A computer-assisted coding project underway in a Maine health system is showing early returns, including reduced expenses and improved cash flow. Mandy Reid, coding manager at Eastern Maine Medical Center, discussed the technology at the HIMSS 2010 Conference & Exhibition, noting that the 7-hospital rural delivery system had reduced FTEs and improved accounts receivable during the project's first phase.

Serving as a pilot site for coding software vendor 3M Health System, Eastern Maine began the project on the inpatient side, where it logs some 21,000 annual patient visits. After implementing the software, Eastern Maine reduced the number of coders it needed from eight to seven FTEs and saw A/R drop from $2.7 million to $1.5 million. The automated coding project was part of a larger document management campaign that looked to boost coder productivity and accuracy, while also lifting staff morale.

On the productivity front, Eastern Maine's group of inpatient coders went from completing 1.19 charts per hour to 1.71, a nearly 30% productivity gain. Charts are also being completed and sent into the payment pipeline earlier. Reid stressed that the automated coding software does not replace coders--who must still make any final coding decisions, at least on the inpatient side. As the system moves into computer-assisted coding on the outpatient side, the software may select a final code. The 3M software works in conjunction with an enterprise electronic health record and billing system.

--Gary Baldwin

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