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Recruiting highly experienced certified coders has been an ongoing challenge for hospitals located in sparsely populated rural settings. Since many credentialed coders aspire to eventually code from home, recruiting and retaining onsite professional coding talent will continue to challenge the HIM industry for a long time. The market shift toward remote, or home-based coding, has left rural hospitals in a recruitment bind.

Fortunately, there are effective solutions to combat this challenge. Clearly, the ultimate goal is to recruit and retain a group of credentialed, highly qualified coders. This can be accomplished by implementing remote coding technology. Whether your facility is paper-based, hybrid or has an electronic health record (EHR), there are practical in-house and outside solutions readily available. With recurring coder recruitment and retention difficulties, HIM administrators should be proactive in their search for coding talent and might consider implementing a remote coding program.

Unless a particular remote facility has already been successful in recruiting and retaining a group of credentialed coders who wish to remain in the hospital setting, HIM administrators may continue to spend valuable time, money and other valuable resources on recruiting credentialed coders who might eventually leave the hospital setting to work from home. This situation is especially problematic for hospitals located in sparsely populated rural settings due to obvious geographic restrictions.

A simple cost-benefit analysis might guide an administrator in making his or her initial decision to implement a remote coding program, as it may be more cost prohibitive to recruit new coding talent on a continuous basis compared to the requisite initial investment to launch a remote coding program. Remote coding technology provides its users with the luxury of year round, continuous access to highly experienced and credentialed coders. Simply put, remote coding is the most effective and efficient means of reaching the most talented coders.

Remote coding can be successfully implemented and managed by even the smallest of facilities. Prior to implementing a remote coding program, it is imperative that HIM administrators fully discuss remote coding solutions with various departments. For example, the IT department will need to be heavily involved in implementing and managing the technology (software and scanning) that will be utilized to securely transfer the medical records. Along these lines, facilities that still utilize a paper chart will need to devise a scanning program. Whether the decision is made to implement an in-house remote coding program or to outsource this function, the individual(s) or company must be very familiar with HIPAA (and state-specific) privacy and security regulations, as well as all aspects of IT that tie into an efficient remote coding operation. Now more than ever, with the recent HITECH Act and renewed focus on privacy and security of protected health information (PHI), facilities must be cognizant of how their PHI is being handled. If utilizing an outside vendor, be sure to inquire about the privacy and security controls that are in place.

While remote coding may be a viable alternative to traditional onsite coding, as with any other solution, the advantages and disadvantages should be thoroughly assessed on a department-wide basis. The continued quest for in-house credentialed coding staff should not be abandoned and HIM administrators should always strive to recruit a team of superb coding talent. If, however, coder recruitment and retention have plagued your department for quite some time, considering a remote coding program will at the very least provide an alternate and effective means of enlisting national coding talent.

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