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'Googling' for Cash

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Coding has come a long way. For Brenda Parks, who’s been doing it for 27 years, the profession has changed so much that the giant books through which she once had to pore are rapidly becoming obsolete.

Good riddance. In 2006, Parks uses a search engine similar to the ubiquitous Google to help her code more quickly and efficiently at Puget Sound Surgical Clinic, just north of Seattle, where she’s the business office manager.

“It’s saving huge amounts of time rather than going into a book,” she says.

A number of coding Web sites have popped up lately, and many of them have similar features, Parks says. Puget Sound Surgical Clinic, a two-surgeon general practice that specializes in bariatric surgery, uses Digital Physicians Network after switching from CodingToday.com last year, but still keeps the huge coding books around as a backup.

Parks says the new system, which allows her to enter procedures in a search box, searches codes based on the procedure name or other keywords. The system helps cut down on bundling errors, which cause many insurance bills to get kicked back to the provider for correction, thus boosting accounts receivable days.

For example, she says, “CPT code standards say if one of my docs does an appendectomy, he may also do something with the scar tissue. If I were to bill both of those codes, they’re going to kick it out and say they’re a bundled code.” Of course, books aren’t “smart” enough to let her know when these bundled codes are appropriate. Instead, they refer readers to another section of the book and require additional research.

Her searching software now eliminates the possibility of such errors, she says, and allows coding to go much more quickly, allowing Parks and her staff to spend time on other pressing needs. With ICD-9 books and CPT books running $60-$80 each, the $199 annual subscription to DPN seems like a bargain too, she says. “You’re getting so much more than you’re getting in the books.”

—Philip Betbeze