with over 20 years of experience as a medical coder and professional development expert, ann Barnaby, cpc, crc, cascc knows how fulfilling a medical coding career can be.  she aims to share her knowledge with medical coders to help them find the same satisfaction and fulfillment!



Remote Work Environments.

These three words mean many things to many different people.  A medical coder may have a completely different vision of remote work than a manager does.  Over time, the very definition of a remote work environment has changed.  What is a good expectation for working in a remote environment?  Let’s take a look at the facts from both sides of the desk in order to better understand how both coders and managers are affected by remote work.

Remote Work:  Then and Now

In the past, when managers and coding departments began to explore the possibilities of remote work environments, it was almost like the “Wild West.”  Remote environments were often thought of as an environment where the employees made most of the rules:  Where to work, when to put their hours in, how to report their productivity.  Because of this thinking, early work environments did begin to follow those rules.  When an employee “went remote,” they also chose their work schedule, and many times reported their productivity late at night or very early in the morning hours.  As code team and management evolved, so has the remote work environment.  Currently, you will find more remote environments that ask coders to work regular business hours, remain on office communication tools, and report on specific measures at specific intervals during the day or week.  This shift has actually supported the remote work environment to allow managers to feel more control over the entire team, and to allow coders to feel that they are part of a team and team processes.

Remote Work: A Manager’s Prospective

Management styles differ by manager, of course, so for some this situation was a perfect solution—it was a way for managers to be more hands-off in their approach, or an avenue of macro-management for those who had veteran code teams that needed very little supervision.  However, many managers became wary of the remote environments, due to the perceived lack of control over working hours and productivity.  As code teams evolved and grew and office workspace remained the same, a remote environment was sometimes forced upon managers who would rather have their team on-site.  All of this turmoil, all of these perceived notions of what it would be like to manage a remote team, and all of the stories that came along with converting to remote work brought anxiety and hesitancy to managers who were faced with the remote vs. office decisions. 

If we look at the actual positives and negatives of a remote environment from a manager’s point-of-view, we can see why there may be hesitation.  After all, new coders need support; they need veteran coders nearby to answer questions, and they need time to assimilate into a code team.  Teams of employees in general need some time to work together before they can work cohesively and efficiently.  Starting out as a remote team may not give an opportunity to form that cohesive, efficient workflow.  Also, many coding managers have learned their management style from their own work experience and former managers.  Historically, coders have been micromanaged and tracked, with the thinking that this close monitoring breeds the highest productivity.  Some coders do work best under these circumstances, and some coders work best with less structure.  We have to keep all of these points in mind to truly see the remote environment from a manager’s point-of-view.  They have tough choices to make, and unpopular decisions regarding who may need to stay in the office to work to their highest capacity, and who could work best from home.  We have to remind ourselves that the good of the team and the efficiency of the production is what is at the heart of all of the decisions regarding remote and in-office coders.  Decisions may seem personal or unfair, but remember that managers have a boss too, and they have to explain their actions as much as we, the coders do.  If your code team isn’t working in the environment that you think is best, try to take a step back, look at it from a different prospective, and you’ll soon learn to understand and respect managements’ decisions.

Remote Work: A Coder’s Prospective

If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it one thousand times: “I got into medical coding so I could work from home.”  These words may represent the honesty of the coding student, but they still make me cringe.  Remote work is not a reason to go into a field of work.  If you aren’t passionate about the work you’re doing, a remote work environment can actually be the largest detriment to productivity and quality for a coder to face. 

As we saw in the previous sections, remote work has truly become an extension of the in-office structure.  Coders are expected to work specific hours, usually when the in-office team is working.  If you want flexibility of schedule, you may not necessarily be granted that flexibility. 

I’ve seen many situations where the remote coders are held to a higher standard than in-office coders.  I once was asked why I had been on the system, at home, for “only seven hours and fifty-five minutes, instead of the required eight hours.”  I was shocked and thrown off guard.  I knew that I had worked hard for the hours that I put in, and five minutes was being called into question.  The experience taught me a valuable lesson:  Remote coders are often subject to more interrogation, more audits, and more scrutiny that in-office coders.  This is because remote environments are still viewed as a privilege, and coders must earn and maintain that privilege.  Be prepared to track your own productivity independently from your internal tracking mechanism; this can help you to answer any questions that may arise regarding your work. 

Communication is key to a successful remote coder.  Truly evaluate your communication skills, your ability to take criticism, whether it’s over the phone or in an email, and your willingness to reach out to a trusted manager or fellow coder when you have questions.  If you have any issues with any of these important qualities, remote work might not be the best situation for you. 

It should go without saying, but remote work is not, and never will be, a replacement for daycare or hired childcare.  A coder cannot work to the best of their ability when their focus is shifted, even if blocks of 30 to 60 minutes is granted to one task.  A remote work environment should be treated as an office environment, minus the commute.  Treat the situation with respect, set aside the required HIPAA -compliant work station, and act as if you are being directly managed at all times.  These rules and guidelines that you set for yourself will be reflected in your work.

If you have your heart set on a remote work environment, remember to ask yourself:  How do I grow as a coder?  If the answer doesn’t fit into the environment discussed in this section, you may want to re-evaluate what environment is best for you and your career.