Invest in Ongoing Coder Education to Reap Long-Term Rewards
Hospitals that don’t have access to coder training can build a strong education program by gradually training current coders.
Question: Our inpatient medical record coding team still struggles with certain diagnoses and procedures in ICD-10. Also, many of our in-house staff are newly certified, and proficiency deficits exist. What options do we have to build knowledge across our team? And how do we justify the investment?
Answer: Ongoing coder education is essential for accurate and complete ICD-10 coding. This is especially true for known areas of coding complexity or when promoting coders to cover new case types. Extended training and education are also indicated when coders are new to the profession or the organization. The good news is that you have several options to consider.
Ongoing Coder Education Programs
Coder education programs are a long-term investment, not a short-term fix. While the initial costs are steep, the ongoing value is significant for the coding team and the entire organization. Effective coder education programs boost coding accuracy, prevent payer denials, increase case mix, and ensure accurate data for value-based payment.
The most common types of ongoing education include the following three options:
- Train your own coders through purchased programs, courses, and tools.
- Move coders up the career ladder by steadily increasing the complexity of case assignments and record types.
- Partner with outside coding education consultants to launch and manage your training program.
Hospitals and health systems that lack proximity to a community college often experience coder proficiency gaps. These institutions are prime candidates for building a strong coder education program through coder advancement—gradually moving current coders into new roles with added responsibilities.
For example, an employee already coding diagnostic cases could be trained to process emergency department (ED) or same-day-surgery (SDS) encounters. Likewise, ED or SDS coders are optimal candidates to fill inpatient coding roles. Ongoing education and focused time to practice on new patient types are essential for these coders to successfully move up the career, salary, and case complexity ladder.
8 Tips for Effective Coder Education
Investing in current coders builds stronger coding teams, increases coder loyalty, and reduces staff turnover in the revenue cycle. Education is a win-win for employees and organizations. Here are eight practical tips to move current staff into new coding roles:
- Purchase coursework and materials.
- Hire a trainer or training consultant to oversee the program.
- Combine online courses with face-to-face education.
- Give employees enough time and space for training—more than a few hours.
- Use an outsourced coding vendor during training to cover day-to-day production needs.
- Incorporate the organization’s own records for hands-on experience.
- Meet with coders weekly to identify challenges and keep training on track.
- Provide an open forum for questions.
Benefits of Coder Education
Ongoing coder education programs cost time and money. But the long-term advantages are widely recognized by revenue cycle executives and senior leadership.
Enterprisewide coding support. Coders become more knowledgeable and are better able to support the entire organization. This includes expansion of coding services to physician practices and other ambulatory settings as organizations assume greater risk and transition to value-based payment.
Fewer denials and rejections. More accurate medical record coding reduces the volume of denials and payer recoupments. Decreasing the number of coding errors also improves compliance and reduces the chance of focused audits by regulatory bodies.
Platform for quality-based programs. Quality data reporting originates from medical record codes. By improving the accuracy of ICD-10 and other codes, organizations build a platform for success and demonstrate proactive readiness for the shift to value-based payment.
Nena Scott, MSEd, RHIA, CCS, CCS-P, CCDS, is director of coding quality and professional development, TrustHCS.