Updated on: March 16, 2016

Winning The War For ICD-10 Coding Talent

Original story posted on: January 12, 2015

While the ICD-10 transition will require a well-orchestrated effort from multiple stakeholders, it is the medical coder who must learn and apply the brand-new language of ICD-10. A strong team of coding professionals who have been educated, trained, and prepared will make or break your transition into this new reality. This has created a war for talent, with several trends indicating that the war is just beginning.


A Lot Has Changed Since 2010

As the United States has been on the road to economic recovery, healthcare and the medical coding field have been affected.

  • The unemployment rate in the United States has dropped by 32 percent since 2010, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • Job postings for medical coders have more than doubled in the same time period, going from 14,412 in January 2010 to 31,638 in December 2013, according to Wanted Analytics

Coders In Short Supply

The nationwide shortage of medical coders is forecast to worsen, challenging the health information management (HIM) departments within U.S. hospitals.

“While growth is happening in the field of medical coding, HIM departments have been laboring under a persistent and growing coder shortage that is estimated to be around 30 percent less than the number of coders needed nationwide.”

  • Barron Professional Consulting Survives, “The State of HIM,” 2013
  • Retirement of experienced coding professionals is also escalating, as the average age of retirement is now estimated to be 54.
  • Many coders are reluctant to re-train on ICD-10 and are considering retirement.
  • Experienced coders are the most in demand – and the most difficult to find and retain.

The rise of the electronic health record (EHR) and remote coding has made this war even bigger in scope. No longer do you just compete for talent locally; you compete with hospitals in other states. A strong coder now has unlimited employment options and can almost dictate terms, like an athlete in free agency. Great coders care about their profession and career and want to help direct a smooth transition from ICD-9 to ICD-10.

With Less Than A Year Left, How Can You Win?

  • If you have not already, provide or invest in ICD-10 training. Coders are seeking out employers who will offer them a world-class training experience.
  • Start dual coding now, or increase the amount of dual coding you already are doing. Education is great, but practice makes perfect. Investing in your coding staff will earn loyalty and minimize anticipated productivity loss.
  • Build a loyalty/retention program now. In a world in which coder demand already outpaces supply, the time is now to offer incentives for your best coders to stay with your organization. Work with your team to see what types of incentives (in addition to monetary incentives) interest your coders. You may be surprised.
  • If you do not offer remote coding and flexible schedules, do so now. The world has changed, and you are putting yourself at a competitive disadvantage by mandating that your coders work on-site.
  • Offer opportunities for cross-training and upward mobility. Many coders get pigeonholed into coding only one chart type and have to leave to get an opportunity to expand their knowledge base.

Contract Coding Solutions

Even if you successfully retain all of your staff and prepare them for ICD-10, you still may not have enough resources. With productivity losses estimated at 30–70 percent immediately following implementation, you will need to secure additional resources as a form of risk mitigation. The time to have these conversations is now, while contract resources are still available. Some things you should expect from a contract partner include:

  • A large consultant candidate pool of credentialed, experienced coders;
  • Coders who have been taken through a world-class ICD-10 training program;
  • Coders who have had access to ICD-10 dual coding or a hands-on learning lab;
  • Coders with incentives and retention bonuses;
  • A company that can scale to build a strong team dedicated for an extended time period; and
  • A company with a strong quality assurance team and program that can offer guaranteed productivity and accuracy, assistance with auditing, and program management and reporting.

This war will be arduous, but if you invest in your coders now and put necessary risk mitigation procedures in place, you can win the ICD-10 war for talent!

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.
Brad Justus

Brad Justus is an enterprise account executive at himagine solutions, the largest coding company in the U.S. He offers customized outsourced coding solutions, audits, HIM & CDI consulting, registry services, and interim management.

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