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A Patients Visit Through Numbers

A Patients Visit Through Numbers


​Have you ever thought about a career in Medical Coding? Or maybe the thought is what is Medical Coding?  To answer those questions I asked two coding managers who are experienced in the field.  They gave me this definition, Coders tell a story about a patient’s visit through numbers instead of words.  The physician lists diagnosis and procedures.  The coder puts this info into a numerical format that allows users of our codes to gather data on medical information quickly and concisely.  

To get a better idea of what the life of a coder entails I asked one of our coders, Michelle Furniss, to answer three questions about Coding.   

What interested you in the Coding Profession?  

Several years ago I was looking to change careers altogether.  I had a friend who did medical transcription, however the profession was moving to voice recognition and her job was reduced to editing.  It seemed like transcription was slowly being phased out as a profession.   I felt that the medical field would be pretty stable long term, but I knew I didn’t want to work in patient care.  So I continued my search and I heard about coding (which I thought was the same as billing) and I found out that my cousin worked in that field.  I asked her a little about what it was and how she felt about it.  She was a great resource and advised me on which program would best fit what I was looking for.   She said she loved coding, so that was encouraging.  The starting pay was good and it seemed like a good fit.  Even though I dreaded going back to school, I made the leap and started the process.

Can you tell me a little bit of your work history and background?

Prior to coding I was working in a completely unrelated field.  I have a bachelor’s in Zoology with the hope that I would find a job in animal care.  At the time I graduated the job market was dismal and I eventually took a job working for the DMV.  There were good and bad things in the job, but I didn’t feel like it offered much of a career path and I wanted something I could grow in.  

As I said, I was turned on to the idea of coding.  I elected to go through the Weber State University program – which was recommended to me by my cousin.  The program was 4 semesters 6 hours per semester.  I would like to have gone full time (12 credit hours) and finish faster, but due to the prerequisites, the classes could only be taken in the order they were set for.  All of the classes where online and I loved the classes for the convenience, but for the coding classes I would like to have had an orientation or an option to meet with the teacher in person to understand better how everything “flowed” with coding.  The classes were difficult and  if I hadn’t already paid for 2 semesters of classes I may have quit, but I am stubborn and cheap so I stuck with it.  

As time came to graduate, I started to worry about getting a CCS (Coding certification).  I was hearing conflicting information.  I didn’t know whether to certify first or try to get a job first.  It was confusing.  Luckily I found a job.  In October 2011 I was hired to code at Riverton Hospital.  I had an amazing coworker who patiently answered my thousands of questions.  Coding in the “real world” was so different from school – I felt like I was learning it all over again.  I didn’t have any experience with Health Information Management or how things flowed through the system, but eventually I understood everything pretty well.  I was shocked how long it took to train.  I have never had a job that took me much more than a month or two to train on any particular function.  It took me 6 months just to learn same day surgeries.  I felt like I could have just been a doctor for all the things I had to know to do this job.  

What do you enjoy about your job/position?  

Coding has been different from what I expected.  I had hoped for a job with good pay in a stable field and that I could just work away to retirement.  I’ve been surprised to discover that there is a lot of flexibility in coding – there are many opportunities to advance and branch out career-wise.  I’ve also been surprised at how fluid and subjective it can be.  I expected it would be very straightforward – this is the disease, this is the code.  But there’s a lot of interpretation that goes in to it.  At first it was frustrating to have various opinions on which way to code.  But I have really learned to be a more critical thinker and code based on solid arguments. I’ve also learned to use the resources available to help in making those decisions.  Intermountain has been wonderful for providing excellent training on coding to help work out the many “what if...” scenarios that come up in coding.  I like working a problem out with my coworkers.  I love finding a code I never knew existed that will work in this or that weird situation.  And, of course, I love when I have a bunch of easy charts and I can just fly through them and feel like a superhero.