There’s No “I” in Remote – How to Successfully Lead Virtual Medical Coding Teams

by | Feb 13, 2022

Sarah Humbert, Vice President of Coding Operations, has covered our company’s ability to recruit, train and retain the best medical coding talent, which includes an intensive screening process and a heavy focus on education and training for medical coders. We take pride in our recruiting methods. It’s how we retain some of the best remote medical coders in the nation.

And remote or virtual is the keyword here. As this article states, strong in-person leadership skills don’t necessarily translate into being a good virtual leader. Keeping coders loyal in a remote environment is much different than face-to-face.

So what are the tricks to keep medical coders engaged and productive?

KIWI-TEK Director of Coding Myriam Johnson and Coding Manager Charlene M. Laxson share how they successfully lead remote coding teams, including how to make processes, people and technology work in harmony.

For context, Myriam and Charlene have been managing remotely for 13 and 10 years respectively. They have around five managers and 65 coders on each of their teams.

What techniques have you found work best managing a remote team?

Myriam: Clearly defined managers and teams is a tactic we use to ensure we don’t confuse coders. This way if a coder is assigned to a specific manager for hospital A, they can direct all emails to one manager. Knowing who their first line of communication is is important.

Communication is key in a remote environment. Coders have to engage and let us know if their child is sick or they have a personal issue so we can reschedule hours. We keep constant and open communication. We hold monthly staff meetings with cameras on, where we go over client news and discuss challenges. In December we hold a secret Santa Christmas that the team loves. It’s the frequent check ins that can bring everyone together and not make it all about work 24/7.

On the technology side, we use OneDrive for scheduling, productivity and calendars. OneDrive sends a nice scheduling summary to the client. We use OneNote for training, IP, weekly logs, and coder education. Years ago we used to have to attach a lot of files for a coder who would have to dig through tons of emails. With OneNote a coder can search for colonoscopy and all the information is at their fingertips. We know this is effective because we recently did a survey and 90% of our coders responded that they love OneNote.

On the personal side, OneDrive is a great place for storing birthdays and addresses. We share birthdays each week so coders can send notes to each other which they enjoy.

Charlene: Technology has really improved our onboarding experience. OneNote provides a centralized location for references and recordings. I also make sure we keep all lines of communication open – text, email, phone, screen sharing. When I started everything was email only and training over the phone was hard. Over the years we’ve brought on Webex, Teams and more to improve our coders’ onboarding. We’ve learned that when this experience improves, we have better outcomes with our coders.

On the process side, I send daily updates to coders for particular clients and include the client in the message. This way everyone knows instructions, references, updates, where we’re at financially (visits unbilled), turnaround time expectations and more. Clients and coders know what the goals are each and every day.

Are there any tactics you’ve tried that haven’t worked?

Myriam: Years ago we didn’t require daily logs which caused headaches for end of the week payroll. We’ve come a long way since then.

Charlene: Limited availability and different time zones doesn’t work. We work with coders across the nation with different schedules so being flexible with coders that work nights and weekends is key. This also holds true for coder training, we’ve learned to be flexible with sessions. Previously we’d send a pre-recording training but coders might need help or personal engagement to understand what we’re expecting of them. Since they might feel pressure not to ask questions after a recording, we reverted to live traning sessions where they can bounce questions back and forth with their manager.

What are your biggest challenges with keeping coders motivated?

Myriam: Loyalty and coder retention are a constant challenge. We have monthly calls with coders to tackle certain challenges especially if they’re struggling with quality assurance. One-on-one Zoom sessions are much more beneficial than emails. We offer CEUs for all coders and they really like this. Retention has also increased with benefits. They have PTO given back each quarter with earnings. Honestly just being a person to our teams can go a long way. We always send flowers for a death in the family or a new baby and we get a lot of comments like, “they never did that for me when I worked in the hospital”.

Charlene: I’m always thinking of ways to keep our coders engaged, especially at a personal level. When you’re in an office setting you know when someone’s birthday is or when they got a new car. Employees want to know their company cares about them. Find creative ways to stay engaged is always a challenge so we have Zoom sessions to get to know each other.

Technology or general internet connection issues can play a role in motivation. We rely on hospital software a lot so need to stay in communication with hospital IT staff.

Lastly, remote work isn’t immune to the COVID-19 struggle. We try to instill the importance of being part of a team so all coders know that other people are relying on them.

What attributes do you think someone needs to be managed remotely?

Charlene: They have to be super organized, patient, goal oriented (financial or otherwise) be a real go-getter. They have to put in work and not be afraid to ask questions.

Related Topic

In a previous post Myriam reviewed New Demands on Coding Professionals, including the need to get outpatient coding right and to keep up with EHR transitions. While that post is almost four years old, these tips hold true today. There are some things in our industry that will always stay top of mind for coders.