Outsourced coding to the rescue!

June 4, 2021 / By Chad Specht

Last year started off just like every other year. Who would have thought that, by the end of March, you wouldn’t be able to enter a hospital to get a simple x-ray or procedure? Unless the procedure was an emergency, people in many parts of the country had to wait several months or longer. There have been many ripple effects caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and I want to share how outsourced coding has been affected and how the flexibility of an outsourced coding service has allowed heath care groups to manage their staffing. It can be one less thing to worry about, when there are so many things to worry about.

It began with a nearly a 10 percent dip in coding volume across our business unit by the end of February and was followed by the realization that there would be a dramatic shift in the demand for our services. The beginning of March 2020 brought phone calls from many of our customers:

  • “Please cut back the staff in our account.”
  • “Our diagnostic services are being drastically reduced for now.”
  • “We are going to need your coders to STOP until further notice.”

Never words you want to hear as an outsourced coding group. Every one of these responses were understandable considering most of the country had a “stay at home” mandate, and the health systems were dealing with trying to prevent the virus from spreading. These customer requests resulted in our outsourced coding groups having a nearly 60 percent decrease in volume across the board.

With no crystal ball to allow us to see the future, no one knew what the next month would bring for coding groups like ours, let alone the next year. Hospitals were doing everything they could to retain their great employees. The reduction of services meant hospitals were pulling the coding responsibilities back in house. We assumed that eventually hospital services would reopen and everything would bounce back. Many outsourced groups, including ours, had to come up with creative ways to continue using our valuable resources. 

Through these tough times, priorities shifted. Special projects were created in an effort to determine how best to use everyone’s time and increase productivity until our clients needed us to return to service. Due to the reprioritization of time and resources across my team, we were able to retain our entire staff. This allowed our notes-per-hour and turnaround times to remain steady as our clients expected they would.. After a few long months of decreased workloads, hospitals started reopening clinics and performing regular services again. Our clients started to call asking for small portions of the previous coding team to return in some capacity. This transition was virtually seamless, as we quickly fulfilled their request for coders and had teams back coding for our clients.

Now in 2021, we are back to 100 percent of our pre-pandemic coding volume and adding more clients and coding every day. Though we never want to see a year like 2020 again, the flexibility to use outsourced coding as demand ebbed and flowed was a lifesaver for our clients. There were no financial penalties to our clients during this time; instead, a lot of gratitude for how we were able to help them navigate unchartered territory.  

Chad Specht, MBA, is an account manager at 3M Health Information Systems.

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