Interview with Medical Billing Instructor, Kathleen Seyfried

Programs and Schools

Kathleen T. Seyfried of Hyde Park, NY, a Certified Professional Coder and Physician Coding Specialist, has over ten years of experience in a variety of medical billing specialties. Seyfried instructs coders through an American Academy of Professional Coders Chapter Review at a major NYC Metropolitan Hospital. Career Colleges recently interviewed Ms. Seyfried about her professional and teaching backround, what students can expect in medical billing and coding classes, and how students can best prepare for a career in the industry.

Q. Terminology is a huge component of medical billing and coding training. When you administer exams, are students usually allowed to bring notes or even use books and dictionaries?

A. Exams are open book but only for the books used at certification - CPT, ICD9 and HCPCS. Students are expected to have basic terminology as a prerequisite.

Q. There can be quite a few specialties in this field. Do you recommend students learn the more general aspects before diving deeper into a particular specialty? Or should students focus on their desired specialty as soon as they know their interests?

A. I recommend a general study. Often, student may not know their eventual specialty until hire. The field can be so hard to break into, that although they may have an interest in a particular specialty, an opportunity may open up in another and the general study may best serve them. Evaluation and Management Coding is a component of virtually all specialties.

Q. Though communication with patients isn't always a big part of the job, billers and coders do interact and communicate with many third parties. How do you teach your students effective communication skills?

A. Communication is not a part of my curriculum, however, I would stress the correct way to ask for payment/co-pay, i.e., "how would you like to pay for this today?" Not, "will you be paying the copay?" For insurance companies, patients need to have a copy of the insurance card for authorization purposes or information related to the potential surgical procedure for pre-certification/identification of coverage and co-pay/co-insurance.

Q. How do you keep up to date with the latest changes to billing and coding practices?

A. I attend the annual AMA CPT (American Medical Association Current Procedural Terminology) Symposium, subscribe to CPT Assistant, Supercoder, BC (billingcoding) Magazine and several free on-line coding and billing related sites. In addition, I am on the listserve for Medicare (CMS and NGSMedicare), Medicaid and the OIG and OMIG for NYS.

Q. What types of students typically succeed best in this field?

A. Students who quickly grasp the basic concepts and enjoy the medical related field. Some take classes for a new career but don't understand or have a "flair" for medical terminology and the basic concepts.

Q. Changes in technology will obviously have a big hand in changing the field of medical billing and coding. What do you foresee technology doing for the field in the future?

A. Technology makes it easier to read the documentation notes since they are typically typed. Electronic medical records can make it more difficult when the data within it does not meet the basic information required for billing visits due to lack of physician training.

Q. What advice would you give students who are thinking about going into this field? Are there specific skills or work experience and background that will help prospective students?

A. This is a difficult field to break into when students do not have previous experience. In some areas of the United States it is difficult to find entry level positions. I advise students to investigate job openings that give them access to coding, i.e., billing and working denials which require a knowledge of diagnosis and procedure codes. When available, internships are an excellent way to gain experience and a feel if the career is a good fit.

Q. What are some challenges typically associated with technical instruction of this program?

A. Finding some real life examples. The examples used for training usually help for the exam but in actual practice there are ambiguities in the physician documentation. I like to be able to give some redacted examples from the current practice when I am doing in-services for a department. It shows handwriting challenges and common issues with physician documentation that will require physician training.

Q. How can students best prepare for the challenges of the program?

A. Search for coding related chapters -- some are open to non-coders. It is a way to network and be able to ask questions regarding job openings, breaking into the field, and others' experiences. There are two main coding organizations -- the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC) and the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA). They should reach out to each for assistance in training, networking, etc.

Q. What is your outlook on the future of these career programs?

A. Cost is a big factor for many of the programs -- without many opportunities for employment due to economy, the need for experienced coders/auditors and the general job market. There are openings -- but for those with two to five years of experience.

Q. What skills will your students not be able to learn in the classroom?

A. The actual day to day reading of notes and the lack of diversity in job components in some positions. Difficulties with physician handwriting [can also be an issue].

Q. What types of internship or volunteer work do you recommend your students pursue while taking your classes?

A. Definitely try to get a foot in the door at hospital or private office coding related departments, i.e., HIM (health information management -- formerly medical records), billing, etc. It can be difficult but it may show the student's grasp of coding and someone who may be worthwhile investing time in employment and on the job training.

Q. What associations or professional groups do you recommend to your students?

A. American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC), American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA), and the American College of Medical Coding Specialists (ACMSC). There are other organizations for radiology specific services, such as American College of Radiology (ACR). I also recommend joining LinkedIn groups related to coding. They have discussions of coding topics and job postings.

Please note: Unless explicitly stated otherwise, any job outlook predictions, career/educational advice, and salary information found on this page are based solely on the opinion of the interviewee and not that of or any other organization.