Work of a Coder: Survey Tells Us Who We Are

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Ask five medical coders to describe their work day, and you are likely to get five very different answers. Ask each coder what they do, and you'll find that each wears many different hats. Work responsibilities for medical coders varies considerably. Some managing the entire business for a single practitioner in a rural locale. Others may bill radiology for eight hours a day in a large metropolitan clinic. Medical coders work in information technology (IT) environments ranging from totally automated systems, using electronic medical records equipped with computer assisted coding, to practices that have never filed a single electronic claim.

AAPC serves more than 168024 member coders, 119106 of whom are certified professionals. To better meet member needs, AAPC seeks to more fully understand coder workplace responsibilities.

In January 2008, AAPC invited medical coders to participate in a survey on the work they do. Medical coders were informed of the survey through email invitation, AAPC's website, and through press releases distributed to numerous publications with medical coders as readers.

The online survey was open to responses for six weeks. 12,068 respondents participated in the survey, of which, 93.5 percent were professional coders certified through AAPC. The survey collected demographic information, including details about their work environment and professional credentials. Also included were 40 questions specific to work and working relationships. Completing the additional survey questions were 8,975 coders, or 74.4 percent of participants.

The survey revealed that the largest body of AAPC members consists of physician coders employed in clinical practices. Even so, AAPC recognizes that a significant number of its members are coders who are not employed within clinical practices, and that their workday responsibilities were not addressed in The Work of a Coder. Future AAPC sponsored surveys will address their markets more specifically.

What follows is a quantifiable snapshot of the workplace and workday of medical coders in clinical environments. With this data in hand, AAPC is able to assess how the expertise of medical coders is being leveraged in the workplace, and make observations regarding improvements that could be implemented to improve practice management, resource allocations, and coding education ( CPT, ICD-9, ICD-10, HCPCS Level II).

As a result of the survey responses, AAPC has a far better understanding of the challenges encountered by coders, and will to continue to issue surveys for healthcare professionals to weigh in on important issues in their medical workplace.