A coder’s resolution in the New Year

Jan. 12, 2018 / By Allison Morgan, MS, CPC

The ball dropped, we tossed out our old calendars, and many of us made the traditional promises to ourselves in the New Year. Whether it’s trimming off those few extra pounds from the holidays or taking up that new exciting hobby you know you’ll just love, it’s the time of year for self-goals and improvement, including those related to coding.

Fall in love with words again

When it comes to coding, documentation is the key driver. Coders are at the frontline of taking what providers are conveying on a clinical level and translating it into codes for payers seeking to justify reimbursement. It’s our job to tell the story through codes and, most importantly, to do it accurately. Understand what you are working with as far as the quality of documentation. Challenges always arise with specificity and code updates. Providing that feedback to your practice and clinical team can help improve documentation. If a provider is constantly documenting with “rule out” language and you’re having to apply Z03.89, be sure to remind them to document the signs and symptoms related to the condition they are ruling out.

Get to know yourself

Literally! We knew ICD-10 meant specificity and with that came as big a need as ever in understanding and identifying body parts and anatomical location. In the 2018 updates alone we had approximately 77 codes impacting conditions/signs and symptoms of the eye, not to mention all the revisions that were rolled out relating to cerebral infarction codes and the type of artery. Keeping on top of anatomy and physiology and staying familiar with the location of conditions is a must, so in 2018 change out the anatomy coloring book you’ve been doodling in for the last few years and grab a new one.


Don’t forget to take care of yourself. Find a balance between work and play. Be passionate about your industry, but don’t let it burn you out. You need to be on your A-game and the only way to do that is by making sure you’re good to you. Get plenty of rest, avoid eye strain, air your brain out and know that not everything we encounter in coding will be black and white. There will always be gray areas that will challenge us and that’s okay.

See the big picture

At the end of the day, we have the pleasure of being involved in an ever-changing and ever-expanding industry. A constant brave new world. To keep up with this dynamic environment, keep your eyes and ears open to other elements in the industry. Sign up for one new industry publication online or make a promise to complete a Medicare Learning Network course this year. It’s so easy to get stuck in a silo, focusing on the one aspect you do in the revenue cycle process, but remember there are a number of different aspects that rely on each other to make the cycle work. Understanding key issues or why your top payer reported a denial on the back end will influence and contribute to documentation improvement on the front end. 

For many of us, coding and health care is our craft, so make a goal of cultivating it in the New Year!

Allison Morgan is a clinical development analyst at 3M Health Information Systems.

Imagine what your coding teams will do with fewer barriers between them.