3 skills needed in medical coding

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Attention to Detail

Blog disclaimer- my spices are not in alphabetical order. A few socks in my sock drawer are missing mates. My desk is 75% organized, but does have some pens, papers and other random things on it not related to my job at all. Because of this, I cringe a bit with the mandate , “must be attentive to detail,” to be a great coder. I can’t 100% identify with that label and say, yes that’s me exactly because I know I have parts of my life where I’m okay not having all the details worked out such as my spices, my desk, my socks, etc .

But others I know, identify strongly with this attribute and do have examples in their life other than coding that can testify to this attribute so I concede it is an attribute that is part of medical coding.

Problem Solver

While the attention to detail label is not my favorite description of the job, I do definitely embrace the label of being a problem solver, someone persistent in trying to figure this operative note out and someone willing to die on the treadmill as Will Smith describes-

The only thing that I see that is distinctly different about me is I’m not afraid to die on a treadmill. I will not be out-worked, period. You might have more talent than me, you might be smarter than me, you might be sexier than me, you might be all of those things you got it on me in nine categories. But if we get on the treadmill together, there’s two things: You’re getting off first, or I’m going to die. It’s really that simple, right?”
Will Smith

There are times you will need to be persistent and query the physician to get the answers you need. Other times, will require you to email a co-worker one more time for guidance, put more time into your google searches or for you to pull out the medical dictionary or coding desk reference again and break the terms down one more time even though you have already put so much time into this account, your productivity numbers are terrible this hour. Your answer will come from sweat and tears and not obsessive attention to detail at times.

But even problem solving has its limits in being effective and another skill must be relied upon and developed in order to be fully successful on the job.

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Expansive thinker

This is a skill, not listed at all when it comes to medical coding, but I think its one that definitively needs to be added. There will be times when you have exhausted your zoom in skills- attention to detail, problem solving, and now need the skill of expanding your thinking and zooming out your focus. Here is an example- unlike coding for a credentialing exam, the title of the op report and the body of the op report will not always match like they do on a exam. One must really study the operative report to see if the title matches the body of the op report. Changes might have had to occur and the surgeon did not update the title or what the surgeon understands the surgery title to be does not match how that procedure is described in the cpt guide and another cpt would be a better fit for what the surgeon did than the title listed on the operative report.

If you are only zooming in on the title of the op note and getting your cpt choice to match that title, one is prone to the mistake illustrated in the selective attention test, where participants were told to count how many passes of the ball occurred and in the process many missed seeing the gorilla enter the basketball player circle. If you haven’t seen this video or read about the psychology test, click on the URL below. It’s an excellent example of how hyper focus on one thing blinds you to other vital things going on at the same time.


Until next time, may you develop the skills you need to advance your medical coding career – Coder M, Michelle

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