Health Information Management

Four tips for new coder education

HIM-HIPAA Insider, March 6, 2007

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In addition to ensuring that coders new to your department have the right skills, you have to make sure that they mesh with the existing members of the coding team. "When you place somebody in a room with 15 people, there are social concerns to deal with," says Judith Sturgeon, manager of inpatient coding at University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, TX.

Kathy M. Johnson, RHIA, director of coding services for Chicago-based Care Communications, Inc., an HIM consulting firm, suggests creating a mentoring program in which a new employee pairs with an experienced employee. In addition, if you have a formal training program, be careful not to cultivate a dependence on the trainer.

"I suggest a gradual movement from the classroom/training sessions to the production environment," says Johnson. "Maybe you do training in the afternoons and he or she works production in the morning. You want him or her to take the initiative and learn problem-solving skills."

That said, you don't want coders becoming so independent that they leave your department; many departments worry that spending too much time on education and training will be a waste when the coder quits for greener pastures, Johnson says.

There are a variety of ways to prevent this from happening. Talk to your human resources staff to see what your options are. For example, you may be able to include a clause in the job agreement stipulating that the coder will remain in his or her position for a certain length of time.

Another solution is to assign a dollar amount to the training and have the coder repay this amount if he or she leaves early on.

Getting new inpatient coders to become productive members of your department is a challenge. "It's not cookie-cutter," says Johnson. "You need to customize [orientation and training] to the individual coder."

Customize, train, and acclimate your way to success with the following tips:

  1. Allocate enough time/resources to planning and assessment. Departments often don't take the time to customize a program to the facility's needs and the coder's strengths and weaknesses. Doing a thorough assessment allows you to take full advantage of the new coder's strengths and enables you to match learning needs with your expectations for the new coder's role, Johnson says.
  2. Make a pact. Put the coder's training plan in writing so both sides are clear on the expectations, resources, and time involved, Johnson suggests. "Outline a training program with them so they know what's expected and what they'll receive in return."
  3. Provide formal feedback. You'll probably provide plenty of informal training and feedback to the new employee; back this up with periodic formal assessments. "Objective reviews at certain points in time lend objectivity to the process and ensure the compliance of the work," Johnson says. "They're also good benchmarks for the success of your investment."
  4. Realize the effect of a new coder on your existing coders. If you expect your experienced coders to mentor, monitor, or work with a new coder, appreciate how it will affect their productivity, Johnson says. "You have to think about how you support that effort with additional resources or flexible scheduling," she adds.

Editor's note: The above article was adapted from the newsletter Briefings on Coding Compliance Strategies. For more information or to order, call 877/727-1728 or go to html.

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