To the ICD-9 coders retiring October 1, <strike>2011</strike>, <strike>2013</strike>, <strike>2014</strike>, 2015?

I met a lady while waiting for an oil change on my car. We exchanged pleasantries and talked about the weather, and then I asked her what she does for a living. She informed me that she is a coder at our local hospital and has been for many years. I asked her about the then October 1, 2014, ICD-10 transition, and she told me that she was taking the opportunity to retire. She and her husband were going to sell their house, buy an RV, take their dogs, and travel throughout the United States.

I hope she hasn’t sold her house yet.

For years, since the ICD-10 transition was first announced, providers have been anticipating and preparing for a productivity gap and have approached the solution from different angles. Computer-assisted coding (CAC) has been seen by many providers as an important piece of the productivity  solution. But with difficult CAC implementations and delayed results, many providers are looking at additional strategies like outsourced coding.

The already very high demand for medical coders increases each time we approach an ICD-10 deadline. Many organizations are having an extremely hard time finding quality resources on their own. As a result, more and more providers are turning to outsourced coding firms for help, but even those resources are becoming more difficult to find. As KLAS interviewed more than 100 providers, some said that coding firms’ resources were tapped out and that firms had no capacity to take on more clients or increase capacity for existing clients. One HIM director said, “Sometimes my firm says they can do something when they really don’t have the resources.” 

Due to the increasingly high demand for third-party help, many providers are strongly safeguarding their current relationships. In the KLAS report Outsourced Coding 2014: Do You Have Enough Resources for the ICD-10 Transition?” 37% of respondents said they continually maintain contracts with at least two firms in order to ensure that their organization is able to find resources when they need them. One provider summed up this strategy by sharing, “I will always keep two vendors, regardless of who they are. I always want to have an external resource that is familiar with our system and our records. This is a challenge because right now coders are such a premium. Organizations have to make a commitment that this is what they are going to use them for, because things are not like they were five years ago, when firms all scrambled around to find somebody and help us out. Now they are being inundated by people like me who need help and there is only a finite number of resources out there.”

So what is your organization doing for an ICD-10 transition that will be, at the earliest, in October 2015? Please comment and let us know. Are you outsourcing your whole HIM department or considering retraining internal transcriptionists to be coders, as we have seen some providers do? Are you taking your coding offshore? What is your solution?

Regardless of your strategy, I think we are going to need experienced coders like my friend from the car-repair shop to stay in the game for a few years longer.


 

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