Market Yourself for a Coding-at-Home Career
When physicians have a bad coder experience, it’s hard to build trust.
By Michelle A. Dick
Lisa A. Rathgeb, CPC, recently wrote to Coding Edge:
There was a lot to learn when it came time to establish myself as a business owner for others to take me serious. There are companies out there that ask certain requirements of you before they can hire you as a contractor.
I was looking on the AAPC forum last night and there were several discussions regarding physicians who have hired outside help with agencies and had really bad experiences. With agencies such as those out in the coding world, it makes it harder for individuals like me to go out and get accounts. Any suggestions on how to overcome that and to obtain physician accounts would be a great thing to know.
Overcome Other’s Mistakes
When a physician has a bad experience with a coding agency or past work-at-home employee, it can put a damper on your credibility when seeking their employment or contract work. The key to overcoming this obstacle according to Melody S. Irvine, CPC, CEMC, CPC-I, CCS-P, CPMA, CMRS, owner of Career Coders, LLC, is experience, building trust, and networking. Irvine explains, “Because the physicians know me and trust me, I am not a risk to them.”
You can’t undo other coder’s and biller’s past coding mistakes, but you can learn from them. Janet Dunkerley, CPC, CPC-I, CMC, senior medical consultant for Quadramed, Inc., suggests focusing on the following areas to help you appeal to jaded potential clients and get your foot in the door to a coding-at-home position:
Get certified by the AAPC. The AAPC is the largest coding organization in the United States, which automatically puts a large network of people at your disposal.
Focus on work ethics, AAPC ethics. Show great attention to detail and make the client feel special. Feature these qualities when being interviewed.
Offer an easy-out trial run. Set a time parameter for you to achieve the client’s desired results. If he or she isn’t satisfied with your performance at the trial’s end, you can part ways with no hard feelings.
Gain Experience. The problem with some agencies is that they do not hire experienced, credentialed coders. Many inexperienced coders do not understand coding concepts and basically are performing data input. Set yourself apart from them. You may have to get experience working in an office before you have the option to work from home.
Work around your client’s schedule. One problem coders have working from home is that they work around their own schedules, not the client’s. Have standardized business hours. One of the common reasons for a bad hire is that when there is a problem, the client can’t get a hold of the person in charge of the account. That’s a big turn off.
Offer additional free services if they sign on with you. Perhaps a free mini chart audit or a free look over their managed care contracts would entice physicians or clients. It’s always nice to get something extra for nothing and everyone is looking for more value for their money in this tight economy.
Remember, you have to pay your dues before you can be taken seriously and trusted. Irvine’s recommendation to people looking for coding-at-home work from a physician is, “Don’t expect to get into this field until you have proven yourself. Go to work for the physician in the office. After an ample amount of time, then approach the physician or office manager about working from home. You need to sell yourself.” Speaking from 30 years of experience working for physicians, Irvine “would never hire someone to work from their home unless [she] knew all about them, their work ethics, etc.”
Ensure Trust to Clients
Keep in mind, “The potential employer is putting their trust in your work performance for their reimbursement,” said Cheryl Lobaugh, RN, CPC, CCS-P, who has been an at-home independent contractor for 10 years. Marketing yourself isn’t easy, but with hard work you can master it. Lobaugh created a list of questions to help determine your marketability. She said, “If you can answer ‘Yes!’ to the following questions, then you are marketable:”
Does your resume reflect work experience, education, certification(s), and assets that a potential employer needs?
Can you identify the concerns of the potential employer and provide solutions, suggestions, and recommendations?
Do you know about the specialty(s) you want to code? Their coding rules? Special modifiers? State and payer requirements?
Do you have a business plan? Know what you are worth? Know how much you can do per hour, per day, per week?
Can you work independently, meet deadlines, and go the extra mile should additional duties be requested? Have good work ethics?
Do you seek out educational opportunities, attend seminars, and keep up with the changes in the coding profession?
Do you interview with a professional appearance (no pajamas, slippers, or cup of coffee in hand), and convey confidence in your knowledge and business plan?
Can you work with the potential employer’s current staff?
Putting yourself in the potential client’s shoes is a great way to see where your areas of weakness are in regards to marketing yourself. Dunkerley said, “Think of the questions you would ask if you were looking for an outside agency to handle your coding needs, and have those answers ready, as well as good professional references.” Presentation is important. “Have a detailed portfolio of the services you offer to present to them, as well as a brochure and business card to leave with them.” Dunkerley said.
Seeking Coding-at-Home Work
The best way to find coding-at-home employment or contract work for your business is through word of mouth. Dunkerley suggests seeking out home-based coding work in your area by networking with other coders in the field. “Look to your local chapters and other medical organizations,” said Dunkerley. “They are typically in the know when it comes to practices looking for people to fill a job and can point you in the right direction or give you a direct lead, and possibly a reference.”
Lobaugh agrees that networking is the best way to find clients and coding-at-home work. Here is Lobaugh’s list of networking ideas:
Talk to colleagues who are currently working in the specialty for which you want to code.. Gather information about what is happening within the specialty.
Attend local chapter meetings. (This can’t be reiterated enough!) Talk to the other attendees, establish a relationship, and gather information.
Attend professional coding seminars and talk to those who attend. Always have your resume current and ready for presentation.
Post your resume online with a professional coding
Talk to established billing companies who advertise in professional publications. They may be willing to hire you to work at home. This is a great way to get work experience and establish a work history.
Don’t Rely on a “Magic List”
As far as Coding Edge research goes, there isn’t an easy-to-find public list of new physicians who join a solo practice or who recently took their state exam that you can solicit coding services to. You’ll need to do the legwork to find potential clients. “You could check with the state examiner’s office,” Dunkerley said, “but I don’t think they’d be too keen on giving out a list of newly boarded physicians.”
Rather than look for a list of newbie physicians to solicit your services, Lobaugh advises, “If you want to code for MD offices, most have an office manager who would be the first point of contact.” She added, “Networking within the specialty you want to code for, I believe, is the best way to get access to a potential client.”
Irvine’s suggestion for finding new physicians who may need your coding services is to “contact teaching hospitals and talk to their residents.” She notes, “This is not an easy task.”
Dunkerley’s suggestion involves a bit of legwork, as well. She said, “The first place I would start is at local medical colleges as they have new graduates that may take the plunge and start a new practice. Many medical students form friendships and they may jointly venture into a practice on their own instead of joining an existing group.”
Another good place to find new physicians in your local area is through newspaper, television, and local website advertisements. Dunkerley said, “When a new physician comes to town, they have to advertise to get patients into their doors—so perhaps, a call to the new practice on the block is in order.” Once you have a place you’d like to code for, set up an appointment with the physician or office manager.
Build a Reputation of Excellence
Coding at home is a professional business that must be taken seriously. Lobaugh summed up the importance of your professional actions best when she said, “The effect that you have on a potential client’s reimbursement can be enormous—they are putting a lot of trust in you and your expertise.” She added, “The reputation you develop will be the force behind a successful coding at home business or failure. Don’t be one of your physician or client’s bad experiences.”
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