Discover Hidden Treasures in Your Practice

ICD-10-CM is an opportunity for your practice to find new coding gems.

By Koressa Gregory, CPC

Nearly every white paper and article written about ICD-10-CM preparedness suggests increasing coding staff. But not every practice—particularly a small practice—can afford to hire seasoned coders. To complicate matters, nationally there are not enough experienced coders to meet the demand. Almost any practice (particularly a growing practice) might do better to look for potential coding “gems” and to create a positive work environment that encourages career advancement.

Passionate “Newbies” are Gems in the Making

My coding career began in at the University of Texas Health Science Center (UTHealth). I later transitioned into the U.S. Department of Defense world of coding at Nellis Air Force Base with Science Applications International Corporation. Now, I am back at UTHealth as manager of revenue cycle for the Department of Surgery. In my 27-year coding career, I have successfully recruited and employed several “newbies.” Some were newly certified with no previous job history, and some had minimal experience, but were not certified. In all cases, these individuals excelled beyond my expectations and are now highly respected certified coders.

Find a Diamond in the Rough

The best way to find a “diamond in the rough” is to look for someone eager and hungry to learn. Think back to when you were a new coder. Remember how excited and passionate you were about coding, and how you aspired to someday become a coding guru?

What you needed more than anything else was for someone to give you an opportunity to get your foot in the door. Now that you’ve succeeded, it’s your turn to open doors.

For example, consider my most recent new hire: She came to me seeking a summer internship in hopes of gaining on-the-job experience. She was a Certified Professional Coder–Apprentice (CPC-A®) who had just completed a local community college course in coding. I sensed her capabilities—her hunger and passion for coding—from the moment we met.

In her previous life, this CPC-A® was a court reporter and had decided to switch to a coding career. It may seem like the two professions are unrelated, but I found a common thread between the two:

Court reporters sit quietly, never show emotion, intently listen, and capture words that could be the catalyst for a life or death decision made by a jury.

Coders sit quietly for hours on end, intently review medical documentation, accurately assign ICD-9-CM and CPT® codes, and assess coding that could be the catalyst for a case of fraud and abuse.

I knew I had discovered a potential gem. I did not bring the CPC-A® on as a summer intern; I hired her as a full-time coder.

Polish Your Newfound Gem

I invested time and provided a positive work environment for the CPC-A® to grow her skills. I knew it would be a challenge for her and the coder I paired her with to get her up to speed, but both embraced it. The CPC-A® learned our system eagerly; and I’m happy (and yet ashamed) to say, she taught us all a thing or two. It’s easy to become complacent when you’ve been doing something for a long time, but our newbie was on top of the latest coding guidelines, and she served as “new blood” to revitalize our own coding.

Foster Fresh Coding Perspectives

New blood can also bring fresh ideas and perspectives to old problems, and new enthusiasm can be infectious. Naiveté is a treasure to coding because newbies are not afraid to ask, “Why do you do it this way?” This innocent question forces the seasoned coder to think back to his or her roots and say, “That’s a good point. Why do we do it this way?” This prompts a productive coding conversation.

New coders also have no bad habits to break, only good habits to learn. You don’t have to un-train them on the paradigms they’ve put in place somewhere else. And when it comes to ICD-10-CM, in many ways newbies have an advantage over seasoned coders.

Unlock the True Potential

You may argue that the cost of hiring someone with no experience is prohibitive, but I hope I’ve given you reason to reconsider, and to start looking for new coding gems to enhance your coding team and to conquer the hurdles of ICD-10-CM. There are many diamonds in the rough with a CPC-A® waiting to be discovered. Recognize their potential, foster growth, and let them shine.

 

Koressa Gregory, CPC, has more than 27 years experience as a coder, auditor, and revenue manager. She is a manager in the Revenue Cycle for the Department of Surgery at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston, Texas. She is a member of the Pearland local chapter.

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