Georgia Northwestern Technical College’s Business Healthcare Technology program prepares graduates not only to help combat the shortage of medical coders across the country, but also to provide data that will influence medical protocols and patient outcomes.
The American Academy of Professional Coders defines medical coding as the translation of diagnoses, procedures, medical services, and healthcare equipment into universal medical alphanumeric codes.
“The growing healthcare needs of aging Baby Boomers and the need for more statistical data, as we have discovered with the recent pandemic, have contributed to an increased demand for medical coding,” said Gina Stephens, Business Management Technology instructor. “Medical coding offers many opportunities for specialization and growth.”
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the need for more than 34,000 medical records and health information specialists annually during this decade.
“The World Health Organization (WHO) develops and regulates diagnostic and procedure codes and collects data from countries around the world to track regional, state, national and global health statistics,” said Lisa Hunt, director of the Business Healthcare program. Technology. “Disease tracking allows us to identify and address outbreaks early, before they become endemic or pandemic in nature.”
The data can be used when organizations like the Centers for Disease Control work with the WHO to address drinking water, vaccination protocols, disaster planning, patient education and treatment, prevention guidelines, and other issues. environmental, he said.
The WHO even tracks accidents with these codes. If the agency sees an increased number of accidents in a region, the cause of the accidents can be investigated so that safety measures can be put in place, Ms. Hunt said.
Pharmaceutical companies also use medical codes to identify drug resistance and emerging drug needs and to examine quality of care by tracking patient outcomes. Insurance companies, in turn, use that data to adjust premiums, she said.
Many cutting-edge technologies and societal viewpoints influence medical coding, Ms Stephens said, adding that “artificial intelligence and social determinants of health are very exciting influences on medical coding.”
Basic medical coding can be done with artificial intelligence, but complex decisions and audits require a coding expert, said Ms Hunt, adding: “We are training our students to code using coders, which is the current trend in the industry”.
In essence, medical coding begins with the health care provider, Ms. Hunt said.
“If data in a patient record does not match a medical diagnosis (International Classification of Diseases Code) or a procedure code, the provider or facility may be financially penalized or subject to criminal charges,” said Ms. Hunt .
Federal oversight is carried out through the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the Department of Health and Human Resources and the Office of the Inspector General, he said.
The FBI reports annual losses of tens of billions of dollars from health care fraud. Facilities are also required to pay back millions of dollars each year for coding errors, abuse and fraud, he said.
Incorrect coding can also create a financial crisis or have a negative impact on a patient’s life or well-being, Ms. Stephens said.
GNTC’s program covers many of the potential problems that can be avoided in coding errors, accounting fundamentals, electronic communications, Internet research, electronic file management, health care regulation and compliance, effective communication skills and terminology, he said. The program also provides opportunities to update current knowledge and skills or to retrain in the area of business technology.
The program, launched in the fall of 2017, emphasizes the use of software and technology, he said.
Ms. Hunt said that the program offers receptionist medical assistant courses; certified in Medical Coding, Healthcare Documentation Specialist, Healthcare Billing and Reimbursement Assistant, and Healthcare Coding and Billing Specialist; a diploma in Business Health Technology; and an associate’s degree in Business Healthcare Technology specializing in Compliance and Reimbursement or Practice Management.
To date, 300 students have earned a degree, diploma or certificate in the Business Healthcare Technology program, and 229 students have completed Medical Front Office Assistant courses, according to GNTC data.
“Students can start at any level of the program,” he said. “Often, they start with a certificate and work their way up to an associate’s degree. Transfer of courses from the certificate level upwards; this allows students to enter the workforce earlier and continue working toward their degree after employment.”
As more and more college graduates seek opportunities to work from home, new graduates in this field rarely work from home. “They will be asked to work on the site until they are completely oriented to the business and demonstrate that they code with 95% accuracy,” he said.
The program also attracts a number of retired nurses and educators from the K-12 system who are seeking “work from home” opportunities during their retirement years, he said.
“We also offer our program to high school students through dual enrollment,” stated Ms. Hunt. “Some of my best students come from this area.”
Ms. Hunt believes that another way the program stands out is that the faculty has combined decades of industry experience from the health care field and experience in higher education. She said the staff includes bilingual teachers and 75 percent are registered nurses.
“This extensive experience allows us to understand health care from many different perspectives with a comprehensive view of facility organization,” said Ms. Hunt.
Ms. Stephens oversees campus needs and serves as an instructor at the Floyd, Gordon, and Polk County campuses. Ms. Hunt is the program director and instructor at the Catoosa, Walker, and Whitfield Murray County campuses.
Ms. Hunt earned her associate’s degree in nursing from Dalton State College, a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Colorado Technical University, her master’s of business administration in health administration from Colorado Technical University, and a bachelor’s degree in health information management from Stephen’s College.
Ms. Hunt has a registered nurse license in Georgia and a compact license, a multi-state license that allows a nurse to practice with patients across state lines, she said. She has a nursing background in pediatrics, obstetrics, medical/surgical, and industrial health, as well as a Red Cross volunteer and CPR instructor. She works with the American Council on Education on Accreditation in higher education programs and on the development of the Military ACE Guide.
He teaches classes covering health care delivery systems, reimbursement, health care administrative procedures, legal practice and ethics, fundamentals of health care management and leadership, and professional effectiveness.
Ms. Stephens said she graduated with an associate’s degree in nursing from Georgia Highlands College and earned her master’s degree in nursing from Western Governors University. She worked as a registered nurse for over 20 years and also performed medical transcription and medical coding/quality assurance.
A certified professional coder and instructor approved by the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC), Ms. Stephens has taught all courses within the Business Health Technology department, as well as some in the Allied Health program, she said. Her current classes consist primarily of those related to coding, auditing, and reimbursement.