What I’m learning from medical coding

by Carl Natale on June 2, 2011

ICD-10 MigrationI just wanted to let you know about a new gig I’m working. The title is community editor at ICD10Watch.com. It’s a site owned by MedTech Media, a Maine-based publisher of health related news and information.

The site is a niche site that focuses on ICD-10 – a new set of codes to designate your medical condition. All your aches, pains  and problems are represented by a code. Those codes are used in reporting medical statistics and billing.

And that’s the real reason it’s important. Billing. Right now, medical practices and hospitals use a set of codes called ICD-9 to get reimbursement from the federal government and health insurers.

The federal government has mandated that U.S. practices switch to the World Health Organizations updated codes – ICD-10 – by Oct. 1, 2013.

This is a massive change in how medical offices operate. The old codes don’t translate well to the more granular, specific new codes. For example, a sprained ankle is represented by one ICD-9 code. But ICD-10 has 72 possible codes for that sprain.

My job is to follow news about how the medical industry is handling the transition and explain it to medical coders – the office workers who translate doctors’ notes to codes.

I understand if you think this is boring. But I’m loving it. It’s an important subject with a very engaged audience.

This is why it’s important:

It’s what I do

I’m very good at finding information and resources. Then I explain what’s important. Some people call it journalism. Non-journalists are calling it content curation or blogging.

But it’s what I do, and I’m very happy to help this audience.

This is what freelancers need to do. Focus on their skills and how they can use those skills to help a market.

Tightly focused niches rock

In terms of audience size, this is very small. The medical coders and technical support professionals doesn’t represent a mass market. But the amount of money needed to update office systems and train personnel is big.

The site ICD10Watch has one sponsor. But it’s enough to make money since the site owners are only paying one part-time person, me, to create content.

It takes guts to narrow a market to a very small niche. It feels like you’re turning down customers. Or audience in the publishing world. But a niche can be profitable if you find the right market.

This is a big problem

If doctor offices and hospitals don’t make the deadline or get the codes right, they won’t get paid. Plus it will require massive retraining of medical personnel.

There also is talk that payers will use the new codes to their advantage. That means denying more claims. Which means patients will have to pay more for medical services.

There is a lot of money at stake. And guess who is going to be paying it. No matter how you slice it, the costs are going to trickle down to us.

Hopefully my work will lessen that impact by helping office managers and IT staff make better decisions.

Big problems mean opportunity

There are office systems vendors and consultants who will help make this migration to ICD-10 happen. This won’t be cheap.

Not only do medical coders need to learn the new codes but doctors and nurses need to learn to be more specific in patient documentation. Remember those 72 codes for a sprained ankle? Coders need to know more details to pick the right code. This means a lot of money will be spent on training.

All the people who will be paying for new systems and training need good information. Which is why MedTech Media created ICD10Watch.

All this change is amounting to big money. And it’s going to get bigger. As we get closer to the deadline, there will be more need to get the migration done. Everything will get more expensive as procrastinating offices compete with each other to hire consultants and ICD-10 fluent coders.

There is room for more people to make money here. It’s not to late to enter the market.

Look for innovation

The big software and equipment vendors are on board. They have solutions. Expensive solutions. To me, that’s a sign that a small business or entrepreneur has an opportunity to change things.

I don’t know how. Yet. But someone is going to have an idea that makes this whole thing more efficient and economical.

Don’t forget health care reform

The ICD-10 implementation isn’t part of any reform. But it reminds me that I have an evil plan stored in my secret headquarters. No matter what your politics, you have to agree that paying for health care is going to get more complicated.

That means we’re going to need a guide to make sense of all the options. Think Consumer Reports for health care spending.

This work is good training for making that evil plan a reality.

I’m not a doctor…

But I wish I played one on TV.

And I’m in no way an expert on medical coding. Or any other medical subject.

So why would anyone take me seriously when I write about a highly-specialized subject?
I’m an expert in finding information and explaining complicated subjects. I’m finding a lot of experts willing to explain the issues to me and my audiences.

You don’t have to be an expert to get into this or any other field. Start learning and report that to the audience. You will gain their trust as you develop expertise.

This isn’t dishonest as long as you don’t pretend to be something you’re not. You can still offer your insight. Keep learning and sharing to become a valuable resource.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Previous post:

Next post: