Inpatient vs. Outpatient Medical Coding Explained

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Medical coding work is a bit more than just a text of cogent definitions. The profession requires knowing, in detail, various procedures and medical terms, but also insists that a person know when to apply which to what activity. For example, there are codes specific to the office of a physician, and others that apply to a hospital setting. Likewise, inpatient treatment care is vastly different from that of an outpatient clinic, and consequently, the coding used for either is not going to be the same. It is primarily in the nature of the services rendered that creates the difference between the two.

Inpatient Medical Coding

Inpatient coding concerns itself with extended stay service. This means that a patient may have a variety of tests run, as well as potential changes in diagnosis and treatments applied. Lengthy stays can create extensive records for a patient and can become very intricate, requiring considerable educated judgment on the part of the coder.

Outpatient Medical Coding

Outpatient coding is more concerned with the direct treatment offered in one visit. There is no need to be concerned with all that consists of extended-stay, as outpatient treatment is intended to last less than a few hours. There have been a number of developments in the medical field that have resulted in what where formerly inpatient treatments, now being assigned to outpatient services. Nevertheless, the rule of thumb is that outpatient care has a duration of twenty four hours or less.

Differences in Training

The extended stay quality of the service delivered by one, and the brief visit nature of the other, places serious influence on the training that inpatient and outpatient medical coders receive. Inpatient coders are trained in the interpretation of medical charts and diagnoses of individual patients, as opposed to general populations. Emphasis is placed on being able to work through what can be extremely complex sets of activity. The training of an outpatient coder, on the other hand, deals with emergency room visitations and outpatient surgery.

Both have different procedures for their respective billing processes, and each coder requires training based on what is expected for the exact service rendered (Note: It is the National Uniform Billing Committee which sets the standards for each billing form). Both inpatient and outpatient coders do, however, receive basic training in the predominant medical codes, and are schooled in the same subjects such as anatomy and physiology.

Employment Outlook

Perhaps the biggest difference between the two is in the employment opportunities made available. Inpatient coders are pretty well restricted to hospital facilities or major healthcare centers, since their work is with extended-stay patients only. Increasingly, more medical treatments are being done on an outpatient basis, which creates increased employment opportunities for those who are outside coders. It is pretty safe to say that there will be more job opportunities for outside coders; however, medical advances also mean that once terminal diseases can be successfully treated. For example, certain types of cancer no longer mean a death watch, but will require inpatient stays of extended periods. It is quite possible that the value of an inpatient professional will increase as sophisticated treatments result in complicated coding that only a highly trained person can perform.

Medical coders most often start their careers in an outpatient facility, given the number of opportunities. Over time, they may decide to go into hospitals and devote their energy to inpatient settings. Either way, plenty of job openings exist for trained people, and a qualified coder has a choice and an opportunity to decide which type of work he or she will be employed to do.

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