Health Information Management

ICD-10-CM/PCS education: Creative ways to teach your coders

JustCoding News: Outpatient, January 25, 2012

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As hospitals begin to develop more intensive training programs in preparation for ICD-10, coordinators may want to consider how different learning styles will impact the effectiveness of these training sessions. Education has to work for everyone and one size does not always fit all.

If two coders have different learning styles, they may leave the training sessions with different ideas of what they need to do in the future. But, as Victoria Weinert, RHIT, CCS, of TORIONIT Coding Education Services, said at the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) annual convention in Salt Lake City October 2, "You don't want a rogue coder. Everyone has to be doing the same thing."

Weinert discussed the wide variety of learning styles as presented by, a website dedicated to understanding the differences in learning styles and how teaching can be adapted to suit those needs.

She believes health information management (HIM) managers may want to take a test to determine their own learning style and have their coders do so as well to determine the most effective training methods. A quiz is available for free at

"The Learning Style Quiz is intended to help users learn about the eight multiple intelligences discussed in Howard Gardner's book, Frames of Mind, and consider some fun ways to develop those eight intelligences," according to Lora Ma, executive producer for (To learn more about multiple intelligences developmental assessments, visit

The website discusses eight distinct learning styles, as well as information on how each type learns best:

  • Naturalistic learner: This person is interested in how things work and tends to apply scientific reasoning when trying to solve a problem.
  • Bodily-kinesthetic learner: This person associates learning with physical activity and relates to problem solving best when done along with a related activity.
  • Musical learner: This person often studies most ¬effectively while listening to music and, by focusing on that music, can call back required information.
  • Interpersonal learner: This person learns best in social settings and finds group work the best way to retain knowledge.
  • Intrapersonal learner: This person prefers working alone in a comfortable and quiet environment.
  • Logical-mathematical learner: This person has the ability to understand complex problems by asking questions and reflecting on the problem-solving process.
  • Visual-spatial learner: This person relates to the world through visual images, resolving setbacks using his or her imagination to picture potential outcomes.
  • Verbal-linguistic learner: This person understands and uses words effectively when presented with a setback. He or she works best when instructions are written or spoken.

Incorporate learning styles into ICD-10-CM/PCS training
Weinert recommended finding ways to incorporate all learning styles into training presentations. Most people have more than one learning style, so a deviation from the traditional lecture format could be beneficial.

For example, she suggested giving coders a DVD containing an episode of the television show House and having them use ICD-10-CM/PCS to code all the procedures mentioned in the episode.

She also recommended getting out from behind the desks and turning the typical question-and-answer portion of an education session into a game of catch—each person who catches the ball must answer a question related to ICD-10. In addition, playing music in the background during a session may help musical learners remember the presentation afterward, and playing lively music prior to a presentation can help get everyone energized and ready to learn, she said.

Weinert also suggested creating a Jeopardy!-like game to test the coders' knowledge of topics such as anatomy and physiology and pharmacology. The presentation doesn't need to be fancy—you can use something as simple as sticky notes on a whiteboard. And be sure to reward the winner—never underestimate the power of prizes, said Weinert. Even if they're small (e.g., a $5 gift card to the cafeteria) they can serve to motivate coders.

Keep in mind that changing the teaching method every 15–20 minutes will keep coders engaged and prevent them from zoning out during the important messages in your lessons. Another important aspect of training is location. Removing the coders from their regular environment will help focus their attention on the training, rather than on their office duties.

"Don't roll your chairs together in a big circle. Phones are going to ring and they're going to want to answer them. It won't work," said Weinert. Rather, move the training outside the department. Work with coders' schedules to ensure there is always some coverage in the office while training is under way.

Planning ahead and reserving conference rooms in advance may seem like a small step, but it will create a better learning environment for all, according to Weinert, who warned against feeling limited to the traditional classroom setup and lecture format. "Classroom setup is important. You have to have an open room. Tables can create barriers and it becomes you against the people on the other side of the wall. If you have a good enough presentation, they shouldn't need to take notes."

Once you have the location and setup formalized, ¬develop a training schedule and stick to it. Don't spring surprise training sessions on coders. If they have notice prior to training, they will arrive prepared and ready to learn, Weinert said. Consider using a lunch-and-learn format for your training, where the coders eat lunch during the presentation. This makes use of a block of time when coders would not typically be working, so it won't negatively affect productivity.

Incorporating remote staff members into training can be a challenge, but it is not impossible. Advances in technology have made it easier than ever to connect outside the lecture room, Weinert said. Allowing remote coders to connect to a training session via Web conference can enable face-to-face interaction between the instructors and on-/off-site coders, breaking up the monotony of the training session and allowing for greater dialogue between coders and trainers. The face-to-face interaction also ensures that coders who are visual learners will benefit greatly from the training. Don't be tempted to rely on PowerPoint® slides as your sole training method. They are great to supplement the training sessions, but sending them out alone and expecting the coders to memorize them is not beneficial in the long run.

Develop a training program that allows for all kinds of learning styles to ensure the greatest number of coders retain the important messages in your ICD-10-CM/PCS training.

The good news is that while the trainer is ultimately responsible for developing the syllabus, surveying the coders for input allows them to help determine the structure of the training and get more out of it as a result. It also helps foster a collaborative environment that facilitates the ultimate goal of uniform ICD-10-CM/PCS coding.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in the December 2011 issue of Medical Records Briefing. E-mail your questions to Senior Managing Editor Andrea Kraynak, CPC, at

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