Dealing with emergencies is nothing new in the healthcare industry, but a presentation by Professor Phyllis Watson at a recent industry conference highlighted the speed at which digital growth is changing our healthcare system.  Health information management (HIM) is a small, specialised profession with a particular coding protocol known as ICD-10. This global standardised coding system translates written clinical documents about patient care to code format. Coded data is used to determine hospital funding and is a resource for clinical research and education, health services planning, clinical benchmarking, and statistical and epidemiological studies.

The role of a clinical coder is critical to the integrity of the data. Clinical coders must have excellent knowledge of medical terminology, disease processes, medical procedures, attention to detail, and analytical skills. It is no wonder that HIM has long faced a chronic workforce shortage of clinical coders.

The industry body, Health Information Management Association of Australia (HIMAA), reports that there are unfilled clinical coder vacancies in a third of Australian hospitals. With eHealth reforms dependent on exacting records management, this workforce shortage compromises the interchange between information and data.

Initiatives to correct this shortage are ongoing. A recent solution combined education with traineeships to support recent graduates, and mentoring to develop existing coders looked to advance their careers. Improvements to work readiness and productivity were tangible.

Clinician engagement through education and communication and a commitment to postgraduate programs, including an alumni strategy have also had an impact on workforce satisfaction and performance.  HIMAA has also developed a Certificate IV Clinical Classification course. As a recognised VET-level course with certificate-level qualification, it enhances the career prospects of graduates and allows training providers to better negotiate traineeship options. Plans are in place to roll this out nationally in 2016.

The healthcare industry is not immune from digital disruption. In a dynamic period of health reform, information management and records management can support innovation and promote patient care and safety. Skilled medical coders are the vital link.


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