As healthcare providers and facilities look to fill coding positions, recruiters and human resource directors are doing their best to lure prospects into the fold.

Medical coders essentially provide the framework for all medical reimbursement responsibilities; without them, providers wouldn’t get paid. The sheer number and detail involved in reporting medical procedures, and the ever-increasing demand for data collection and analysis (both from government and private agencies), compliance issues, and variations in coding courses have spurred an increased demand for medical coding professionals.

The problem is that finding qualified individuals to fill basic coding positions has become increasingly difficult. Healthcare facilities from across the nation have felt the pinch and are finding creative ways to ensure that their needs will be met.

The ability to work from home and the use of flexible scheduling, along with offering more competitive pay and a low-stress work environment, are among the most effective recruiting strategies that healthcare providers are using to recruit coders.

A good example of addressing the reality of establishing a home coding system that works is a news story about a hospital in the southwest that has 900 beds, 30,000 inpatients and 220,000 outpatient visits each year. Twelve fulltime coders, five part-time and two quality reviewers were traditionally employed, with plans to expand adding additional coders.

Since the hospital is located in a major metropolitan area, many people did not want to drive to the downtown area. The hospital was using an EMR (electronic medical record) system, allowing access to it remotely. The administration ultimately approved setting up a couple of coders at home. It worked.

Municipal planners have initiated studies relating to attempts to lessen the commuter traffic in every metropolitan area. They discovered that with work at home options and flexible scheduling, there was a measurable effect on productivity from the employees. That was certainly predictable. Not to mention the decrease of congestion on the roads and benefits of decreasing pollution.

This strategy has worked so well that the hospital has had a 190% retention rate since making the switch to remote coding. A natural result (from our standpoint) was the coding staff job satisfaction increased substantially as did production to the extent that no new staff needed to be hired over a period of two years.

New Opportunities
There is a larger demand for data collection and data analysis and significant newly enacted compliance issues and law requiring more companies to do coding audits (retrospective analysis). Career advancement opportunities move into compliance consulting, data analysis for reimbursement and internal coding audits. But the basic coding skill sets are required to move to any of those levels.

What Qualifications are Needed?
The credentials and experience needed to fill hospital coding positions can depend on several variables: whether the facility is rural or urban, a teaching hospital or research center, as well as the facility’s specialty areas. Most try to hire coders with certification. Coding skills depend on a wealth of experience. Most coders learn outpatient coding (and physician services is included in outpatient) and, then some move on to learn inpatient coding.

Clearly, the educational process plays a significant role in the current coder shortage. They’re not being trained fast enough to fill the need. Experts in human resources encourage people to go to e-learning to save time and get into the field. Degree’d programs are out there, but not required to do the job.

Advice to wannabee coders is to carefully examine the training curriculum, which should include courses in terminology, law and ethics, coding, and billing. Coding and billing work hand in hand in light of today’s compliance and regulatory issues as well as Medicare and Medicaid issues.

Many experienced healthcare professionals are turning to coding as a way to use their healthcare background in a new way. For example, many who have been engaged in ancillary care or nursing often cross over to learn coding skill sets because a coding position offers greater schedule flexibility, consulting opportunities and home-based working applications.

The Future
Human resource departments view coding as one of the up-and-coming “hot jobs” and believe it’s important to educate people that there are indeed other health care fields besides patient care that are challenging and profitable.