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August 2019

Editor’s Note: Someone to Take the Wheel
By Lee DeOrio
For The Record
Vol. 31 No. 7 P. 3

I was at Club ICD, a comedy venue exclusively for coders (and health care journalists), last weekend when the host brought up the old schtick about computer-assisted coding (CAC) being like self-driving cars. It was your typical lame coding humor, but most of the audience members were nodding their heads in agreement even if they weren’t exactly chuckling.

The two technologies presented similar dichotomies: You’re eager to relinquish some of the burden, but are you confident in the results?

Let’s leave parallel parking to artificial intelligence. What a relief for suburbanites making one of their rare forays into the urban jungle. On another front, those long drives to the cottage on the lake can be spent perusing the phone or taking in the scenery instead of concentrating on the winding road.

As a driver, are you willing to make that leap? If I’m going to end up in a ditch somewhere, I’d rather it be me and not a computer that caused the mishap. Of more pressing concern is how the vehicle will react to sudden shifts in road conditions. A child or animal making an appearance out of nowhere—what happens then?

The same could apply to CAC: “We’ll buy this for the clinic and then our clerical staff can do the coding and billing again! It’ll be great!”

This is not a knock on CAC—or self-driving cars, for that matter. It’s unsolicited advice not to view the technology as a cure-all. But you’re on target if you’re wondering, “Who’s this guy to offer advice on coding operations? After all, he spends his weekends at coding comedy clubs.”

Fair enough. In lieu of that, let me direct you to the feature article on page 18 in which notable industry experts lay out a cautionary tale for coding managers who may believe CAC will be the magic elixir for what ails their department. It certainly can help, but it would be wise to proceed with caution. That way I won’t have to read e-mails such as this:

“I had such high hopes for our CAC product. Aside from the fact that the sales staff wildly misrepresented its capability, poor set-up, poor user habits, and lack of supervision/QA/feedback, everything was just as advertised. My issue with all of the CAC products I’ve reviewed is that they’re pretty good at getting you in the ballpark of what you should use. But it might be a baseball park, when the correct code is in the football stadium under the stands.

“CAC needs really good coders to determine if the ‘suggested code’ is really correct. Buyers think they can hire cheap inexperienced coders because they have this nifty tool. So you get mediocre and often incorrect coding being reviewed by coders who don’t have a clue whether they can use the suggested code or if there is additional documentation or rules that change the code.”

And with that, did you ever hear the one about the auditor who …