As with many professions, the advent of computers started what is continuing to shape the medical billing and coding industry. Technology has and will continue to change medical billing and coding, the skills associated with these professions, and the labor market in this industry.
Although computers did not start to come into their public heyday until the 1980s with the advent of the affordable personal computer, private companies and governments were already using these machines in the 1960s. By 1965 the National Institute of Health’s Library of Medicine converted its index of biomedical information to a digital computer format, and by the beginning of the 70s the federal government was implementing a computer management system for veteran medical information.
Eventually by the mid 1990s with the widespread use and availability of PCs, the first software programs began to be sold which would convert a patient’s paper medical records into a digital computer file. Around this time software associated with medical billing and coding also begins to become more widespread.
Since then legislation has been catching up with the advances in technology. A landmark came in 1996 with the passage of HIPAA, which laid the groundwork for establishing Electronic Health Records (EHRs) in its Title II section. Over a decade later in 2009 the HITECH Act was passed as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of that same year. This legislation encouraged health care providers to make the switch to the EHRs, and provided a financial incentive for those who did. By the end of 2009 around half of the health care industry was using the EHR.
Important for the medical billing and coding industry, the HITECH Act was included in the Recovery and Reinvestment Act as a way of saving money. This is accomplished in part by making medical billing and coding more efficient and streamlined with EHRs. As this process becomes more efficient it will naturally result in an increase in billing and coding productivity, which will inversely cause the demand for professionals in this sector to fall.
Electronic Health Records and Electronic Medical Records will vastly improve overall efficiency in the entire health care system, not only for billing and coding professionals. Undoubtedly in the not-too-distant future billing and coding will take place entirely on a computer with no accompanying charts or records, and this is already the case at many locations.
However this does not need to signal danger to the billing and coding professional, but rather opportunity. As the industry becomes more digital so should today’s billing and coding professional. This means staying up with the latest technological advances in the field and obtaining strategic qualifications. Billing and coding professionals can also be reassured by the fact that the dip in demand brought on by increased productivity will be made up for many times over by recent changes in the health care industry and changing demographics.
Expanded health care coverage under recent legislation, an increased life expectancy, and the aging baby boom population are already driving up the demand for billing and coding professionals, and will continue to do so into the future.