Jennifer-RitterEarlier this year, Penn Medicine launched the Penn Medicine Coding Academy.  The Academy is designed to help fill a gap in qualified, medical coders that is being anticipated throughout the health-care industry. This shortage is due in part to changes in the code sets based on the International Classification of Diseases (ICD), used to report medical diagnoses and inpatient procedures. The previous code-set, ICD-09, was adopted in 1975, and has become outdated as medicine has evolved and advanced over time. The newest revision, ICD-10, has been designed to be more flexible, allowing for greater reporting detail within the codes, and the ability to expand to include new diagnosis and procedures.  The Health Insurance Portability Accountability Act (HIPAA) dictates that any organization covered under it be fully transitioned to using ICD-10 code sets by October 2014. 

Learning by Doing

The Coding Academy, coordinated through the Penn Medicine Academy, is being taught in partnership with Temple University faculty and Jennifer Ritter, Coding Academy Manager.  It is a challenging one-year commitment for the candidates that were selected. The first group of 13 coders have started their training with six months of intensive classroom learning, meeting for full workdays, five days a week at the Penn Medicine Center for Innovation and Learning. The challenging course of study has been likened to achieving fluency in a foreign language in just six months. 

“I think it will increase the quality and production of Penn’s medical records,” says Marisa Peirandoczi, a recent graduate of Temple University’s Health Information Management program. She believes that the Academy’s intensive learning schedule will ultimately lead to better outcomes for Penn Medicine. “The program is brand new, so none of us knew what to expect. It’s so professional, the structure is very unique compared to other programs.” 

The students have completed phase 1 of their learning, and are now onto phase II -- gaining experience and honing their skills through exposure to real patient records.

Students are given a blank slate to work from and then get to compare their results to the original coded chart. Peirandoczi notes, “After all the classroom time, the chart comparison allows us to really see how much we’ve learned.” As they continue to develop their skills, the cases they are reviewing will become increasing more complex. 

Why Start a Coding Academy?

In the past, due to the complexity of medical cases and the time it takes to move from a novice to being fully competent in coding, Penn Medicine was not able to recruit entry-level coders. With the creation of the Coding Academy, Penn Medicine is able to leverage the learning infrastructure already in place to support the training and professional development of coding specialists, while making sure the Health System is fully prepared to meet the challenges that lie ahead.

Photo caption: Coding Academy manager Jennifer Ritter with the first group of students on their way to becoming qualified, medical coders.

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