Attributes of the Exceptional Healthcare Coder

Whether they're providing preventive care or rushing a patient into emergency surgery, healthcare providers are focused on one thing: ensuring the best possible outcome for each patient.

Healthcare administrators share that goal. Administrators also know that the bottom line needs the best possible outcome as well.

One of the most effective means of keeping the bottom line in great shape is ensuring that the revenue cycle moves smoothly through its rotations. Provide the service, bill the payor, receive reimbursement. Repeat.

The demand for exceptional healthcare coders is growing exponentially. The field is expected to grow by 21 percent between now and 2020.* Coders are essential to patient safety, a healthy revenue cycle, and efficient operations.

We may be biased, but we fully believe that coders are among the most vital players in maintaining that revenue cycle in effective motion. Submitting detailed, accurate, and complete reimbursement requests saves time and money, not to mention headaches.

How do you know you have the best people in the coding role? Axea Solutions recently completed a small survey of uber coders - they were all identified as truly outstanding in their field. Let's look at some of the insights we gained.

Coder Survey Insights

The coders we surveyed had varying educational backgrounds. One had simply a certificate, while others had associate's and bachelor's degrees. They were unanimous, however, in their ongoing pursuit of knowledge. Journal reading was a daily requirement, and watching webinars, professional networking, and taking advantage of continuing education opportunities were frequent activities.

Interestingly, most of the respondents mentioned science and math as their favorite high school subjects. And many specifically indicated that the medical knowledge they gained on the job was both rewarding and interesting. A predisposition to enjoying medical- and health-related topics may lead to more tenacity in getting to the right code, as well as to greater job satisfaction for these super coders.

Key Coder Attributes

When asked to rank the relative significance of several attributes useful in coding, every single person indicated "attention to detail" as being the most important. Runners-up were "sound decision-making" and "ability to communicate effectively." Less important were "speed" and "good memory."

Those answers ring true to us. Coding is based on attention to detail. The level of detail required for this task is truly demanding. And coding always requires decision-making. "Which code is most appropriate, most exact, in this scenario? " is a question coders ask multiple times a day. Relying on data analysis skills is important, as coders must follow medical diagnoses and convert that information into the proper codes for medical records.  

Effective communication involves the ability to communicate both verbally and in writing, and the coders we surveyed indicated they use both methods, with email being the most prevalent form of communication employed. Almost every coder mentioned a go-to person or group who provided assistance and feedback for coding challenges. Most of these relationships were initiated informally.

As for those attributes deemed less useful, again, we agree. Speed is not always the friend of accuracy, as our grandparents knew. (Remember, "Measure twice, cut once"?) And a good memory, while helpful, is not what the best coders rely on when making decisions. Regulations change with startling frequency. Research, not a good memory, is what serves coders, and the bottom line, best.

The absolute need for ongoing education and the imperative nature of attention to detail were strikingly unanimous responses. However, coders show a lot of variability in how they describe themselves, and how they imagine others might describe them. "A leader," "goofy," "tenacious," and "giving" were some of the responses we saw here. And let’s not forget the importance of honesty and professionalism at all times. These coders prove they can do the job and have a lot of personality!

In Their Own Words

We finished the survey with this question: What advice would you give to someone entering your field?  Here are some of our favorite answers:

  • "You will need to have a passion for research and dissecting documentation and looking at the overall picture."
  • "The details can be taught…the actual desire to know, learn, and do cannot be taught."
  • "Study, study, study. Understand that you will never know everything. Understand that coding is not black and white, there is always gray. And . . . understand that 3M doesn’t take you to a code, you take 3M to a code."

Axea Solutions extends our heartfelt thanks to all the participants in our survey. Your efforts as coders support the ultimate goal of healthcare - the best possible outcome for every patient. You drive the revenue cycle that enables our organizations to have the best possible outcomes for our bottom lines as well. 

What have you found are the key attributes that result in “Attributes of the Exceptional Healthcare Coder”? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

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*Source: The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook.