Theodore Roosevelt once said: “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain [and] difficulty.” While the former president’s outlook is a bit extreme, sometimes the most challenging things we encounter garner the greatest rewards.
There’s no denying that healthcare careers are complicated. Professionals in these fields attempt to understand, interpret and diagnose problems in the human body, the most complex organism on the planet!
Even a health information technician (HIT) career, which doesn’t require direct contact with patients, requires an acute understanding of the various codes assigned to different medical diagnoses. HIT careers can be started with less than two years of schooling and they enjoy a bright economic outlook but there is a daunting question that everyone considering this profession asks: Is medical coding hard?
The short answer is yes, medical coding is challenging. But we caught up with some students, instructors and experts in the field to provide some insights that suggest medical coding may not be quite as hard as you think.
What exactly is medical coding?
Medical coding is a component of the medical billing process that assigns codes to claims from a patient visiting a healthcare facility. The coder is responsible for allocating medical codes (CPT, ICD and HCPCS) to the claim. Put simply, whenever a patient goes to a clinic or hospital for any reason, the visit has specific medical codes assigned to help track the reason of the visit for medical and billing purposes.
Is medical coding hard?
“Medical coding is not difficult for the right person,” says Pam Brooks, coding manager for Wentworth-Douglas Hospital. It requires attention to detail because nothing can be missed when processing patient information and everything needs to be assigned the proper code.
The most challenging point comes for students that are just starting out. It requires the knowledge of anatomy, physiology, pathophysiology, and medical terminology to successfully learn the coding systems, says Denise Reitmeyer, Rasmussen College HIT program coordinator.
With all of the background information that is needed, it is not something that can be learned through a single course, says Brenda Edwards, coding & compliance specialist for KaMMCO. It takes a little bit of grunt work at the beginning but a solid educational program will give students all the tools they need to learn.
What are the most challenging aspects of medical coding?
Human anatomy has a lot of grey areas but medical coding is black and white. The challenge comes in transforming cloudy and complex medical symptoms into clear, discernible codes.
For example, ICD-10 students must understand the symptoms that are integral to a disease, explains Reitmeyer. The doctor will pass along case information with notations about the symptoms and coders are responsible for pulling out the important parts to document.
Attention to detail is critical, says current Rasmussen College student, Teresa Martini. You have to re-check your work against the alphabetical coding list which can be time consuming and tedious, but ultimately helps to eliminate errors.
It is also challenging to keep up with industry changes. Existing medical codes are updated, changed or discarded every year.
And the most important part for learning medical coding is applying the guidelines set by the industry regulators, says Judy Wilson, AAPC ICD-10 Training Expert & business administrator for Anesthesia Specialists in Virginia.
It is critical for professionals working in the field to stay on top of these changes to avoid documenting inaccurate information.
Can medical coding be fun?
Medical coding is “like a puzzle and solving a mystery all in one,” says Donna Nugteren, director of revenue cycle for Avera Medical Group Clinic. Once you’ve learned all of the possible solutions, you get to assign the right one to the mystery at hand.
It’s also interesting to learn about all of the unusual reasons people seek medical care, says Brooks. And of course there’s the occasional awkward misspelling or unfortunate word placement that can seem like something off of Jay Leno’s Headlines. For example, “the lab test indicated abnormal lover function.”
6 tips for success in medical coding
As you have read, medical coders do have a lot of information to learn. Here are the top tips from our contributors on how to be successful in your studies:
- Enhance your learning with flashcards, online quizzes and other supplemental educational materials. Practice and deep understanding is essential to the job.
- Make sure you actually grasp what you are learning. The minimum won’t be enough to pass the certification exam.
- YouTube videos can be very helpful in furthering your understanding of a medical concept. The exercise at the end of the textbook readings will also boost your learning.
- When you are sure that you understand it, read it one more time.
- Study and review daily. This will help you translate information from your short term memory to the long term.
- Start your studies by reading the guidelines at the front of the book, use that information to prompt your learning.
To sum it up…
Medical coding may not be as simple as tying your shoes but it is not impossible either. There is a lot that goes into the work so earning a medical coding degree is a worthwhile step in the process so that you can be well-versed in the subject when you go out into the job market.
If you are willing to put in some work at the front end, the challenges of medical coding will be even easier to overcome. And the reward is a career that is critical to a medical facility. A lot of things can occur from the time a patient arrives at a clinic to the time that they leave, and it is up to a medical coder to ensure that nothing gets missed.
With a new government mandate calling for all patient documentation to be contained in medical records, coding is more important than ever. Now is the time to take on the challenge.