Coding Books: A Coding Necessity

By Michelle A. Dick, senior editor
A day doesn’t go by without receiving emails and phone calls from coding resource vendors. Juggling what sales representatives say you need to code effectively and what you can actually afford is maddening. When shopping for resources, remember medical coding books and software should streamline a compliant coding process and help you achieve your professional goals—not put you in the poor house.

The Bare Necessities

Don’t scrimp on a current set of code books. An essential component in coding is using trusted current medical coding resources for an accurate health information exchange. There is no longer a grace period for annual code sets. Providers are required by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Transactions and Code Set Standards to use valid national medical code sets at the time of service.
Annually, ICD-9-CM code revisions are effective Oct. 1 and CPT® and HCPCS Level II code revisions are effective Jan. 1. Because there isn’t a grace period, you must use the new CPT®, HCPCS Level II, and ICD-9-CM codes beginning on the implementation dates. The best way to ensure you are ready is to order early.
Most publishers can deliver ICD-9-CM books well before the deadline. The AMA Press publishes CPT® books in November. Resellers begin shipping a couple of weeks later. HCPCS Level II books just barely make the Jan. 1 deadline because of November’s data release by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).

Don’t Forget the Bells and Whistles

In addition to your CPT®, ICD-9-CM, and HCPCS Level II books, you may purchase specialized resource books such as urology, orthopedics, and cardiology. These are useful for specialty offices and specialty provider billers, and they are generally less expensive than essential coding books. Also consider lay description books published by Contexo and Ingenix, books focusing on specific code set elements, and Medicare rule books published by AMA Press.

Offers You Can’t Refuse

Some professional organizations, like AAPC, offer high-quality books for less. Other vendors may offer AAPC members a discount or better rates on bulk orders or particular book editions or software. If not, you may want to do business elsewhere. You’ll find that most vendors will negotiate on price.
Look for freebies. Many times with online purchases you’re invited to subscribe to a free coding news update list or coding forum. Some companies offer incentives, such as free t-shirts, coding software, or quick reference cards.

Print Options for Speedy Code Look-ups

Choose books with high-quality paper, so you don’t damage the pages when you make notes or highlight information. Also pay attention to type size. Small type can turn a quick code look-up into a time-consuming task. If you need to squint to read the code descriptions, choose a book with larger type. Code look-up efficiency is determined by a comfortable type size for your eyes. Spiral or coil binding is your best bet for allowing the book to lay flat while open. Perfect bound books can wear easily with repeated use. When the adhesive used to bind a perfect bound book gets worn, pages fall out. Check for ease of navigation as well. Color tabs and dictionary-style “running heads” can help you find codes easily. Lastly, illustrations can help visually orient you to a section.

Pay Attention to Shipping Deadlines

Can a vendor guarantee your books by a certain date? If not, see what the policy is for late shipments. Companies sometimes offer price breaks on shipping when purchases increase. Ask if they offer other necessary items for purchase to receive discounts on shipping charges.

Not Satisfied? Send it Back

  • Who you buy from makes a difference when a problem arises. Find out the company’s return policy and ask these questions before purchasing:
  • Do I have a good relationship with the reseller
  • or publisher?
  • Can I get a refund if I open the shrink wrap
  • and I don’t want it?
  • Is there a trial version of coding software?
  • Is this a reversible purchase?

A positive experience with your coding resource supplier is essential. Be wary of fly-by-night vendors; and shop around to get the most bang for your buck. After all, if you aren’t satisfied with your product, you’re stuck with it until next year’s coding resource purchases.
For more information about coding books, see July’s issue of Coding Edge.
Michelle Dick is a senior editor of Coding Edge

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