September 17, 2013

Boot Camp or Brain Cramp

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Most of us associate boot camps with a military training program. Just about everyone is familiar with the concept of repetitive drills that are rigorous, intensive and challenging, thus quickly preparing young men and women for military service.

Military boot camps, also known as basic training, give our service members the basic tools necessary to perform the roles that will be asked of them for the duration of their respective tours of duty. What many do not realize is that after finishing basic training, many service members undergo advanced training more in line with their chosen or assigned specialties. This training can last anywhere from six to 52 weeks.

We all also have seen movies, reality shows and advertisements featuring boot camps addressing such issues as weight loss, rebellious teen rehabilitation, and even educational opportunities as a means of providing training in a shorter time period than traditional classroom types of training offer. While this intensive format can prove successful for short-term gains, in some instances, is this format conducive for preparing your coders for ICD-10?

Coding is as much an art as it is a science, and like most technical disciplines, the identification of variables impacting the process is a critical success factor in achieving desired results. Coding by nature is a process that involves deductive reasoning, critical thinking and the ability to decipher everything from physician handwriting to regulatory guidelines. Will ICD-10 coder boot camps – a rigorous, intensive and challenging environment that quickly prepares participants by covering the basics – appropriately provide the knowledge necessary to be ready to handle the complexities of ICD-10 coding?

By another token, are boot camps the equivalent of cramming for a test? (I am confident most readers have used this method at least once in their academic lifetime as an emergency test-preparation strategy). An attempt to absorb copious amounts of information in a short period prior to an exam might work in terms of earning a one-time passing grade. However, cramming is a memorization technique that only lasts for the short term. And isn’t the goal of preparing for ICD-10 to achieve coding proficiency that is sustainable, compliant with regulatory requirements, and yielding appropriate reimbursement? Those who have attended an all-day ICD-9 or CPT® coding educational workshop can attest: while the content presented can be relevant, some learning fatigue occurs after hours of studying.

So, are coding boot camps an effective learning environment for ICD-10? One just needs to ask the question, “Would most organizations hire an individual who attended a coding boot camp as their coding trainer for ICD-9?” According to many blogs from new health information management (HIM) college graduates, the answer is no. These are college graduates who have attended two- and four-year accredited colleges, earned their college degrees, and passed their respective HIM credentialing exams. Yet many still are struggling with securing coder employment.

Is there a place for coding boot camps and workshops? Yes, as a supplement to ICD-10 e-learning education. Instructor-led education for coding professionals that lends practical insight and addresses questions is invaluable in the coder learning process. The industry must focus on preparing coders for the transition to ICD-10, and not just providing education; these are two different things. Without a formal, long-term skill development curriculum focused on retention and application of content, some organizations will find that the coder education provided results in only short-term test score gains without more permanent retention of content. For long-term retention of material, which is critical for sustainable coding proficiency, active learning and critical thinking through discussions, individual analysis and case studying in groups is the recommend approach.

About the Author

John Pitsikoulis, RHIA, is the ICD-10 practice leader and an AHIMA ICD-10-Approved Trainer for Nuance Communications. John has more than 28 years of revenue cycle, health information management, coding, and compliance consulting experience. John has developed and led several corporate and client strategic engagements for managing the conversion to ICD-10, including ICD-10 assessments, implementation planning, integrated testing, education plan management and revenue preservation strategies.

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Disclaimer: Every reasonable effort was made to ensure the accuracy of this information at the time it was published. However, due to the nature of industry changes over time we cannot guarantee its validity after the year it was published.

John Pitsikoulis, RHIA, is the ICD-10 practice leader and an AHIMA ICD-10-Approved Trainer for Nuance Communications. John has more than 28 years of revenue cycle, health information management, coding, and compliance consulting experience. John has developed and led several corporate and client strategic engagements for managing the conversion to ICD-10, including ICD-10 assessments, implementation planning, integrated testing, education plan management and revenue preservation strategies.