Working Off-Site As a Medical Biller and Coder

By Karen Smiley

Working remotely — it’s a good gig if you can get it! Some offices allow medical coders to work remotely. If you work off‐site as a coder, you access the systems that contain the necessary documentation and then determine (or abstract) the correct diagnosis and procedural codes. You then return the codes to the billing department for claim submission.

Before you decide that working from home is for you, keep these important points in mind:

  • You must be able to ensure patient privacy. When you work remotely, your office has less control over what you do and the environment in which you do it. For that reason, remote access places certain demands on you and the company to maintain HIPAA compliance. You must strictly follow policies and procedures to protect the privacy of the patients. For example, you need a private workspace that ensures that no one else — like guests and family members — can access patient information.

  • You must be able to work independently without supervision and still meet the company quotas that are normally imposed. Companies that allow coders to work from home have the same expectations for their remote employees as they do for those working in the office. The remote worker normally is more productive if he or she exercises the same discipline that would be expected in the traditional office environment.

So take stock of your remote environment and your comfort level with shouldering that responsibility. If you feel comfortable that you can do both of the preceding, you may just find that working at home works for you!

Working in your PJs

One obvious perk to working from home is the casual dress option. Many offices have relaxed dress codes, but only within the confines of your own home is working in a robe and slippers even an option.

As pleasant as that sounds, keep in mind that you may have to dress like a grown‐up every now and again. Most companies still require remote coders to attend office meetings, workshops, and other professional functions. Plus, because you want your boss to be able to put a face to your name and because you want to make yourself available for questions from the billing department or follow‐up people (divisions that are dependent upon the coder when questions arise in claim submission and processing), you’ll probably head into the office on your own occasionally.

The no‐commute commute: Arranging a suitable workspace

One obvious perk to remote coding is that it eliminates the daily commute to an office, which saves energy, time, and money. The money you save on gas, clothes, lunches out, and wear and tear on your car (or a subway card) can go straight into the bank!

As a biller/coder, you need to make sure your workspace is equipped with a comfortable chair and a desk or table with room to spread out, a computer with Internet access, the appropriate software, and a telephone. Depending upon the company, you may also need a printer. In addition, you need the appropriate coding books.

Although some companies supply all the materials you need, including the paper and toner (and pay part of your Internet and phone bills), others expect you to provide these things on your own. Be sure to clarify the company’s expectations as well as your own before entering into an agreement.

Some payers also allow people working in patient and provider support positions to work from home. Candidates for these positions must be able to maintain a professional demeanor from home, which means no barking dogs, crying babies, or other unprofessional background noises.

If you have small children at home or you cannot secure a quiet room within your house (like a home office), then seriously consider setting up shop elsewhere. If, however, you’ve got a relatively quiet house during the day, then go for it!

Looking at the downside of working remotely

Every silver lining has a cloud, and working remotely is no exception. Although it may be a wonderful solution for some, it’s not a wonderful solution for all.

You don’t get the benefits of being in the office

One downside to remote positions is that you have less interaction with co‐workers. You may be the last to know when policies or procedures have changed. Working from home also does not offer the opportunity to cross‐train in larger offices, which can affect your future employment options.

The employee with the most knowledge of office procedures and who is able to assist in other departments is a greater asset to the company. When you work remotely, you have fewer opportunities to prove your mettle within the office community. If you do choose to work remotely, try to find ways that you can keep that personal connection; otherwise, you may find yourself the first to be let go.

The big “but”: Generally not a good idea for the novice

Remote coding is for the seasoned professional, not for the novice — no matter what they tell you in TV commercials for technical schools. Initially you may think that abstracting billable procedural and diagnosis codes is clear‐cut. It’s not. Because many providers document in conversational format, coders often need clarification on what exactly was done. Experienced coders need less clarification and normally have developed a method for performing a physician query with finesse, thus allowing them to get the information they need.

When you work in an office, you have access to an experienced coder who can often assist you in understanding the verbiage in the documentation. If you’re a newbie, consider putting off your remote access plans for a year or two until you have some office experience under your belt.

Part of your responsibility as a coder is to make sure that the documentation supports the claim being submitted for payment. If you’re new to billing and coding, working in an office with the support of more experienced profes­sionals can help you maintain that all‐important accuracy. Think of it as a professional safety net. So if you do choose to fly the coop and ride solo, make sure you have strong support at the home office in case accuracy issues pop up.