By Angela Lima, BS, CCS, CDIP, COC, CIC, AAPC-Approved Instructor

As a Coding Manager or Director, you are probably aware of the increased difficulty you face in hiring skilled and capable coders. While we look forward to research on the deeper dynamics causing this to occur, anecdotal information points to the disruptive effect of COVID on the healthcare industry.

Between furloughing outpatient coders at the beginning of the pandemic who now choose not to return to the work force, increasing competition for coding staff from other organizations, and vaccine mandates creating additional staffing shortages, it is difficult terrain to navigate.

The market for coders is very different now than it was pre-COVID. Skilled and capable coders are in high demand. Companies that offer coders to the industry are scooping up the best and brightest and offering them top dollar to leave their in-house job for the exciting world of consulting.

What does one do when faced with a shortage of coders? What happens when you don’t have the staff you need to do the work that needs to be done?

Here are a couple suggestions:

– Face the fact that the wage rates for coders has changed. Coders have options. They can continue to do the work they love and get paid better. If you are an organization unwilling to match wage offers you may lose staff to others.

– Look at your benefits package and consider ways to increase the value of the position beyond the wages. Do you pay for CEU opportunities to support your coders’ credentials? Can you help your staff to reach their professional goals even if it means moving to a non-coding position where their coding skills would be valuable, such as auditing or CDI?

– Invest in your team. By cross-training your staff you increase their value to your organization, show your commitment to their success, and end up with a team that can handle whatever is in the queue that day. Cross-training also pays benefits in creating a culture of sharing and trust among your skilled coding staff.

– Go ahead and hire those new grads for their energy and great attitude but know that you will spend time, energy and training dollars to help them develop into the employees you need.

– It is not just the newbies that need to up-skill. Codes change yearly. Medicine and surgery are always improving. How we deliver health care services changes. Ensure your coding team has the training and resources they need to be effective.

HIM had a preview of the Great Resignation in the run up to ICD-10 when it was feared coders would retire rather than learn the new coding systems. It might be a good idea to brush off those ICD-10 implementation plans and look for ways to engage your staff, improve their skills, and compete more effectively for the workers you need to retain or hire.


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