Despite Change, the Future of Coding is Bright

When change hits an industry, a change in the skill set needed to do the job correctly and efficiently comes with it. Lou Ann Wiedemann, MS, RHIA, CDIP, CHDA, CPEHR, FAHIMA, the presenter of the session “Future of Coding” at the Clinical Coding Meeting, acknowledged the talents of the more than 350 coding professionals in attendance at Saturday’s session. She reminded them that “the knowledge they have is a very special quality and each of them should be proud of their accomplishments.” Yes, change is coming to coding—and in a big way—with ICD-10. But Wiedemann recharged the audience by identifying how far the profession has come in the last 20 years, and set the stage for a bright future in coding.

With the implementation of ICD-10 upon us in less than 72 hours, health information professionals are wondering what’s next for our coders. Prior to 1977, only diagnoses were coded. That year, procedure coding was introduced. In 1979, the United States adopted ICD-9-CM. By 1983, the DRG system had been created. We now fast forward to October 1, 2015, to the day that ICD-9-CM will be replaced by ICD-10-CM/PCS. Over the past 40 years, the role of coders has evolved. But some things don’t change.

A successful coding professional will continue to:

  • Be thorough
  • Pay specific attention to details
  • Search for information within the medical record
  • Analyze, sequence, and compile data
  • Perform statistical analysis
  • Know the process of auditing information
  • Navigate electronic health record systems


Moving forward, the coding professional will need additional skills relating to the evaluation of information, editing that information for completeness, understanding data capture methods, and knowing the source of truth for the assigned code. AHIMA prides itself on the thought that coders who carry AHIMA credentials demonstrate an elevated knowledge and skill set employers depend upon, Wiedemann said. So, how does one develop these additional skills for this upcoming change in the profession?

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the HIM profession will increase 22 percent from 2012 to 2022. Healthcare employers will continue to recognize industry professionals who have the skills to see the entire healthcare process and hold clinical and reimbursement knowledge. Challenges will include the evolution of what were considered traditional HIM roles. In the future, the need for individuals with analytical skills and informatics and clinical knowledge will continue to grow. These challenges have been amplified to include a greater need for data quality with increased usage of secondary data.

In 2014, AHIMA started planning for the future of the coding profession. There were coding focus groups, conversations with members, and thorough market research. In addition, the association went through all the feedback from past products and meetings. AHIMA found an overwhelming theme—AHIMA members wanted and needed customized training that the coder could obtain immediately. There was a huge outcry for multiple delivery options, Wiedemann said. “Front-line coders aren’t allowed to travel. Do you all agree?” Wiedemann asked and was greeted with an enthusiastic “YES!” from the audience, which solidified the need for more online and virtual offerings. Some learners wanted hands-on learning with face-to-face meetings, while others wanted more webinar options, and many requested that AHIMA offer a virtual aspect to live meetings.

The findings of AHIMA’s planning efforts suggested that more training for other health settings was of great importance as statistics show the industry has seen a 15 percent decrease in inpatient admissions, with a 20 percent increase in outpatient volume. Also, with the varying levels of learning, the request for more educational products ranged from basic to advanced and everything in between.

The conclusion made by AHIMA, explains Wiedemann, was that “AHIMA needed to be more nimble and be able to provide quality ‘Gold Standard’ content quickly.” That’s what the association has done. AHIMA team members have worked on developing service lines that address the educational needs of the membership. Out of these creative sessions, the team came up with some requested products. For years, AHIMA members have been asking for AHIMA to assist them with coding questions. As a result, Wiedemann announced the creation of Code-CheckTM at the meeting. This new subscription product will assist coding professionals or their managers with tough questions pertaining to ICD-10-CM, ICD-10-PCS, CPT, or HCPCS.

In closing, Wiedemann reassured the crowd by saying, “AHIMA has a plan for coding professionals. We want to provide you with the tools you need to be a presence in the industry. There is no better time than now to be a coding professional.”

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