Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Could More Job Openings be on the Way?

Here's another interesting article - this time from the Wall Street Journal - about the increasing rate of people leaving their jobs. With other job options for experienced workers and the recession on the upswing, people are feeling more comfortable abandoning jobs for happier times. While this may mean they are leaving positions in less than favorable working conditions, it could potentially leave employers open to hiring and training inexperienced people. So I ask you one question: Are you willing to work somewhere that has employee morale issues just to get experience?

I will let you ponder that while you click this link to the article: More Workers Start to Quit.

10 Best Cities for the Next Decade

I always like to pass along any links I can find about getting jobs. While this article is not specifically about coding jobs, it does list 10 cities that could prove to be hot spots for more jobs in the future. And when more jobs are created, that means more people. And people need health care. And all the health care claims they generate need to be coded and billed. See where I'm going here?

If you took the time to research the job market before you enrolled in coding classes, you should have a good idea of what's out there. If not, I encourage you to look into relocation to get a job. I know a lot of people are rooted in their communities and either can't or don't want to move, but if it means getting your foot in the door, it could be a necessary evil.

Enjoy this article from Yahoo Real Estate: 10 Best Cities for the Next Decade.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Get Your Paint Brush

I've been painting a lot lately. I recently had the intense urge to splash bold color on my bathroom walls. And I have to say, that while I love making drastic changes to a room and gazing admiringly at the finished product, the actual process of getting there drives me a bit nuts. While I was prepping and painting, it gave me a lot of time to think about... well, everything - including coding, mentoring, and blogging. And it struck me how much painting is like coding.

Maybe you don't paint the way I do, but as a typical perfectionist coder-type, I'm pretty picky about the end result. I always tell people that should this coding thing not work out for me, I'll go into interior design (LOL!). Finally, I've found a way to tie two of my passions together! At any rate, I hope you enjoy the analogy.

It's All in the Prep Work
First of all, I hate blue tape. Not because I have an aversion to the color blue, but it stands in the way of what I'm really looking forward to - the transformation that comes with brushing and rolling a new color onto the walls. And in an effort to paint the wall a dark purple with bright white trim while avoiding getting paint on the floor, it meant either a very steady hand or the use of blue tape.

While I was taping, my mind wandered to the people I've talked to who are trying to get into the coding field and how I often hear complaints about the education piece of coding. I liken taping off a room to getting a coding education. No one is going to recommend my painting skills if there is paint slopped all over the place. Likewise, no one is going to recommend me as a coder if I'm not educated.

Do You Have the Right Paint Supplies?
I wish I could say that my project took only one trip to the store to get the paint and the few supplies I needed (since I have the desire to paint something every year or two) -but it took three. The first trip resulted in a gallon of purple paint, ceiling paint, a tarp, blue tape (!), and a couple of other essentials that I couldn't remember if I had or not. The second trip garnered me a few more paint brushes for trim.

I thought I was set.

If only. At 6:00 pm on Sunday, I started going through paint cans of redecorating sessions past trying to remember which subtle shade of white was the right one for the trim. When I eventually found it, I opened the can and it was dried solid (when did I paint last anyway?!). I thought of using another white for trim, but while it wasn't dried out, it was in a sad state and ready to be retired. I thought about forgetting it and worrying about it next weekend. But I know me - it would probably never get done. So I headed back out for one last trip to get some trim paint.

Then I was set with another decision - which color of white should I get? If you've ever chosen white paint, you know there are about 5000 different shades of white. The old colors I had previously used were either a little two yellow or a little too green. So I selected a shade in the same color family as the purple and soon I was back home, painting the trim.

So how is this like coding? Well, if the prep work is the education, then your supplies are the educational institution you select. A higher quality institution means a higher quality you. I could have painted the trim with the yucky, rotten back up paint, but it wasn't the shade of white I really wanted and I knew the end result would not hold up to my standards. You can select an education based on cost, time, or promises the institution makes to you. But is it really a quality institution? There's a reason some educational institutions are more expensive. The only real answer to this is to get references from people in the industry. If you are working with a school, ask them to provide references from graduates. Make sure that the education you're seeking will set you up for the job you want, which means preparing you for the right certifications.

If you select the wrong educational institution only to find out later that it's an issue with hiring managers, be prepared to go back. Trust me. I was not happy that I had to go back to the paint store. But I am very happy with the end result. If you can't get anywhere with the education you received previously, find out what you need to do to get the education that will get you somewhere.

Don't Forget to Accessorize
Since I have fantasies of making a living transforming people's living spaces, for me no room is complete until it's been redesigned down to the last accessory. I've had this bathroom remodel planned for months, inspired by some personal stationary. I searched in stores and online for the perfect (and affordable) shower curtain, wall hangings, light fixture, and other room accessories. The end result was a complete cosmetic overhaul - the only thing I kept in the room besides the existing plumbing fixtures were the towel bars and soap dispenser. These final touches make all the difference. Let's face it - without them, this room is just a giant grape.

I always recommend that people accessorize their coding careers by picking up a specialty (or two). It's going to make the difference between you as a coder and you as a highly skilled coder. Specialties such as interventional radiology, cardiac catheterization, pain management, and radiation oncology are very difficult areas in coding. If you can code any of those specialties - and keep up with the frequent changing in coding rules and regulations - you will be highly marketable. But be careful. Unless you are willing to relocate to get a job, make sure you are seeking a specialty that is in demand in your geographic area.

When is the Painting Done?
I would like to tell you that the bathroom is done and it's beautiful and I will never change it. The truth is, I still need to replace the broken light fixture, hang the vanity mirror, and do a couple of touch ups. In another few years I will probably be sick of the color and want to change it again.

Likewise, once you complete your coding education, you won't be done. Coding requires continuous education to maintain your certification and keep up with medical technologies. And just when you get that most difficult area of coding down, Medicare will change the rules and you'll have to learn it all over again.

So keep up those painting skills and best of luck on your career remodel!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

5 Pointless Job Search Tactics

I recently came across this short article on the 5 mistakes people make in trying to get hired: The Savvy Networker.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Interesting Article About What You Might be Doing Wrong in the Hiring Process

I came across this article that I thought would be beneficial to newbie coders seeking jobs. So many of the people I talk to are concerned about the coding skills and experience but it's important that we don't lose sight of the basics. Check out this link: 7 Little-Known Reasons You're Not Getting Hired.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Repost: Make $40K Working from Home as a Medical Coder!

We've all seen or heard those bold tag lines in print ads and on television and the radio advertising the lucrative opportunities in medical coding and billing. But can companies and schools who make these claims really get you ready to enter the work force? Maybe, but there are some steps you should take before you give your money to any education institution. Let me first state that I am neither here to endorse nor denounce any school or college. I am simply trying to arm prospective students with the knowledge they need to make the best choices about their future careers.

Step 1: Assess Your Community's Need for Coders
Before you hand any money over for that coding program that promises to deliver, you need to do a little homework about your local job market. Yes, it is true - there is a national shortage of coders and the need for more coders in the future is only expected to increase. But that doesn't mean that coders are needed everywhere. Some places may be saturated with coders and others may have a desperate need for them. Are you willing to relocate in order to get the job of your dreams?

The "American Dream" of the coder is to work from home, but the reality is most remote coders are experienced. Most employers require new coders to work in the office setting before allowing them to log in from the comfort of their pj's and fuzzy slippers. So if you are banking on working from home, add a couple years onto your telecommuting goal. If you aren't willing to relocate and there aren't coding positions in your area, you will have a tough time finding a job. While you're searching your local job market for coding positions, see which coding certifications they are requiring. This is going to be very important for Step 3 below.

You should also start to look at what the salaries are for your area. Salaries will range by region and health care setting. Hospital coding jobs typically pay more but they also typically require more expensive education.

Step 2: Determine What Type of Health Care Setting You Want to Work In

This is a tough one to determine if you don't know anything about coding. But think about what type of environment you prefer to work in: physician office or hospital? You may think, "What's the difference?" Plenty. Not only does each setting have its own preferred set of coding credentials, the coding rules and sometimes even the coding systems differ according to health care setting.

Coding for the physician setting generally involves both coding and billing for physician time and effort. This can vary from coding for one or a small group of physicians to coding for large billing offices or health maintenance organizations with hundreds of physicians. Often physician coders become very knowledgeable of a specific specialty, such as cardiology or orthopedics.

Coding in the hospital is segregated from billing. Because coders are coding for the hospital resources (e.g., equipment, nursing and ancillary staff), they are coding entire hospital stays rather than individual physician visits. Most hospital coders code a variety of cases and generally aren't specialized - although some difficult areas of coding like interventional radiology may result in the training of specialty coders within the hospital.

I'm over simplifying the differences, but you get the gist of it. You may want to start by perusing websites for the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC) and the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) and read through their online information to see if one triggers an interest over the other. While it's not a hard and fast rule, AAPC-credentialled coders are typically recognized more by physician groups and AHIMA-credentialled coders are recognized more by hospitals.

Step 3: Pick a School That Will Prepare You for Certification

Can you get a coding job without coding certification? Yes. Is it likely? No. If you want to be a coder, you will need to be certified. Pick your school based on the certification it will prepare you for and be wary of schools that offer their own certification - they are typically not accepted by employers. Your future employer should be determining what type of coding certification you need, not the school. The two reigning accrediting bodies for coders that are recognized by employers are the AAPC and AHIMA.

Probably the best way to pick an educational program is to go to either the AAPC or AHIMA's websites and choose one endorsed by the organization with the certification you aspire to get. By doing this, you know you are getting your coding education from instructors and/or schools who have been "checked out" by industry experts.

The AAPC has online and instructor-led courses that prepare the student to take either the Certified Professional Coder (CPC) or Certified Professional Coder-Hospital (CPC-H) coding certificate. Some of these courses may be applied toward credit at the University of Phoenix. There are also various other colleges and schools that will inform you that they prepare their students for AAPC-certification.

AHIMA does things a little differently by accrediting colleges that meet their stringent requirements for program content. While AHIMA has historically been known for certifying individuals who have completed either associates or bachelors degrees at AHIMA-accredited instutions, they also realize the need for coding certificate programs. Many of the schools that offer AHIMA-accredited coding programs also offer degree programs and you may find the counsellors trying to talk you into a degree program. If all you want is to be a certified coder and are not seeking an associates or bachelors degree, don't be distracted from your goal. Stand your ground and tell them you only want the coding certificate. If you are seeking an AHIMA-accredited coding certificate program that will prepare you for AHIMA certification, go to their website ( and search schools in your area. There are also search options for distance learning if there isn't a school in your area. AHIMA has the following coding credentials:

  • Certified Coding Associate (CCA)

  • Certified Coding Specialist (CCS)

  • Certified Coding Specialist-Physician (CCS-P)

As mentioned previously, which credential you get depends on what employers in your area are looking for. You can get dual certification through both AHIMA and the AAPC if you choose.

Step 4: Get Specific Information About Course Requirements

If you choose a coding school that is not AHIMA-certified or affiliated with the AAPC, you need to look at the course content and determine if it will meet your needs. If you plan to work in a physician office setting, you will need to learn ICD-9-CM diagnosis and CPT procedure coding. You should also look to see if there are any classes about physician reimbursement (look for terms like fee schedule, and relative value units (RVUs).

If you want to work for a hospital, you will need to learn ICD-9-CM diagnosis and procedure coding as well as CPT coding. Hopefully your program also has at least an introduction to hospital code-based reimbursement including diagnosis-related groups (DRGs) and ambulatory payment classifications (APCs).

These tidbits of information may sound like Greek to you if you are just beginning to research the coding industry, but you need to look for these things. You may find a school that also has classes regarding front desk procedures - this is typically an indication that the class will prepare you for a position in a physician's office. If you find a program that includes information about electronic medical records and computers, that's a bonus. You will definitely be using a computer as a coder and you should become familiar with the types of systems you will be using.

You should ask questions about the teaching staff. Are they credentialled themselves? I've met many coders who are excellent and aren't certified, but if you plan to get certified, you should have an instructor who's been there and taken the exam.

What kind of curriculum do they use and where does it come from? Is it written by credentialled coders? This isn't as important if you found your class through the AAPC or AHIMA since all of their curriculum is generally pre-approved. If it's another school, though, it could be crucial.

You absolutely need to ask if you will be required to do an internship or externship. If the answer is no, you should reconsider your education options. I got my first job from one of my internships and it's an excellent way to get practical experience. If they do require an internship/externship, you should ask if it's your responsibility to find an site or the school's. AHIMA-credentialled schools generally work with internship sites to place their students. If you have to find your own practicum site, you need to start networking and finding an institution that will work with you. This generally means signing an agreement with the internship/externship site and you may need to initiate that. The AAPC has Project Xtern, a program that teams aspiring coders with externship sites to get them coding experience. Get more information on Project Xtern at this link.

Step 5: Ask About Job Placement

Will the school help you find a job? If they say yes, ask specific question about their job placement rate and what type of employers they work with. If not, don't despair - you may have to send out 50 resumes and apply to some non-traditional coding jobs, but you can get a coding-related job if you are passionate about the industry and persistent with your efforts.

Step 6: Never Stop Learning

Once you get your coding education completed and get your certification, it's only the beginning. In order to maintain your coding certification, you will need to submit continuing education hours to your credentialling organization every year or two. The only constant in coding is that it's dynamic - once you learn the rules, they often change them. So if you are looking to master an industry that will remain static, reconsider your career choice.

What if I Have a Degree/Certificate From an Unrecognized School?

It happens. Maybe you've already received your degree in medical coding and just found out you spent a lot of money and no one recognizes your degree or certification. What now? It's not the end. What you need to do is make sure you are a member of either the AAPC or AHIMA and get credentialled. You might need to set up your own internship or externship site and do a lot of reading and online research to catch up on some of the things you might have missed. Most of all, you need to start networking with industry professionals, so join your local AAPC chapter or AHIMA component state association.

My Upcoming Speaking Engagements

As of today, here are my planned speaking engagements. I hope to see some of you there!


Next Event - May 25 - Cardiac Catheterization

When: May 25, 2010, 6:00-8:00 pm
Where: Emily Griffith Opportunity School - Rooms 403/405
1250 Welton Street Denver, CO

What: Cardiac catheterization coding has been deemed one of the most difficult areas of coding. Coding cardiac catheterization and percutaneous cardiac interventions (PCI) can prove to be a very lucrative career track, but first you need to know more than basic CPT coding. This event will provide an overview of cardiac anatomy along with coding guidelines for diagnostic heart catheterization and PCI procedures.

The presenter will also discuss documentation requirements and present actual cardiac catheterization reports for extra practice.

A basic knowledge of CPT is recommended for attendees. All attendees are encouraged to bring a 2009 or 2010 CPT codebook for coding case studies.

About the Speaker:
Kristi Stanton, RHIT, CCS, CPC is the Senior Consultant of Training & Education with The Wilshire Group Associates, LLC, based in Los Angeles, CA. She has 7 years experience with coding education, with a focus on interventional radiology, cardiac catheterization, hospital-based inpatient and outpatient coding, APCs, and DRGs. She is the founder and facilitator of The Coder Coach group and blog and is dedicated to mentoring new coding professionals.