a time when we gathered as a group and listened to audio seminars in a conference room together. Nowadays, most coding professionals work remotely and have multi-tasking syndrome. If your organization provides you the opportunity to listen to webinars, be present (mentally) and absorb as much information as you can. Speaking of resources, some organizations have stopped purchasing code books. If your organization is no longer providing code books, take advantage of the free resources on the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services website. I am a firm believer that every inpatient coder should have 2018 Tables and Index downloaded on their computer. It is a quick and easy way to access the body part key, device key, etc.

Take Intiative

Stop depending on others to provide you with education. Some organizations have awesome education programs in place; some not so much. Either way, your education and skill level are your responsibility. Seek education from reputable sources. Sign up for newsletters, read Journal of AHIMA, find free webinars; do what you can to remain current. And don’t hoard the information that you find, take the lead and share it with your supervisor for distribution to your coworkers.

Challenge Yourself

Lastly, challenge yourself. Coding professionals can get burnt out over time. It often feels like a thankless job. When the discharged not final billed (DNFB) is low, you better believe that a high DNFB period is right around the corner. The work is never-ending. If you code 28 accounts today, there will be 28 more waiting on you tomorrow. If you feel like you are in a rut, seek out new opportunities. Ask you supervisor if there is an opportunity to move to a new patient type, work on a special project, etc.

Happy coding!


Elena Miller is the director of coding audit and education at a healthcare system.

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