This week on the Journal of AHIMA blog, Elena Miller, Director of Coding Audit and Education at a healthcare system, posted this really fascinating question:
Will Coders Ever Return to the Office?
Elena does a good job of explaining how quickly remote work has become part of the medical coder’s life and the benefits it provides. However, she looks at large companies like IBM that are eschewing remote work and bringing their employees back to the office. It’s fair to wonder if the same thing will happen with medical coders who are requested to work from the hospital as opposed to their home.
I’d suggest that this is extremely unlikely to happen. First, I think it’s a mistake for IBM to bring everyone back to the office. Second, the reasons that IBM wants to bring everyone back to the office don’t apply to medical coders as much as it does IBM employees.
While IBM made a big splash with their announcement of bringing everyone back to their office, I think they’re going to regret this decision. They’re going to lose some of their best people who want to work remotely and that’s going to leave them in a bad place. Finding and keeping high quality people is the hardest thing to do at any company. The problem is that the most skilled people in your workforce can find a job anywhere at any time and your competitors are still offering remote work. It’s such a bad idea to lose all of these quality people by getting rid of remote work across the board.
I’m sure IBM needed to change the culture of the company where many remote workers weren’t being efficient in their work. That needs to be addressed, but banishing remote work across the board has all sorts of bad consequences. Don’t be surprised if IBM has made a bunch of exceptions for their highest performing people and if they go back on such a broad policy. A hospital or health system that does this will find the same problem and most can’t afford to lose their best medical coders who can certainly find remote coding work elsewhere if needed.
All of this said, the bigger issue is that remote coding work is quite different than most of the IBM jobs. Most IBM jobs benefit from collaboration and they’re hard to track as far as results. This is why they benefit from being in the same office with their colleagues with whom they need to collaborate and that can hold them accountable.
While medical coders certainly run into challenging cases where they benefit from collaboration, for the most part, medical coding is an individual sport. Plus, there are good ways to track coders productivity, accuracy, etc so you can hold them accountable for their work regardless of whether they’re at home or in the office. This is why I think it’s pretty unlikely that medical coders will return to the office.
Sure, there may be some edge cases where certain healthcare leaders who bring all their coders back as a way to send a message to staff. I think that’s what happened in the IBM case. However, much like I think will happen with IBM, those leaders will backtrack to remote coding soon enough. No doubt there will also be some edge cases where it makes sense to bring a specific coder back on site for training or other remediation for poor performance. Some medical coders may even request to be on site based on their own needs. However, if you can’t trust them to code remotely, my feeling is that you probably shouldn’t trust them to code at all.
Elena does make a great point in her article about remote coders not having the same opportunities to advance in their organization. Being present definitely matters if you are aspiring into leadership positions. What’s not clear to me is how many remote coders really aspire to leadership positions. Those that do seem to be doing remote coding on the side to supplement their income as they rise through the HIM leadership ranks. Maybe I’m wrong and there are a lot of remote medical coders that aspire to leadership in their organizations.
Let us know what you think in the comments and on social media @HealthcareScene. Will remote medical coders return to the office? Will remote coding hurt HIM professionals’ leadership opportunities?