Thursday, July 23, 2009

Tribute to a Mentor

I’ve been meaning to start a blog for novice coders and wanna-be coders for quite some time, but that initial blog topic has been elusive – at least until this week when I received the sad news that Deane Poore, RHIT, one of my coding mentors, recently passed away. And as I congregated with former coworkers to pay respects to our esteemed colleague, I found myself reminiscing about my career beginnings and all the people who had a hand in my development as a coding professional. There was my mother, Nancy Stanton, RHIT, who encouraged me to get an associate’s degree in health information management (HIM); there was Lila Mayer, RHIA, who gave me a chance as an outpatient coder after graduation even though I had no experience except for the limited coding I did under her supervision as an intern; Layne Poseley, RHIA, who checked all of my work for the first year of my employment and answered countless “why’s” and “how’s”; and there was Deane, a former teacher turned coder, whom Lila brought out of retirement to teach me inpatient coding. And those are just a few of the people who got me on the right track within my first few years in the industry. From there, I have been unknowingly passed from one mentor to another, never truly realizing that the time they spent with me was one of the greatest gifts I could ever receive.

Now, after working in the HIM and coding field for almost 15 years, I have come to appreciate the fact that the way I was trained in my first coding position is not the norm. Most hospitals do not have the time or resources to take a novice and groom him or her into a quality coder. Since I started coding in 1995, the world of hospital coding has seen a complete facelift with the introduction of a new and overhaul of an existing code-based reimbursement methodology, increased coding regulation, and more focus on coding compliance. There is also the added challenge of learning to use electronic medical records (EMRs) and ensure that HIPAA guidelines are being followed. Changes to the coding industry are happening at such a rapid rate these days that employers are finding it more and more difficult to train and mentor new coders.

Nationwide Coder Shortage

The problem is the industry needs more coders. There is a nationwide coding shortage and industry experts expect this demand to increase as the nation marches toward the October 1, 2013 deadline to implement ICD-10-CM/ICD-10-PCS. To existing coders, implementation of the new system is the equivalent of telling everyone in America that starting in 2013, we will no longer speak English and that Chinese will be the new language. Many current coders are threatening to retire or change careers rather than learn the new system. That means it is the prime time for new coders to enter the field and for once, the playing field will be level – new and experienced coders alike will need to learn the new coding system.

So now is a great time to become a coder, but what do you need to know? Which healthcare setting is the right one for you (doctor’s office, hospital, rehabilitation, etc.)? Which certifications are most widely recognized? Do you have to join an association to get a job? How much money will you make? Can you work from home? These are all questions I hear from wanna-be coders on a regular basis and I would like to help answer some of them and maybe point you in the right direction.

If you have specific questions about becoming a coder, let me know and be sure to check out my Coder Coach Facebook page for updates about upcoming networking and mentoring sessions: