6 Actionable Tips to Improve Medical Coding Operations
If your coding department is identifying inefficiencies, dealing with coding-related backlogs and/or getting by with a shoe-string budget and slim staff, chances there is an impact — and not a positive one — on your organization’s bottom line. Medical coding has an ever increasing impact on revenue cycle performance, so making improvements to your coders’ work environment, finding relevant topics for training and maximizing available technology can all positively affect total cash collected at the end of the day, week, month or year.
Take the time to analyze your coding department. Regardless of whether you run one-person show or a large multi-specialty team, these six tips for your coding operations will positively affect your revenue cycle performance.
1) Stop interrupting
On average, it takes 23 minutes for a team member who is interrupted to return to a deep level of concentration on a task. Turning off email alerts, minimizing extraneous meetings, and blocking off time to focus on important projects can minimize distractions and increase your coders’ productivity. And whatever you do, please refrain from putting coders in the same room with the staff refrigerator. (Yes, that really happened — just imagine heavy foot traffic and "break-room" conversations!)
2) Limit your coders’ non-coding tasks
Are any of your coders assigned front end business duties like appointment scheduling or assisting with patient check in? Limit your coders’ non-coding tasks so that there can be a stronger focus on what they do best — code. There are many benefits to performing a close review of work assignments to determine if non-coding tasks are more appropriately placed with non-coding staff, but it's important to note that sometimes coders are best suited to additional tasks. For instance, if you have highly-compassionate coders with a gift for simplifying difficult medical language into plain-speak, they just might be perfectly suited to answering coding related questions for your patients.
3) Get training on how to use the EMR properly
Often team members receive minimal training and never learn the “bells and whistles” that can make processing information infinitely easier. Train within your EMR across all roles (provider, clinical support staff, front desk, revenue cycle specialists and coders) to avoid mistakes. This is really just to be sure that “the left arm knows what the right arm is doing.”
4) Use Audits to improve coding accuracy
A coding compliance audit can bring quality issues to the forefront so they can be addressed in a timely manner. When done with the right intention, style, and frequency, medical coding audits will actually improve coding accuracy when feedback is shared with providers and coders. And here's a tip within a tip: don't let your coders think for a moment that an audit is a negative (or worse, punative) practice. When you audit coders with the goal of continuous professional growth, the positive outcomes ripple both directions within the revenue cycle.
5) Learn how co-sourcing improves coding operations
To use the plainest language, when you co-source coding, you gain highly-trained, remote medical coders who work directly in your EMR. If you stiffened at that last line, rest assured that a few key signatures on a legal department approved HIPAA Business Associate Agreement (BAA) is precisely the protection you need. Co-sourcing with a coding partner to complement your existing team offers flexibility that is otherwise hard to attain. You are instantly and ideally staffed with the right medical coders for the volume and type of work coming through your door any given time.
6) Keep up with changes in healthcare
Updates occur annually in CPT, health common procedure coding system (HCPCS) and ICD-10. It's important for your coders to be knowledgeable and educated on all coding related updates, but now more than ever it’s imperative that they understand what impact value based care and new reporting guidelines will have on cost of patient care. For instance, Hierarchical Condition Categories (HCC) is a risk adjustment model that has been around for years, but has heightened visibility since Medicare Advantage Plans started to require risk adjustment factor (RAF) scores for reimbursement. Today it should be on the radar of every coding leader, and every commercial payer, for that matter. To understand HCC, you need a basic grasp of Risk Adjustment (RA) and vice versa. We break it down for you here: What is HCC Coding? Understanding Today’s Risk Adjustment Model.
The Bottom Line
The tips above are intended as a launching point to transform your coding department into optimal condition, and to ensure you're prepared for today's many challenges as well as the changes to come in the healthcare industry — all with an eye to your revenue cycle performance.