Recently I came across this article on CNBC that highlights the growing demand for medical coders. The article titled, “Prescription for job growth: Medical coders in demand” discusses the dramatic shortage of skilled workers due in large part to a coming adoption of a new federally mandated coding standard.
To get an insider’s perspective, I turned to Kim Felix, an adjunct faculty member at Peirce College who is also Director of Education at IOD Inc., where she trains coders and provides them with real-world experience as they transition into medical coding careers. I wanted to find out her thoughts on the job market and how to students can best prepare for the growing demand.
To begin, let’s look a little closer at the change in coding standards that is contributing to this demand. The current coding standard is ICD-9, which uses over 17,000 codes. However, the new code, set to be adopted in October 2015 will use over 140,000 codes and will provide more details on “the diagnoses, treatments and outcomes a coder records from a doctor's notes, procedure recommendations and patients lab results.” Because of this tremendous addition of new codes, medical facilities estimate that productivity will be decreased by up to 50%, creating a surge in demand for skilled coders.
In regards to the demand these changes will bring, Kim Felix adds:
“Everybody is gearing up because the productivity expectations will significantly decrease from ICD-9 to ICD-10. It’s a new system, although a lot of diagnosis pieces are the same, the procedure part of ICD -10 is overwhelming, making it very intense. The codes are very specific so students will need to know even more about things like physiology, anatomy and medical terminology. These changes are really going to ramp up things and decrease productivity from 20-50%, depending on the size of the hospital. If you’re at a large level 4 trauma center in the middle of the city, you’re going to have some challenges and much less productivity. Medical facilities are already thinking, ‘How much do I have to increase my staff?’ We’ll never be at the same productivity level with ICD-10 as we were with ICD-9, and this is creating demand for smart, good coders that know what they’re doing.
I saw last year a tremendous increase in the need for coders in Q4 when ICD-10 was supposed to come around this year. So we anticipate over the next few months and years for that same thing to happen. Because of this, employers are looking to grab students out of medical coding programs, preferably American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) approved, and train them on ICD-10 so that they’re prepared to meet this demand.”
So how do you prepare for a career as a medical coder? In addition to a Medical Coding Certificate, students can sit for the (AHIMA) Certified Coding Specialist (CCS) Exam – an important first step for many careers. Some choose to continue their studies by pursuing an associate’s in Health Information Technology.
Felix states that the best coders are very independent, trusted, and have a high familiarity with computers. They’ll need to be able to learn hospital software since they typically have to be in at least three software systems at a given time. Medical coders also need very strong attention to detail and great decision making skills since some guidelines have gray areas, “you have to be able to see this gray through the black and white,” she adds.
She ends by saying that students entering the field will never want for a job and that most coders have more than one job because the demand is so high.
Kim Felix is an Adjunct Faculty member at Peirce. She also works full time as the Director of Education for IOD Inc., a Health Information Management vendor. In this role she’s fully responsible for training new coders, through webinars and real-world training. And of course, she’s busy with ICD-10 education for clients as well as internal staff.