February 27, 2018

Medical Coding: Generational Differences in a Remote Environment

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Coding leadership routinely benefits from learning team members' strengths and weaknesses and adjusting plans to match.

I began working with Novant Health in 2011, when I used the phrase “best of the best” for my team. This was our department’s vision for our future, and it is a standard we continue to embrace in everyday decisions.

We have had many successful outcomes that have created new expectations of excellence. Through all our changes, I learned the real secret to leading the “best of the best” coding team is to embrace generational differences in a remote environment.

The minds of every team member are our strongest assets, and our definition of “strong” can vary with each team member. This diversity of strength is the foundation for any successful team. It is easier for the body to adapt to change than it is for the mind to embrace new or vastly different concepts.

Reaching this level of strength provides team members with the tools required to see their leader’s vulnerability as a result of our willingness to take risks as a part of the decision-making process. This in turn creates the trust required for team relationships to flourish.

Relationships teach leaders how each team member operates, which provides new tools for problem-solving since we also learn our team’s strengths in the process. By determining what motivates team members to exercise their minds, we also learn what motivates them for success. We can do this with anyone by listening for understanding, then responding with compassion.

Criticism is tantamount to watching a good football coach work magic on the field. Sometimes players need to listen to the coach’s precise directions to execute the game plan successfully. Yet other times, the quarterback will call an audible, not in the game plan, at the snap and pass for a long gain. Both quarterback and coach learn from this, because the quarterback has trusted the coach’s criticism, and the coach in turn trusts that the quarterback has internalized it enough to direct the team from the line of scrimmage. We need to practice the same mutual trust in our daily work lives if we are to become a winning team.

Embracing the courage to practice perfection and efficient workflows builds a stronger team and demonstrates various ways of communicating effectively. This approach also allows us to show up every day ready for “the game” and whatever risks come our way. Working in a remote environment requires time-management skills to stay organized, and that we treat phone calls like public speaking engagements. Additionally, focusing on the unique audience in advance of any critical meeting allows us to identify what must be discussed, along with the best, most graceful way to present it. The most productive critical conversations consist of one-third critique, one-third challenge, and one-third accolade. This is an excellent formula for individual conversations as well as critical team meetings.

We should strive to learn from every team member, thereby growing the team’s “brain’s dendrites” in its compassion region. The best approach for leading in a remote environment is to always show compassion. It is much easier to emote anger than compassion, but listening for understanding will help guide us through this journey.

Communication in a remote setting requires transparency to build trust, since nonverbal communication is absent during phone calls. Being open about risk helps develop the strongest solution.

By embracing the team’s diversity and intentionally including all team members, we can capitalize on the strengths of every generation and individual in the department. The result is empowered, happier team members, and a higher-performing team.

Every team deserves a leader who understands the importance of work-life balance to the success of the organization. Effective leaders have knowledge of detailed workflows, yet they choose to trust and empower rather than micromanage. Connecting the day-to-day workflows of your team to the system’s outcomes help us grow your thoughts. Communicating in a way that helps everyone on the team make the same connection allows the entire team to grow. 

Learning the details helps in big-picture decision meetings that could positively or negatively impact our best asset: the multi-generational team.

Sarah Laird, RHIA, CCS

Sarah Laird has more than 10 years of experience in health information management (HIM) within revenue cycle services at Novant Health. Prior to joining Novant Health in 2011, Sarah worked at Cone Health. While at Cone Health, Sarah helped increase efficiencies for paper workflows in medical records departments, trained on appropriate charging/coding for chemotherapy, and was the company’s first Recovery Audit Contractor (RAC) coordinator. Sarah was responsible for the development of the RAC program and managed all RAC activities at Cone Health. Since joining Novant Health, Sarah has participated in several key initiatives for the system, including developing a remote coding environment, transitioning from a decentralized coding structure into a corporate department for the coding team, increasing coding accuracy, developing a coding career ladder, and creating a Coding Academy to help new coding graduates become successful coders at Novant Health.

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