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What I wished I knew before I went into Clinical Coding

By Jonathan France ACC

It’s surprising to me how many people both within and outside of the NHS see clinical coding as purely an admin/data entry role. I’s not until you’ve spent enough time in the role or environment, to know that we mean soo much more.

Awareness of our role and the industry is not uncommon especially if you are looking for a career change, so here’s some things I wished I knew before I went into Clinical Coding.

How valuable our role plays in the NHS finance & healthcare planning

Before block contracts coding, the main source of securing finance for the NHS was through payments by results (PbR), which meant that the very codes you selected would have a direct correlation on the HRG & tariff mapping for the NHS. You’d speak to anyone in NHS finance and they’ll tell you that the most important people within the trust aren’t the healthcare workers (who do an amazing job in their own ways) but the clinical coders. Without them the trust wouldn’t exist or be self-sustaining. Since block contracts have been reintroduced again due to the pandemic, things have slightly changed however coding still plays an important role in secondary uses services (SUS) data and healthcare planning.

Know your worth and move around

One for the purists this, but having spent years inside and out of the NHS, it always amazes me the number of coding positions out there ranging from a band 2 to a band 6 (for both ACC and non ACC) and the disparity in the pay for these positions.

Even though our role is important to the NHS, sometimes it may not be reflective in our pay. A common theme that happens, is that neighbouring trusts may have different pay scales and training programmes and more comprehensive specialty varied specialties. I would say don’t be afraid to move around inside ot out of the NHS to get compensated for the work you do appropriately

You’ll learn something new everyday

As someone who’s been around the block a few times, experienced all NHS, private and independent sectors it’s easy to assume that you’ve been there, done that and know everything there is to know about coding (with a few harsh lessons thrown in). You’d be wrong. Just when you think you’ve cracked it a coding standard will change, or a new code is introduced or sequencing is now flexible (think dagger & asterix – main condition treated) and you had to effectively re-learn what came before. But this is one of the great things about coding. You’re always learning, always thinking and always humble.

Even qualified, you’ll still need to prove yourself…

This is one I’m quite passionate about…
You’ll may find that there may be some pessimism around the ACC qualification. I’d hear the phrase ‘Just because your ACC qualified doesn’t mean you’re a good coder’ on a numerous occasion and .

Whilst I sympathise with those managers that have been unlucky enough to witness those ACC qualified contractors that aren’t up to scratch, I’m pleased to say that those contractors are in the minority.

Surely, we should be celebrating the ACC qualification. It is after all an industry recognised qualification. A benchmark to show where a coder is at. It’s not like these are handed out willingly. It takes time and years of dedication, commitment and sacrifice to be at a level to even attempt to sit the exam. So, whilst some contractors may’ve let themselves down with their coding, we shouldn’t detract from the fact that they do have some coding skills and knowledge as their ACC certified. If you’re not a good coder, you don’t pass the exam. After all…. if it was that easy to pass, they we’d all pass first go.

And Lastly… one will know what you do

We’ve all been there at a party or social gathering (socially distanced I hope) and someone says ‘So (insert name here) What do you do?’. You then proceed to tell them what you do, and you get the same blank expression as I get. You then delve into a bit more detail about the role. They’re still none the wiser. Same blank look? Yep?. Now I just tell people to ‘Google it’. More often than not they seem impressed.

January 29, 2021

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