Looking for Coders? Time to Grow Your Own!

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

What a difference a year makes. While last year saw furloughs and even layoffs of skilled coding staff, hospitals and outsource coding service providers are now searching far and wide to find and hire staff to fill the demand for inpatient and outpatient coding positions.

While the stories may be anecdotal, they are heard consistently across the country. The disruption of COVID sent many coders scrambling into early retirement or seeking a new profession entirely. And word is: they are not coming back.

So how can you find the staff you need for the work that needs to be done? Time to grow your own!

Whether cross-training existing coding staff to flex in response to changing needs, or training a new and enthusiastic recent grad, investment in your staff’s skill level will return value in terms of confidence in their ability to handle the types and complexity of cases assigned to them.

Training and upskilling can take many shapes. Consider the following:

  • Yearly Coding Changes – Educate your coders on the yearly code changes before the changes are implemented.
  • Cross-training – Build a team of coders who can effectively code all settings and service lines. Evaluate the skill set of each coder and identify focused areas for education. Develop a plan of attack and set a timeline with performance metrics. Plan accordingly for a decrease in production while the coder works to master their new skill.
  • Credential Maintenance and Continuing Education – Support your staff in their efforts to increase their skills and knowledge. Provide education to your team and offer CEUs to support their credentials.
  • Changes to Medical Technology – Each year new procedures are approved and coders must be trained to code these new procedures. Do not expect them to learn on the fly, or worse, to guess. Include the new procedure in your audit rotation until your coders have achieved consistent and correct code assignment.
  • Post-audit Education – All best laid plans fail without proper follow-up; robust and targeted post-audit education ensures the audit process results in better coding quality. Be diligent. Encourage a relationship between your auditors and your educators. Internal audits are not about finding errors and pointing fingers. They are about learning where improvement can be made for the sake of the whole organization.
  • Budget for Education – When budgets are tight, education is often the first item cut. But is education truly a luxury? If you don’t offer training and education on critical coding challenges, how will you avoid lower coder productivity, indefensible or just incomplete coding of complex records, and ultimately inaccurate reimbursement? If you are depending on your coders to get it right, you need to give them the training they need to keep up with the changes.

Whatever your workforce situation and the challenges you face, you and your organization will be more successful with a well-trained, up-to-date, and skilled coding workforce.

Give your coders the training and the resources they need to get to the right answer faster! 

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About the Author

Angela Lima
Angela Lima applies a hands-on approach to her role as the Director of Education for Libman Education. Whether overseeing the work of subject matter experts including nationally recognized coding authorities; challenging instructional designers to deliver content in a way that is both engaging and memorable; or tapping her 25 years’ experience in inpatient, outpatient, and emergency room coding to write coder-friendly courses herself, Angela is responsible for ensuring that our training is accurate, easily accessible, and challenging.

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