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Deciding on whether to outsource any portion of your healthcare facility’s revenue cycle department is something that cannot be taken lightly. And facilities have different options when outsourcing the coding function. Some facilities have chosen to keep the coding in-house and only outsource the processes involved with electronic claims submissions, collections and financial reporting. However, with the increased number of audits, health care facilities are deciding to outsource all revenue cycle functions including the coding of claims.

The implication of inaccurate coding is significant. A facility should look at their available resources when determining if the coding should be outsourced. One only has to look at the two types of coding errors: “overcoding” and “undercoding.” The obvious ramification of overcoding is potential for an extended audit; repayment and possible penalties and fines. Undercoding or what providers call “defensive coding” results in millions of dollars of lost revenue.

Pros of Outsourced Coding

As mentioned, healthcare providers are seeing audits from all areas. These claims audits include RAC, MIC, MAC, CERT, PERM, MFCU, ZPIC and others. With more claims audits, the healthcare industry is seeing a higher demand for qualified coders. One benefit of outsourcing the coding tasks is that the headache of hiring an individual with coding experience is no longer an issue.

Medical coding rules can be arduous. A coder must be privy to CPT rules, Correct Coding Initiative Edits (CCI), ICD-9-CM (and soon ICD-10-CM), Local Carrier Determination (LCDs) and National Carrier Determinations (NCDs). With small practices, those individuals who are granted the task of “coding” are also given other responsibilities which affect the amount of time they have on applying, learning and keeping abreast of all of the rules. Utilizing a company who only hires qualified individuals to conduct the coding tasks, provides confidence that the claims are being submitted based on the appropriate rules and policies.

The American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC) and the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) provide various ways of obtaining the required continuing education credits. Many ways are affordable and do not require leaving your desk. However, many of these ways are not as specialty specific as you would find at regional and national conferences. With attending offsite conferences, the expenses are increased. The budgets in many health care facilities cannot accommodate the expenses associated with continuing education classes. Outsourcing the coding to a company eliminates this extra expense.

With the above benefits of outsourcing the coding, comes due diligence on the health care facility’s end. It is imperative that it is understood that these companies do provide specialty specific continuing education and that they provide their staff with the appropriate resources that spell out all of the coding rules and policies.

Cons of Outsourced Coding

So what are the cons involved in the outsourcing of the coding? For one, when mentioning the benefits of using a coding company, we are making the assumption that their employees are qualified and educated on the coding rules. Negative outcomes have been shown with physicians of certain specialties that have more difficult coding scenarios. This is often seen with Interventional Radiology and Neuro Surgery. Although the coding company may have qualified individuals, they may not be experts on these more difficult specialties. It is imperative that you find out if your designated coder is educated on your specialty. Ask for the bios and CVs of the coders who will be working on your claims. In addition, coders lose their credentials. It is easy to contact the AAPC and AHIMA to determine if the coder who is submitting your claims has allowed her credentials to lapse. Find out what type of continuing education they have received in the past; get specifics.

Unless you contract with a coding company that only deals with claims in one particular part of the country, you are taking the gamble that they are truly applying LCDs and other regional coding policies to your claims. If you are a provider in Louisiana and you are utilizing the services of a company out of Minnesota, you must get confirmation that the coding company is experienced with Medicare, Medicaid and other third-party payers in your state


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