How ICD-10 can create opportunities for medical coders

Carl Natale
by Carl Natale

Kristi Stanton is looking forward to ICD-10 implementation because she sees it creating a lot of opportunity for medical coders. And she's not the only one.

Kristi StantonThe things about ICD-10 that prompt healthcare professionals to complain - complexity for example - work for medical coders. And Stanton is dedicated to helping coders take advantage of that through training and public speaking for the past nine years. Some of that is reflected in her Coder Coach blog.

Her perspective is shaped by 16 years in medical coding - 11 of those years as a consultant. And she is an AHIMA-approved ICD-10 trainer and chair of the Colorado Health Information Management Association (CHIMA)'s ICD-10 Task Force.

All that connects her with medical coders see the opportunities in ICD-10 coding.

Job opportunities

For one thing, there will be a stronger demand for medical coders. Stanton says organizations will be dealing with a drop in productivity for about six months after implementation. And because the coding system is more complex, more medical coders will be needed. Not just any coders. But ICD-10 trained coders.

And some medical coders are looking to get out of the profession because they don't want to have anything to do with ICD-10 coding.

"It's a dialog that employers should be having with their staff right now - kind of see where they are," Stanton said.

But there's good news for employers. Not everyone is afraid of ICD-10. "I'm seeing more people being receptive to it than I originally thought they would be," said Stanton. "They're seeing it as an opportunity."

'Tremendous opportunities'

Stanton said a lot of people are getting into medical coding because of ICD-10. Not just because the profession needs warm bodies. Medical coders' skills will be extremely valuable.

Skills that include understanding the ICD-10 coding system. But there are other skills that will make medical coders very valuable.

Stanton says data analysis is an underestimated need. She sees that changing with ICD-10.

"From a data analysis perspective, I see it as a huge opportunity for coding professional who understand the data." Simply running reports will require someone who knows what they're doing. For example:

"There is no code for a colonoscopy. You got to look under the root operations and there could could be different root operations depending what they did during that colonoscopy procedure. And its going to take someone who really understands the coding system to pull data out of a hospital system."

"And I see tremendous opportunity for coders to move into data analysis positions," said Stanton. "If you're a good coder, it can open doors to things you never thought possible."

Seizing opportunities

Stanton recommends that medical coders understand what their career goals will look like after Oct. 1, 2013. They need to see if their employers will give them the opportunities to achieve those goals.

"I have heard of some coders and coding professionals leaving the organizations they're with because they don't feel that the organization is really going to give them the opportunity they need in order to be ready for ICD-10," she said.

Once they make the decision about their careers, they should be able to find the right organization. "There are boatloads of opportunities."

And medical coders can take advantage of free resources to learn more about coding. "There is a lot of information out there that is free," says Stanton. Medical coders can look at the guidelines and codes to get an idea of what they are about.

But "it's too ealry to start coding records using ICD-10." Stanton doesn't see the need to pay for expensive training sessions now. But medical coders need to take responsibility for their education. "I would not recommend leaving education soley up to the employer."

"There are a lot of states that have task forces or teams that have something going on with ICD-10," said Stanton. For example, AHIMA has local and state chapters that can help medical coders learn how to take advantage of ICD-10 opportunities.

"Coders should be curious and see what's out there."