“Our need will be the real creator.” —Plato
Traditionally, coding professionals have been sectioned off into specialties and subspecialties that made up the majority of their career paths, especially in larger institutions. This division allowed coding professionals to become focused experts at the many and varied types of coding, from inpatient admissions to outpatient same-day surgical encounters, to diagnostic testing, and everything in between. For fully staffed and stable healthcare institutions, this was the standard of the day and functioned smoothly and predictably for many years.
In the contemporary health information management (HIM) environment, “smooth” and “predictable” are terms that HIM professionals, along with the rest of healthcare, have “resolved” from their respective problem lists. The one-at-a-time, specialized approach had a hand in exacerbating coding labor shortages and turnovers triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic. While the layout of many coding departments continues in this vein, others are taking the opportunity to expand coding professionals’ skills to allow for a more fluid approach to the needs of the department.
In a typical scenario, coding professionals with one specialty receive additional “light training” to be able to take on individual projects or assist with backlogs that require different types of coding knowledge, but not full cross-training. This approach enables coding professionals with one specialty to receive limited training to assist with the expected-unexpected: backlogs, extended illnesses, or participation in projects that require coding knowledge but are not directly coding related. Staff with this type of strike-force training can also be helpful as HIM departments become increasingly tasked to shepherd more aspects of the revenue cycle as it pertains to coding.
Another avenue to explore is the recruitment of new coding professionals with previous employment in other facets of the revenue cycle. Added to a coding education, the stage is set for the creation of a coding professional who can think about medical necessity, denial prevention, and billing implications of an encounter or admission as they are coding. Paired with the willingness to research and learn that are the hallmarks of a successful coding professional, any additional expertise in the intricacies of the revenue cycle is a potent recipe to produce quality coding and minimize or prevent denials.
In an article published in Scientific American titled “The Power of Flexible Thinking,” Leonard Mlodinow discussed his book Elastic, which deals with the neuroscience of creative thinking. He asserts that “logical thought can determine how to drive from your home to the grocery store most efficiently, but it’s elastic thought that gave us the automobile.”
Coding professionals can use the concepts of flexibility and creative thinking to expand their skill sets. This flexibility ultimately leads to stability, as it provides coding departments with employees who form the eye of the storm amid the maelstrom of today’s work environment.
Indira M. Mumaw (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the manager of inpatient coding services at Tower Health in Reading, PA.
Check out the AHIMA webinar on the future of medical coding.