Board approves new medical coding program; Medical coders can expect to earn $49,000

Lane’s Board of Education has voted to add a new degree to the school’s offerings by unanimously approving the Associate Applied Sciences Degree of Health Information Management.

The board’s vote makes Lane the third school in the state to offer the degree after Portland Community College and Central Oregon Commzunity College in Bend. Students wishing to enroll in Portland’s program are currently facing a two-year waiting period.

“And our (program) will be 100 percent online,” board member Matthew Keating said. “That’s key.”

Lane Program Coordinator Shelley Williams said the necessary courses have already been developed.

The degree will also integrate itself with the college’s High School Connections program, enabling high school students to begin taking the program’s coursework prior to graduation, before they begin the second year of the program when they transition to Lane.

Prior to the board’s vote during its Feb. 5 meeting, department representatives presented board members a report on their new program. According to the American Health Information Management Association, there are 104 different job titles the graduates would be qualified to choose from, although only three are listed in the application.

“This particular program will also help with our continuing education program, and our entrepreneurial enterprise of training incumbent workers in both electronic records and medical coding,” Lane Dean of Health Professions Sheryl Berman said.

In the healthcare industry, everything that happens must be kept track of, so every symptom and treatment is assigned a nine-digit numerical code that acts as a shorthand to medical terms, many of which are spelled with a high number of letters. The codes are used to keep medical records efficiently. Students graduating with the new associate’s degree will be certified as specialists in this aspect of healthcare.

The most lucrative career path for a new graduate with the degree is working as a certified medical coder.

According to the American Association of Professional Coders, the national average annual salary for a certified professional coder in 2013 was approximately $49,000.

Berman said Workforce Lane projects, at minimum, a 28 percent increase in demand in Oregon over the next few years, with a projected demand above 30 percent outside of the state.

Upon completion of the program, coders will be capable of doing their jobs unsupervised, and under some jobs, they will be eligible to work from home, as long as their computers have adequate security to protect patients’ personal information.

“This degree is going to be the biggest goldmine for any student anywhere in this country,” said board member Gary LeClair, who is a gynecologist at his Springfield medical practice.

“You can get in trouble for undercoding. You can get in trouble for overcoding,” LeClair said. “If you had somebody who knew a lot about coding at your side once a week, they will pay you back in terms of charges you’re forgetting, because you don’t remember to circle that box or check that box.”

The number of medical codes in use increases as more medical conditions and treatments are discovered and added to the International Classification of Diseases, which is maintained and published by the World Health Organization. The current nine-digit coding system, the ICD-9, will soon be replaced with a recently developed 10-digit medical coding system known as the ICD-10.

According to the World Health Organization, the current ICD-9 has 6,969 medical codes, while the ICD-10 will have a total of 14,199 codes. It is not possible to translate ICD-9 codes into ICD-10 codes.

“We’re very aware of the ICD-9 and 10, and our program is up to date,” Berman said. “We’re getting a lot of people to come back and train and transition from ICD-9, so we’re taking advantage of that.”

The transition to the ICD-10 is slated for Oct. 1, while the launch of the 11-digit ICD-11 is scheduled for 2017.

“It’s going to revolutionize medicine,” LeClair said. “We’re just going to be wallowing in confusion and misinformation. If there’s somebody out there that can do coding, it will save a lot of trouble for a lot of people.”