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A Case for Autonomous Coding versus Computer-assisted Coding

May 24, 2022

Introduction

Prior to 1980, coding was a paper-based, time-consuming, error-prone, and inefficient process with limited practical alternatives. This soon changed with the 1980s technology boom, which brought about a protracted shift to ICD-10-CM/PCS and fundamentally changed the process and scale of gathering and managing patient data.

It is essential to draw a distinction between simple, primitive solutions like computer-assisted coding (CAC) and true automation. CAC tools primarily affect productivity and workflow, but fail to completely automate the processes. On the contrary, autonomous coding emulates human intelligence by combining large datasets with computational power and sophisticated algorithms, enabling the coders to instead address more complex RCM concerns.

CAC has proven successful in highly structured and smaller records, such as radiological tests, laboratory exams, and emergency room visits, but delivers inefficient results with larger records. On the other hand, autonomous coding has shown demonstrable results in radiology, primary care, emergency, urgent care, pathology, and other high-volume outpatient encounters. Vaccines, cardiac rehab, gastrointestinal, women's health, and outpatient therapies, are other areas with the potential to be future case types for autonomous coding.

The implementation of the CAC software can often be challenging. Subsequently, the coding specialists are also required to receive training on operating the software and must modify their existing coding procedures to conform to the new CAC workflow. In contrast, the autonomous coding software can be seamlessly implemented into the existing workflow without any modification or human intervention.

Clinical notes are often unstructured, with complex medical terminology and spelling errors. Another notable disadvantage of CAC is the inability to decipher and translate such free text into precise medical codes, resulting in error-prone, inaccurate, and unreliable coding suggestions. Autonomous coding’s robust, cutting-edge technology is the complete solution for an impressive return on investment, a streamlined revenue cycle, error-free coding, improved accuracy, and increased efficiency in the complex medical coding industry.

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Autonomous Coding: Towards a Promising Future of Medical Coding
May 10, 2022

Introduction

Medical coding is, perhaps, the most crucial and labor-intensive part of revenue cycle management, requiring skilled and certified resources. The United States is the world's largest market for medical coding and is expected to expand from 2022 to 2030 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 8 percent.

However, the coding process has become increasingly complex over the years due to the dynamic regulatory environment and clinical documentation requirements. The efficiency of the medical coders has undoubtedly decreased as a result of frequent modifications to the medical coding standards. Needless to say, this has led to a rapid increase in revenue leakage, a shortage of professional coders, and constant pressure to keep abreast with changing guidelines while enhancing productivity and quality.

Primary Obstacles in the Realm of Medical Coding

The key concerns in the healthcare sector pertaining to coding include claim rejections, inaccuracies, errors, and delayed time to payment. The coding workforce must be fully up to speed, given that inaccurate coding accounts for 68 percent of hospital denials, with these denied claims costing hospitals over $262 billion annually.

Training a coding workforce has become more challenging as a consequence of the transient and volatile coding standards. It is nearly impossible to remain up-to-date on the myriad of payer-specific coding guidelines while concurrently anticipating future revisions.

Several health systems have begun relying on technology to automate some of their coding and billing procedures in order to meet the growing complexity of medical coding. Due to its significant impact on the revenue cycle, it is crucial to identify which tasks can or cannot be easily automated and the right blend of technology as well as human expertise that would yield the best results.

Computer-assisted Coding: An Outdated Solution

Computer-assisted coding (CAC) software analyzes medical records and generates accurate medical codes for specific terms and phrases within the record. Additionally, this software also examines the context of the data enclosed within clinical documents to ascertain whether coding may be required. For instance, when referring to a diagnosis of hypertension, the software can deduce that the term "hypertension" has to be coded. In contrast, the same cannot be considered while discussing a "family history of hypertension".

Although the concept of CAC first surfaced in the 1950s, it garnered substantial prominence only around 2015, driven by the transition of US healthcare from the 30-year-old ICD-9 to the ICD-10 standards. The latter was significantly larger and more detailed. Thereby, CAC emerged as software with significant relevance and utility, by reducing the time spent per record by 22 percent compared to manual coding processes.

From a technology standpoint, computer-assisted coding presents a successful use case of NLP in healthcare. Natural language processing, a confluence of AI, linguistics, and computer science, enables computers to comprehend human writing to some extent and can solve different tasks, iincluding those of CAC.

Implementing CAC does not eliminate the need for medical coders, but rather increases their efficiency. This software enables the coders to review, revise, and validate medical codes. However, the downside to CAC is that it merely augments the clinical knowledge and coding experience of medical coders rather than fully automating the coding process. The software seeks human assistance, provides reduced accuracy in coding suggestions, and increases the likelihood of denied claims, thereby extending the revenue cycle and adding cost burdens. This is where intelligent autonomous medical coding differs from CAC and manual coding processes by providing a more holistic solution for the aforementioned issues.

Enter Autonomous Coding

Recent advancements in machine learning, artificial intelligence, natural language processing, and clinical language understanding capabilities have enabled the development of the holy grail of the field—a medical coding technology that can convert medical information into coded data to obtain reimbursement from insurance providers without any human intervention.

Autonomous coding is a solution pioneered to propel medical coders beyond the limitations of CAC and its predecessors. This software is designed to understand and translate unstructured clinical notes into structured medical codes without the need for human assistance.

One of the key benefits of autonomous coding is its positive impact on revenue. A healthcare organization's profit margin can be exponentially increased through the autonomous coding engines' ability to seamlessly integrate into the normal flow of RCM and swiftly process a large volume of charts. Furthermore, since the software produces consistent results, it aids in reducing claim rejections. Consequently, this modern technology saves money and time, while significantly shortening the revenue cycle.

Autonomous medical coding employs a new generation of sophisticated computer algorithms to code charts within seconds without any human intervention. The intelligent autonomous engines are fully cognizant of which codes are most accurate to assign and their relevance. If any information in the medical record is ambiguous, these unhandled charts may occasionally be flagged for manual coding.

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