Working in healthcare seems to be the trendy thing to do lately—you likely know someone who’s already a nurse, medical assistant or medical lab technician. And if you don’t know someone who is, you certainly know someone studying to become one.
A recent report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that healthcare jobs aren’t just a trend, though. In fact, healthcare-related occupations and industries are expected to add 15.6 million jobs between 2012 and 2022—the most of any occupation.
Obviously it’s a great time to get into most any healthcare career, but it’s a particularly exciting time for medical coders. Recent changes and advancements make for an interesting and challenging job as coders learn new things and keep up with crucial information.
Take a look at these three healthcare trends affecting the future of medical coding and see how they might affect you.
1. Healthcare trend: The ICD-10 transition
The ICD-10 transition might be the biggest issue medical coders are facing right now, and for good reason.
The current system for reporting medical diagnoses and in-patient procedures is the International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision, or ICD-9. These codes are on a range of health records, from vital records to death certificates. The healthcare world will soon transition to a new system, ICD-10.
The transition from ICD-9 to ICD-10 is big for medical coders, mainly due to the differences between the two systems. ICD-9 has 3,824 procedure codes and 14,025 diagnosis codes. ICD-10, on the other hand, has 71,924 procedure codes and 69,823 diagnosis codes. That’s a lot of new codes to learn!
The introduction of so many codes has a plus side, though, says Brad Justus, client development director at Kforce Healthcare.
“ICD-10 will provide the coder with so much more description to their coding and provide them with an almost unlimited way in which to describe encounters and hospital stays,” he says.
Of course, the transition isn’t all smooth sailing. The implementation date has been pushed back numerous times—as of this writing, it now stands at October 1, 2015. In addition, two coding sets means many coders deal with dual coding issues—something that can take a lot of extra time, says Manny Oliverez, CEO of Capture Billing.
While this sounds like a headache for current coders, new coders have the advantage of job openings.
“I believe that the rush will come 30 days after ICD-10 is implemented next year,” Oliverez says. “That is when doctors will panic because they are not getting reimbursed by insurance due to inaccurate coding. At that time the real scramble for coders will take place.”
2. Healthcare trend: The Affordable Care Act
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has made an impact on healthcare and healthcare jobs. The most obvious is the influx of Americans now eligible for medical care. That means more people having procedures coders need to document.
For medical coders, the ACA also means that an exceptional eye towards accuracy is required. In fact, one of the benefits of the ACA is a boost in payment accuracy and timeliness, according to the White House website. Both of those issues come down to medical coders performing their jobs accurately—inaccurate coding can mean billing delays or denials of insurance.
To ensure that coders are doing their very best, the ACA has also put some strict rules in place. The rules require healthcare companies to maintain strict records and documentation, and that those records are reported properly. There are also new rules regarding proper documentation of issues such as joint replacement surgery—medical records need to state what steps have been taken to avoid the surgery and thus, why it’s necessary now. That’s where a coder comes in, keeping track of a patient’s procedures so the insurance company can see what’s been done.
3. Healthcare trend: CPT code updates
Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) codes are descriptive terms or identifying codes that coders use to report medical services or procedures. There are currently thousands of CPT codes in use, but they’re not static.
CPT code updates occur more frequently than ICD updates. For example, CPT Category III codes are updated every six months. They’re known as the “emerging technology” codes and are considered temporary unless they’re moved into Category I within five years.
So many updates means that it’s crucial for a medical coder to be up to date on the current CPT codes or risk incorrect coding, delays and backups for doctors and patients. “Generally speaking, CPT updates usually help the coder because it usually helps us find more appropriate CPT codes to report for the providers,” Oliverez says.
In conclusion …
Healthcare trends make the future of medical coding ever-changing. ICD-10, the Affordable Care Act and CPT code updates guarantee that medical coding isn’t just another boring job where you sit behind a computer all day.
Continuous, never-ending updates to your job might sound a little intimidating. If so, that’s only natural. If you’re still questioning whether or not medical coding is a career for you, check out "Mastering Medical Coding is Not as Hard as You Think" to learn some basics and get the inside scoop on what the job is really like.