Will Medical Coders Be Needed in the Future? – HIM Scene

Posted on October 26, 2016 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

This post is part of the HIM Series of blog posts. If you’d like to receive future HIM posts in your inbox, you can subscribe to future HIM Scene posts here.

After spending time with so many HIM professionals at the AHIMA Annual conference, I’ve come back thinking about the future of medical coders. No doubt, many HIM professionals are moving well beyond medical coding into other areas such as healthcare analytics, clinical documentation improvement (CDI), EHR optimization, and much more. However, there’s still a massive need for high quality medical coding and the HIM professionals that provide that service.

As we look into the future, the techie in me feels like medical coding should be automated. Why are we paying people to do medical coding? Why can’t that be automated and be done by robots? It’s not like medical coding is a particularly fun job. I’m sure there are some times it’s fun working on unique cases, but it can be quite monotonous and tedious. Why not have a computer do it instead?

What I’ve learned over the years is that medical coding is more art than it is science. Certainly there are some clear cut cases where it’s basically science. However, a large part of what a coder does isn’t set in stone. There’s some artistic licence if you will, or at least some interpretation that has to happen in order to code a visit properly. Computers aren’t good at interpretation, but humans are.

The other reality is that doctors don’t produce perfect documentation. If they did, then we probably could code a robot to code a patient visit. Since there are nuances to every physician’s documentation, we’re going to need humans that interpret those nuances as part of the coding process. I don’t see this changing in our lifetimes.

One word of caution. Many people fall into the trap that we need automated robot coding to be perfect for it to accepted. That’s just not the case, because human coders aren’t perfect either. In fact, there’s some research that human coders aren’t as good as we thought they were at coding, but I digress. The reality is that automated coding just has to be better than humans, it doesn’t have to be perfect. Even with this said, I don’t see it happening for a while.

What we do see happening now is a collaboration between humans and computers: computer assisted coding. While we don’t have to worry about computers replacing humans in medical coding, we do need to focus on ways that technology can make the work humans do better. That’s a powerful concept that we’re starting to see happen already.

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