Sorry Coders, It’s Not All About You – 7 Takeaways from #AHIMACon13

I am finally decompressing from the AHIMA conference held earlier this week in my hometown of Atlanta. Conferences that last more than a day tend to leave me with great insight into the inner workings of healthcare and inspiration for several blog posts. An unfortunate side effect is the mountain of email and suggested industry reading that piles up. Another is feeling pulled in two different directions. As I lamented to several other attendees, it’s hard to dedicate yourself to early sessions and late networking events when you know the family is waiting for you at home.

Despite my inability to catch the early riser sessions, I spent a solid three days at AHIMA attending sessions, walking the show floor and catching up with colleagues in the press room. I came away with a greater understanding of the challenges providers (and vendors) are facing in the transition to ICD-10, as well as insight into how HIM professionals as a whole feel about embracing digital/mobile/connected health in a time (present and future) of heightened patient engagement.

My Takeaways:

1. Not only do coders need to know how to code in ICD-10, but they should also have more contextual knowledge of anatomy and procedures than ever before. Coding veteran Gerri Walk, Senior Coding Manager and AHIMA-Approved ICD-10 trainer at HRS, tells me that to be truly successful in ICD-10, coders can’t just memorize a book. They also must have extensive knowledge of anatomy and be really good at turning what a physician says into the correct code.

2. Coders are so overwhelmed with studying and training for the ICD-10 switch that they don’t have time to think about the bigger financial picture and coding-related consequences. Codes obviously affect reimbursement. The wrong code can lead to audits, appeals and lots of red tape that physicians – particularly those in smaller practices or smaller hospitals – can’t afford. I did not get the feeling that these kinds of consequences are being conveyed at ICD-10 bootcamps and training sessions, which is a pity. This is an assumption on my part, but it seems to me that coders might be more diligent in their coding if they had a real sense of the financial impact their codes have on their organization.

3. Experienced coders only, please. If you’re a recent graduate, you’re likely out of luck. Providers, like the women I spoke with at the Carilion Clinic, want coders with a lot of experience. They may ultimately shoot themselves in the foot, however, by not taking on newer coding professionals. Experienced coders will soon be harder to come by (some are retiring to avoid the ICD-10 transition). Providers might want to seriously consider hiring new grads and turning them into homegrown coding talent. Kayce Dover of recruitment firm HIM Connections tells me she is starting to see more and more of this.

4. Sorry coders, it’s not ALL about you. Physicians’ workflows will take a big hit when ICD-10 kicks into gear thanks to extra interruptions (er, communication) from coding staff. As Kerry Martin, CEO of VitalWare told me, coders will have to distinguish between what a physician says or writes about a procedure, and what a physician actually does during that procedure. (I get the feeling that coders may not be thrilled about having to second-guess physicians.)

5. Many coders are worried their jobs will be replaced by artificial intelligence and other technologies not even off the drawing board yet. Their worries are unfounded, according to Shiny George, Senior Director of HIM at Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals. She noted in her presentation on HIM in 2020 that their skill sets will still be needed, but will likely be used in different ways with new tools.

6. And speaking of new tools … the HIM profession seems ready and willing to embrace digital / connected health tools, as evidenced by their official endorsement of the Blue Button initiative. Consumer health and wellness apps were mentioned in nearly every session I attended. Patient and consumer engagement in healthcare via mobile devices is definitely on their radar, and they are well aware of the implications it will have on their profession. As George mentioned, HIM should not shy away from this trend, but should seek to embrace it, capturing and interpreting patient data in order to improve quality outcomes.

7. Gender equality is definitely a priority for female HIM professionals when it comes to achieving leadership positions. I attended several sessions on this topic, and will offer insight specific to this takeaway in next week’s post.

About the author

Jennifer Dennard

Jennifer Dennard

As Social Marketing Director at Billian, Jennifer Dennard is responsible for the continuing development and implementation of the company's social media strategies for Billian's HealthDATA and Porter Research. She is a regular contributor to a number of healthcare blogs and currently manages social marketing channels for the Health IT Leadership Summit and Technology Association of Georgia’s Health Society. You can find her on Twitter @JennDennard.


  • Thanks Jennifer for such a great wrap up. In practically every session I attended regarding ICD-10, the need for better clinical documentation was discussed. Yes, coders will need to interpret physician language into ICD-10 vernacular for a long time to come. Perhaps it is time for AHIMA and ACDIS to team up!

  • Hello!
    Thanks so much for these very informative newsletters.
    I took a year long coding course which included the advanced anatomy and graduated/certified in 2011 thinking that ICD-10 would be here in 2012.
    It was only about 3 months into the course that I learned that I would need experience to land my first job. While in school I volunteered in a hospital HIM dept. for 11 months and was finally hired full time as an HIM representative for $11.78 per hour. After roughly 2 1/2 years of trying to get hired as a coder I am really hoping that some healthcare facilities will start hiring new coders or the schools will stop taking money for empty education.

    Thank you for letting me comment.

    Kelly Moore
    Denver, CO

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