My Career Step: Cari Greenwood

Cari Greenwood

cari’s goals

  • Contribute to her family’s income while still being able to stay home with her children
  • Maximize her earning potential with the minimum investment of time and money

benefits of her medical coding career

  • A position in her new career in just over a year
  • A “dream job” that fit all of her requirements
  • The skills and experience necessary to work from home

Why I Chose Medical Coding

My decision to become a medical coder was motivated in large part by the circumstances in my personal life. My husband had recently closed a faltering small business, which left our family in a difficult financial situation and necessitated my return to the workforce (I had previously been a stay-at-home mom, raising our two children). In an effort to maintain the normalcy of my children’s lives and remain their primary caretaker, I started working a graveyard shift and as a substitute teacher at my children’s school. This arrangement worked well and continued on for a few years until it became apparent that I couldn’t lead a sleep deprived life forever. I knew I needed to find a better job, one that offered full-time hours and benefits, but I wanted something that would lead to the highest possible earnings in the shortest amount of time and that might still allow me to work from home and be there for my kids.

During this time, I was chatting with a friend who mentioned that she was taking a medical coding class. She told me that her coding education was expected to take less than a year to complete, that coders had the potential to make a better than average salary, and that with some experience there were limited opportunities to work from home. Her words were music to my ears! This was a career that could potentially meet all the requirements of my dream job. As a bonus, it was in the medical field, an area I had always felt an affinity for—I just couldn’t quite handle the clinical work. As a medical coder, I could read about and understand the process behind a patient’s injuries and illnesses. I knew I might not be able to make the work-at-home piece of the puzzle fit for a while but the potential was there, and I was more than satisfied with the earning potential based on the time and money investment.

My Medical Coding Education and Career

I made arrangements for the funding I needed and enrolled in the next available class. I began in March and spent the next seven months learning everything I could about coding. I then completed a 120 hour externship at a local hospital. Once I had completed my coursework and externship, I was prepared for certification. In December, I passed the CPC (Certified Professional Coder) exam, and the following February I passed the CCA (Certified Coding Associate) exam.

Armed with my certifications, I hit the job market. I landed the second job I applied for. I was going to be the new, one and only, inpatient coder for the very same hospital where I had done my externship. I was elated and terrified all at the same time. I knew I had a long road ahead of me and that I still had loads to learn, but, with the help of a kind and patient boss and a lot of hard work, I gained confidence and became a pretty good coder. I was hired in May and passed the CCS (Certified Coding Specialist) certification in September, which further increased my confidence and pay.

Over the next three years, I worked as an inpatient/outpatient coder for the hospital as well as a physician billing coder for a radiology group. At that point, I felt that I had developed my skills sufficiently to be successful as a remote coder, so I applied with a remote coding company and was quickly hired. I had mixed emotions about leaving the comfortable familiarity of my job at the hospital, and I will ever be grateful for the experience I gained working in that on-site environment. Without this experience, I would never have had the skills and confidence I needed to meet the challenges of working at home.

My Typical Workday

When I worked as an inpatient/outpatient coder for the hospital, which was a smaller acute care facility, I was solely responsible for coding all inpatient admissions and my typical workday began at 8 a.m. I would first determine how many patients had been discharged the previous day, which would give me a good idea of my workload would be for the day. Once I had an idea of my workload, I would begin organizing my work for the day. Both facilities and physicians’ offices want to get records coded and billed in a timely manner, and the generally accepted maximum turnaround time from discharge to final coding is four days or less. I typically coded easier or shorter stays such as newborns and maternity first, always being careful to start with the oldest discharge dates making sure I was staying within the four day turnaround time.

In order to code the records I was assigned, I used both my encoder software and my coding books to determine the appropriate codes for each record. Often, I would refer to various coding resources with questions or if I was not quite sure how to proceed in a specific coding situation. If I found that the physician’s documentation in the record contained contradicting or conflicting information or there was insufficient documentation to make appropriate code assignments, I would prepare a physician query.

In addition to making actual code assignments, many coders also abstract statistical information from patient records such as discharge dispositions, the weights of newborn babies, and hours of labor on delivery admissions. Coders also verify the accuracy of the patient’s admission type. When I identified discrepancies or inconsistencies in the record, I would communicate with the appropriate departments to make the proper amendments to the patient’s medical record.

As you can see, coders play a vital role in maintaining the accuracy and integrity of patient’s medical records in addition to ensuring that the healthcare provider is properly reimbursed. I have found coding to be a wonderful and rewarding career that challenges my intellect and constantly pushes me to learn new things. It also provided me opportunities to collaborate with co-workers in an effort to improve our employer’s financial bottom line and the service provided to patients by protecting their medical records. This career path has provided opportunities for me to be successful on both a professional and a personal level, and I feel that my choice to become a medical coder was one of the best decisions I ever made.

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