Kathleen Breakwell, Clincial Coder

I work as a clinical coder for Nelson Hospital. It's a very interesting area because you are constantly learning about the medical world… reading and researching to make sure your coding is accurate.

Clinical coding involves the translation of patient events, diseases, injuries, diagnoses and procedures into alphanumeric codes. There are literally thousands of codes.

I am always learning about medical procedures - the differences between an anterior and posterior procedure, for instance. I attended a seminar on chest drains last week. I attend lectures that the doctors and surgeons give whenever I can, and I'm currently organizing to go into theatre to watch some operations.

I started out as a casual clerical worker at the hospital. I ended up taking over a position in the urology department. But I wanted something that developed my skills. There was a position advertised for a clinical coder with three years experience - but no-one applied. The hospital re-advertised for several trainee clinical coder positions - I applied for one and got it.

This was at the beginning of 2006. I crammed a year's course into seven weeks, and sat the exam for my Certificate in Medical Terminology. You needed to get 80% minimum - I think I got 80.5%!!

Since then, I have kept studying while working 30 hours a week. I work 7am to 1pm and then study for a couple of hours before my children come home from school. The training is done through the hospital but is offered by an Australian organisation HIMAA Education Services. I have just started the Intermediate level course, and am hoping to sit the exam early next year.

Clinical coding is important because the hospital's funding is dependent on it!  Without the detailed information that clinical coding supplies - about how many hip replacements or cataract or heart bypass operations are done annually - the hospital wouldn't get accurate funding for the work it carries out. It's an important contributor to all health strategic planning and is the basis of the government's health statistics.

There is a national shortage of clinical coders so you'll never be without work. There are several career pathways too. You can go from a beginner level to advanced, and then you can change direction and go into an auditing role, travelling round checking the coding accuracy levels of different hospitals.



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