Developing a Coder Training Program

June 22, 2021

Skilled coders are a highly sought-after commodity in healthcare. Their knowledge and experience when coding charts drives overall reimbursement and mitigates potential for back-end coding denials, however, in this age of quality, productivity, and a low DNFB– how can you highlight your coders’ potential and increase your ability to be fluid in through the volume of work?

Education does not end when coders obtain their credentials. Quite the contrary; education is just beginning. Coders experience a lifetime of changing codes, guidelines, technologies across all coding modalities. Having employees who are trained and proficient in several modalities enables managers to confidently meet the daily or weekly needs of coding volumes. Unfortunately, the additional education required to cross-train coders may seem like a daunting task when you are concerned with day-to-day operations. A commitment to education, along with a very structured educational plan, can make the process much easier and yield a great end reward.

The first step is to determine both department and educational goals. Where is your greatest need for cross-training in the department? How many coders will participate in the training session? Looking at your productivity numbers, there may be areas where you fall consistently short on productive hours or are not meeting the weekly DNFB goals. Those areas may be your first focus.

Next, determine who will be doing the education. Is this going to be done internally (a coding manager/ lead coder) or externally? Sometimes this is dictated by a department’s bandwidth. The person performing the education needs to be well-versed not only in coding, but teaching skills, development of a sound, and have a highly detailed educational plan.

Development of the educational plan and content is important. All involved should have discussions about the length of training, class structure, and coder expectations. Creating a syllabus is extremely helpful, as it lays out the goals and objectives for the training. Many coders find that including visuals such as anatomical pictures, coding references, and chart examples are very helpful to understand procedures or diagnoses.

There should also be a mechanism to determine if a coder is progressing or struggling, and there must be defined steps in how to assist the coder. Assessments given at the end of each module, and then again at the end of the training, can be administered to evaluate coding competency in the new modality.

Gauge the interest of your coders. For some, learning a new coding modality is exciting yet intimidating at the same time, especially if jumping from outpatient to inpatient, or vice-versa. What are their goals? What is their level of commitment? At this point, the educational outline, goals, and expectations of this training should be shared with the coders. Some managers prefer to meet with interested coders one-on-one to discuss these points in detail. Education is a big investment so the participants must be chosen wisely.

The timing of the education should also be considered. The best time to plan a session is when coders can be present consistently, avoiding peak vacation/holiday times. If coders miss class, they could potentially require additional individual attention to review material missed. Setting a consistent “class time” is important for scheduling, as it both allows the coders time to prepare for class and this accommodates lower periods of coder productivity for the department.

Once the training has been completed, the coders’ progress and knowledge should be evaluated through assessments. It may also be helpful to do periodic assessments at regular intervals following the end of the training, such as at the three-month or six-month benchmark. Feedback from the coders is a valuable tool to improve the training process. This can be performed by using a questionnaire to rate the content of the class, the educator, and offer advice for the class moving forward. Using this feedback is a good way to improve subsequent training sessions.

If you would like a more in-depth review of developing and conducting coder training, including processes and training materials, we’ve developed for such a program! Please join Excite Health Partners for our monthly coder education webinar on July 21, 2021, at 2 pm EST.


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Robyn McCoart, RHIT, Managing Auditor