7 Key Strategies to Improve Medical Coding Accuracy
 Revenue Cycle Management

7 Key Strategies to Improve Medical Coding Accuracy

Susan Collins
Susan Collins
February 27, 2024
Last updated on:

February 27, 2024

|

Read time: 7 mins

Medical coding is the assignment of numerical codes to medical diagnoses and procedures. It directly influences the accuracy of claims submitted to insurance payers and determines the consistency of cash flow. However, while the significance of accurate coding is unquestionable, achieving it is easier said than done. Many healthcare practices struggle to deal with recurring coding errors and are clueless about how to bypass them. A strategy will help them strike at the root of the problems. This blog will delve into seven essential strategies that help practices plug loopholes in their coding process. 

According to a Becker's Hospital Review report, 80% of US medical bills contain errors.

How to Improve Medical Coding Accuracy?

Below are the essential strategies for medical practices aiming to improve medical coding accuracy:

1. Stay Informed about Coding Updates

The healthcare industry undergoes constant regulatory changes and evolving coding guidelines. Therefore, being attuned to these updates ensures health practices and that the coding professionals are equipped with the latest information to reduce the likelihood of errors in code assignment. Moreover, updated knowledge allows practices to align with industry standards, comply with regulations, and accurately capture the complexity of medical procedures.

This proactive approach mitigates the risk of coding-related denials and fosters precision in financial reporting. Also, staying informed facilitates the smooth adaptation of coding teams to emerging healthcare trends, technology advancements, and shifts in reimbursement policies. Ultimately, these contribute to a resilient and accurate medical coding framework within the practice. 

Key Medical Coding Guidelines 

  • ICD-10-CM Guidelines: Used for coding diseases, conditions, and symptoms in healthcare settings.
  • CPT Guidelines: Published by the American Medical Association, these guidelines provide instructions for using CPT codes to report medical procedures and services.
  • HCPCS Level II Guidelines: Used for HCPCS Level II codes to identify supplies, equipment, and services not covered by CPT codes.
  • CMS Internet-Only Manuals: Used for coding and billing procedures covered by Medicare, Medicaid, and other federal programs.
  • NCCI (National Correct Coding Initiative) Policy Manual: Used to prevent improper coding practices and ensure accurate reporting of services.

What are the consequences of improper medical coding?

Improper medical coding can lead to severe consequences, including billing inaccuracies, reimbursement issues, and legal ramifications. Inaccurate codes may result in denied claims, financial losses for healthcare providers, and compromised patient care due to miscommunication and misinterpretation of medical information. To know more,

Read our Blog: Consequences of Incorrect Medical Coding And Billing

2. Utilize Coding Software and Technology

Utilizing coding software and technology is a significant strategy for healthcare practices to enhance medical coding accuracy. Advanced coding tools streamline the coding process and help mitigate the risk of manual errors inherent in traditional methods. These technologies incorporate built-in checks, validation algorithms, and real-time updates and ensure adherence to the latest coding guidelines and regulations.

Moreover, automation reduces the chances of oversights and results in more precise code assignments. Additionally, coding software facilitates efficient record-keeping, enables quick retrieval of patient data, and enhances the overall accuracy of medical documentation. By embracing these technological solutions, healthcare practices improve the efficiency of their coding teams and contribute to a more robust and error-resistant revenue cycle.

Advanced Coding Software & Technologies 

  • 3M CodeFinder Software: Utilizes advanced technology, such as natural language processing, to enhance accuracy. It streamlines the coding process, providing coders with tools to assign codes efficiently and adhere to industry standards.
  • TruCode's Encoder: Integrates advanced coding algorithms and streamlined the code assignment process. It offers coding professionals comprehensive tools for accurate code assignment and compliance with coding guidelines.
  • Optum360 EncoderPro.com: Provides coding professionals with access to updated code sets. It facilitates collaborative coding workflows and ensures accuracy in code assignment for various healthcare procedures and services.
  • AHIMA's Clintegrity 360 Encoder: Offers features like computer-assisted coding, robust reporting, and adherence to coding standards. This solution ensures accuracy and efficiency in code assignment and supports maintaining compliance and optimal coding workflows.
Types of Medical Coding Errors
Image 1 - Types of Medical Coding Errors

3. Maintain An Effective Coding Workflow

A streamlined workflow ensures a systematic and organized approach to coding processes and reduces the likelihood of errors and oversights. It incorporates regular checks and balances and allows for internal audits and feedback loops that promptly identify and rectify coding discrepancies.

This proactive approach minimizes the risk of coding-related denials and enhances overall operational efficiency. Furthermore, a well-maintained coding workflow facilitates continuous improvement by allowing practices to adapt swiftly to industry changes, regulatory updates, and technological advancements.  

An Effective Coding Workflow 

  • Document Review: Review patient records, clinical notes, and relevant documentation thoroughly.
  • Code Assignment: Accurately assign appropriate codes based on documented diagnoses, procedures, and services.
  • Coding Software Utilization: Utilize advanced coding software and technologies for streamlined and accurate code assignment.
  • Quality Assurance Checks: Implement regular internal audits and quality assurance checks to promptly identify and rectify coding errors.
  • Clear Documentation Communication: Foster clear communication channels between coding and clinical staff to address documentation queries promptly.

4. Maintain Clear Documentation

Clear and comprehensive documentation ensures that coding professionals have the necessary information to assign numerical codes to diagnoses and procedures accurately. It minimizes ambiguity and reduces the likelihood of misinterpretation and errors in code assignment. These efforts facilitate effective communication between clinical and coding teams and allow quick clarification of any uncertainties.

This transparent exchange ensures the coded information aligns precisely with the medical services rendered. Moreover, it streamlines the billing and reimbursement process and contributes to a more accurate and efficient revenue cycle. 

Best Practices to Maintain Clear Medical Coding Documents

  • Thorough Documentation: Produce comprehensive and detailed documentation to assist coders in accurately assigning codes and reduce the risk of errors.
  • Consistent Communication: Maintain open communication channels between coding professionals and healthcare providers to promptly address queries and seek clarification on unclear or ambiguous documentation.
  • Regular Training for Coders: Provide ongoing training for coding professionals to inform them about the latest coding guidelines and industry updates. 
  • Regular Documentation Audits: Conduct regular internal audits of medical documentation to identify areas for improvement.
Medical Coding Complaince Checklist
Image 2 - Medical Coding Complaince Checklist

5. Establish Coding Standards and Protocols

Medical coding standards and protocols provide a framework for consistency and adherence to best practices. They help foster a unified approach among coding professionals. By clearly defining coding standards, practices mitigate the risk of interpretation errors and variations in code assignment. Moreover, the protocols ensure that coding teams follow a systematic process, incorporating routine checks and verification steps.

This structured approach enhances accuracy by minimizing the potential for oversights and discrepancies. Moreover, standardized coding practices contribute to improved communication between coding and clinical staff. This promotes a cohesive and error-resistant coding environment within healthcare practices.

Key Medical Coding Protocols to Follow 

  • HIPAA Compliance: Ensure strict adherence to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations to safeguard patient privacy and protect sensitive health information.
  • Local Coverage Determinations (LCDs) and National Coverage Determinations (NCDs): Follow LCDs and NCDs to understand specific coverage policies for certain medical services under Medicare, helping ensure proper coding for reimbursement.
  • Effective Communication with Clinical Staff: Foster open communication channels between coding and clinical staff to address documentation queries promptly and ensure accurate code assignment.
  • Use of Modifiers Appropriately: Apply modifiers as per guidelines to convey additional information about a service or procedure and avoid coding errors or misinterpretations.

6. Regular Audits and Feedback

Ongoing internal assessments provide a systematic way to identify coding errors and ensure continuous improvement. Audits pinpoint discrepancies in code assignment, allow immediate corrective action, and prevent recurring mistakes. On the other hand, the feedback loop serves as a valuable learning tool for coding professionals.

This iterative process enhances accuracy and promotes a culture of accountability and continuous learning within the coding team. Moreover, it proactively addresses key challenges, minimizes the risk of coding-related denials, and contributes to a resilient and precise medical coding framework.

Best Practices for Regular Audits 

  • Establish a Structured Audit Schedule: Develop a regular and structured audit schedule to ensure audits are conducted consistently throughout the year. This helps identify trends and maintain continuous improvement.
  • Random Sampling: Use random sampling to select a representative portion of coded records for audit. This provides a fair and unbiased assessment of coding accuracy.
  • Include Diverse Cases: Ensure that the audit includes a diverse range of cases, covering various specialties, procedures, and types of encounters. This helps in assessing coding accuracy across different scenarios.
  • Focus on High-Risk Areas: Prioritize auditing high-risk areas, such as frequently audited codes, complex procedures, or codes with a history of errors. This targeted approach increases the impact of the audit.
  • Benchmarking Against Industry Standards: Compare coding accuracy against industry benchmarks and standards. This provides context for performance evaluation and helps identify areas for improvement.

7. Conduct Continuous Training 

Staying ahead of evolving coding guidelines and industry updates is essential in the dynamic healthcare landscape. In this way, continuous training ensures that coding professionals remain well-informed, hone their skills, and adapt to the latest regulations. 

Furthermore, ongoing education fosters a deeper understanding of complex coding scenarios. It also provides a platform for regular skill assessments and updates on emerging technologies, reinforcing proficiency in coding practices. Therefore, by prioritizing continuous learning, practices cultivate a workforce that is accurate in medical coding and agile in navigating the intricacies. 

Skills Required for Maintaining Medical Coding Accuracy 

  • Medical Coding Knowledge: An in-depth understanding of coding systems such as ICD-10-CM and CPT is essential. Also, knowledge of anatomy, physiology, and medical terminology is crucial for accurate code assignment.
  • Attention to Detail: Exceptional attention to detail is essential to catch nuances in clinical documentation and accurately assign the appropriate codes. 
  • Analytical Skills: Analyzing complex medical records procedures is essential. Analytical skills help in interpreting documentation and applying the correct coding guidelines.
  • Ethical Judgment: Medical coders must adhere to a strict code of ethics. Ethical judgment ensures that codes accurately reflect the documented services and that coding practices align with industry standards.
  • Understanding Reimbursement Systems: Knowledge of reimbursement systems, including the impact of codes in billing, is crucial for aligning coding practices with financial processes.

Conclusion

Evolving regulations, new treatments, and diagnostic methods will make medical coding complex with time. This means that ensuring precision for accurate reimbursement and compliance will also become more challenging. The need to deal with a growing array of codes and guidelines will spawn new challenges like shortage of skilled resources, high rates of attrition, etc. Additionally, improving systems interoperability would require adopting advanced and expensive technologies.

Taking on these challenges in-house can take away the time needed to focus on core business aspects. Therefore, healthcare practices need to work smarter and not harder. And the smart way out is to delegate coding-related tasks to an experienced medical coding specialist.

Invensis has a large team of certified medical coders well-versed in ICD-10, CPT, and HCPCS coding systems. As a specialized service provider, we have over two decades of standing in developing custom processes and leveraging advanced technologies to deliver top-notch medical coding services. Contact us now to learn more about our services.

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