High school coding programs give students taste of health information management

Rural hospitals in Kansas aren't waiting for students to graduate from high school to spark their interest in medical coding. They turn to health information management (HIM) professionals to start the credentialing process early on--before students even get their high school diplomas.

Sherry Farrell, HIM coordinator at Seward County Community College/Area Technical School in Liberal, Kansas, began a coding credentialing program at the school eight years ago after administrators asked her to run the program because of her HIM background, according to an article in the Journal of the American Health Information Management Association.

Then, in 2012, the Kansas legislature passed a bill that offered tuition reimbursement for high school students enrolled in dual credit courses with college-level classes. The law opened the doors to those students to pursue a career in coding early on, and Farrell's program moved to the high school level.

Farrell's program includes participants from 11 high schools and 11 hospitals, according to the article.

"We choose students that are very disciplined, very dedicated, and are ready and mature enough to handle this … It's worked very well for us," Farrell said.

Beginning and continuing education is very prevalent in the healthcare industry. Many colleges and university across the U.S. offer a growing number or undergrad and graduate degrees as well as certificates in various health IT and healthcare security areas.

For Farrell's program, students take pre-requisite classes and interview with someone working in the field to make sure they can handle the curriculum. 

Once accepted into the program, high school seniors take an introduction to HIM class, a course on the CPT coding system, a class on legal and ethical issues, as well as the use of computers in healthcare and introductory pharmacology.

Other class topics include patho-physiology, ICD-10-CM/PCS, electronic health records and job shadowing.

In addition to HIT education, the industry is also uses education to attract healthcare providers to more rural areas. South Dakota recently rolled out the Frontier and Rural Medicine program, which involves third-year students at the Sanford School of Medicine working in rural hospitals for a nine-month period. The initiative aims to pique their interest in practicing in a rural community.

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