By Dr. Liza Alcances, MD
The life of medical coders is completely different from the life of clinicians. Weekends are usually free, the shifts are fixed, and there are not a lot of different activities that fill their days. Coders may miss the exciting work of hospital duty, unique patient complaints, and endless rounds, but there is something to be said about an organized and sedate work life.
An Early Start: Most medical coders work days. A few companies require their coders to work nights, parallel to their US counterparts. Day shifts start as early as 7 a.m. This means that coders have to wake up early, allow for adequate travel time, and get to their offices on time. The dress code is usually business casual, so dressing for work depends on the coder’s fashion sense.
Life on the Production Floor: Each coder works on a computer, either a desktop or a laptop. Most will have the codes already in the software, removing the need for using hard copies of the manuals. Depending on the project, coders can be assigned cases directly from the system they’re using or assigned charts by their supervisor or team leaders. Quotas are set depending on the type of coding they do.
Generally, outpatient coders work on more patient charts, and inpatient coders work on a lesser number of charts. They are not allowed to pick the charts to work on, and so they gain experience working on a wide variety of cases. They must also finish the work assigned to them or meet the required quota, so the coders must stay focused and manage their time. Since they work on protected health information (PHI) and must meet US privacy standards, mobile phones are not allowed on the production floor.
Breaks and Lunch: Two short breaks are given, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Coders may use the time to take snacks, smoke, have a power nap, or go to the break rooms or to the pantry. Many companies provide indoor entertainment devices, like game consoles, table tennis, foosball, and the like. Some have quiet rooms, meant for sleeping.
Lunch breaks are longer. Most would have their own canteen, and many companies are situated in areas near commercial establishments. Coders won’t go hungry, and usually have enough time to get some coffee or dessert after lunch.
Home Sweet Home: Since coders start their day early, they also end the workday early. Most are usually off by 4 p.m., leaving them ample time to spend with their family or indulge in other activities. Of course since they have to go back to work early the next day, they also go to sleep early.
Other Activities: Audits and team meetings are common occurrences. These are done with their superiors and sometimes with their US counterparts. The quality of their work must be top-notch, and companies require at least about 95 percent accuracy in their coding.
Companies usually hold town hall meetings quarterly. They also schedule team building sessions, family day, sports fests, and other activities that allow coders to release stress. Some companies sponsor seminars and appoint management trainees so that coders will have additional skills that they can use to better themselves and to help the company.
In Summary: The life of a medical coder isn’t something the entire healthcare community is aware of. Medical coding is a specialized occupation, requiring specific knowledge and high analytical skills. There are many challenges but also many opportunities. Some might think that the coder has a boring desk job, but as one of the occupations highly desired in the healthcare BPO, it can also get exciting.
Dr. Liza Alcances MD, RN, CPC, CPC-I, CIC, is the assistant manager, training—healthcare at TeleDevelopment Services.