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Coders will be more in demand than ever in the future, says one industry analyst. New technology, however, threatens to turn that demand in the opposite direction. "There are a couple of forces that are at work right now that have long-term implications on the role of coders," says Lamar Blount, CPA, FHFMA, president of Healthcare Management Advisors in Alpharetta, GA. First, with the conversion to ambulatory payment classification methodologies for outpatient hospital reimbursement and prospective conversions that Medicare has made for other providers, the demand for coders is higher than ever and still increasing.
"Hospitals that once felt that the majority of what they do could be controlled through coding, driven through the Chargemaster, are realizing that they still need a professional coder to be sure about many more of the types of services that previously were not affected at all by the accuracy of the codes," he says.
On a negative note, advancements in voice recognition technology and the increasing accessibility of computerized records and transcription may allow codes to be automatically determined by the system, as opposed to a human reading a record and developing a code, Blount says. He expects this kind of technology to be adopted first in larger institutions and medical schools and universities. As that technology becomes more affordable, then smaller, medium-sized providers might be next. "Over the long term, I expect in more than five years that the demand for coders will decline."
Blount expects coding to also become more complex. "The continuing advances in medical technology means there are more tests and procedures than we have had available in the past. All of those require codes." For example, coders who once knew every possible X-ray code have had to learn CT and MRI procedure codes, too, as those procedures have become more common. "That analogy will continue to work throughout the industry."