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Published:October 4th, 2006 04:04 EST
Professor Develops Coding Program

Professor Develops Coding Program

By Stacey Smith

This fall the West Virginia Junior College will offer a new career path for those interested in health care. In September 2005, Barbara Abbadini Garner began researching what would become the college’s first Medical Coding Program. The new program was approved this May by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools and will allow students to gain an Associate’s Degree as a Medical Coding Specialist.

"Medical Coding Specialists are health care workers that assign codes for inpatients and outpatients for hospitals and physicians to be sent to insurance companies," says Garner.

Garner relates medical coders to detectives because they must sift through notes documenting patient’s diagnoses, treatments and procedures. Once a patient’s information is obtained, it is written in special code and turned into insurance companies to be paid.

Also coders keep track of patient’s medical history and this gets forwarded to the World Health Organization, which keeps records of illnesses and treatments, Garner explains.

The Medical Coding Specialist Program is an 18 month course and upon completion graduates are able to test for the Certified Coding Associate credential offered through the American Health Information Management Association or the Certified Professional Coder credential offered by the American Academy of Professional Coders, says Garner.

Once certified, medical coding specialists can work in hospitals or physicians’ offices and have the potential to work with big companies such as insurance or health affiliate offices, explains Garner.

"The goal of the program is to fit the need for coders in hospitals and physician offices," she says.

To become a coding specialist, students must complete 96 hours of classes, including beginner, intermediate and advanced coding courses. Some classes offered are Medical Terminology, Anatomy and Physiology and Health Law.

"There is no other coding program in the area this intense," Garner says, adding that there is a shortage of coders in this area and around the U.S.

Currently there are about 7 students enrolled in the Medical Coding program but Garner’s goal is to get at least 20 students involved.

Shelly Patchen, 30, of Morgantown, enrolled in coding classes in June after meeting with Garner.

Patchen, who also works as an instructor at the Morgantown Beauty College, found out she had scoliosis and could no longer stand for long periods of time. She says she has always been interested in the medical field and decided to try medical coding.

Patchen says that in order to be a coding specialist, one must pay attention to detail and have a foundation in the medical field to interpret doctors' notes. Patchen will graduate next December and hopes to work in a hospital.

Patchen has had Garner as an instructor for many of her classes. Patchen explains that while her medical coding class only had about 5 students, many people are switching their majors into the program as they become more aware of what the program offers.

Before Garner was even employed with W.Va. Junior College, she researched other coding programs and helped the college establish a curriculum that would meet the standards of AHIMA and AAPC. She went to local hospitals and physician offices where she learned the characteristics of a good coder.

Garner, who has 20 years of coding experience, began working for the college 6 months ago as the Medical Program Coordinator and the Medical Coding Program Coordinator. She also works as an instructor for the coding classes.