March 18, 2010
5 Minutes with
BC Advantage (BCA): Tell us about yourself and how you started in this industry. Betty Johnson (BJ): Well, I have been in the health care industry for over 20 years. I started out in x-ray. I found out that "hands-on" patient care was not my bag. My employer was a hospital that owned clinics. They said that they had a great position to put me in since I knew medical terminology and anatomy. I showed up for my new job, was given the coding books and told, "Get to work". I had no idea what I was doing!! I had to pretty much teach myself. Any seminar or class that became available I would take. I became certified in the 80s when I learned of the AAPC. I later became certified through AHIMA and other organizations.
BC Advantage (BCA): You recently started a consulting firm on your own - how is it starting a business in this economy? (BJ): I started my first company about 10 years ago. This year, I started a new one on my own after separating from my husband. It was a little scary in this economy as I am the sole support for myself and my daughter. You have to believe in yourself and really know the market and your niche in it. My long history in the industry and my reputation has helped me through. I am also lucky in that I already had a client base, office equipment, and an office space at a great price. If I truly had to start from scratch, I would be very hesitant in the current economy.
BC Advantage (BCA): In your opinion, what are some of the traits that someone must possess to be a successful consultant? (BJ): A successful consultant must be persistent, hard-working, and thick-skinned. A good sense of humor never hurt, either. You have to be a good detective and not think in "black and white" for everything. In coding, there are huge grey areas sometimes and you have to help your client interpret things and structure policies and procedures around them.
BC Advantage (BCA): Being a consultant can be perceived as a glamorous job with traveling and mingling at conferences etc. What are some of the ups and downs of doing what you do? (BJ): Glamorous, huh? I have been to some really great places. I have been to Germany for a contract, which was really neat. I have also been to other beautiful places, like Puerto Rico. But for every great place, there is a remote place (or two or three or four..) that no one has ever heard of before. There are also times when I got to a place and never leave the hotel. I speak during the day, and go to my room to work at night to keep up with my clients from home. And, truth be told, packing is not my strong suit. I always over pack and usually have to haul 2 suitcases and my computer rolling bag with my coding books. I am hopeless in that respect.
Victoria, my daughter, has gotten to travel with me and see a lot of cool things. I home-schooled her last year for Kindergarten so she could continue to travel with me. I have spoken for The Coding Institute in Orlando a few times and she has gotten some bonus trips to Disney World out of it. But, she has started school this year (1st grade) so I can't take her with all of the time. As a newly single parent, it is really hard being away from her. She gets to spend quality time with her father then, so it is a good thing in some ways.
You don't always have a steady income, depending on how your business is set up. You don't always get days off (for long stretches). I usually work on something for a client everyday: weekends, holidays, whatever it takes. I don't get sick days and rarely take a true vacation (no work). It is really hard work.
BC Advantage (BCA): This is a very dynamic industry with changes coming sometimes on a daily basis. It is very important that you stay on top of all of that information to be able to provide the best information for your clients. How do you do this? (BJ): I trust certain sites, like BC Advantage, CMS, and the AAPC. I also always attend the annual AMA CPT Symposium in November to be able to get ready for the next year. You can never have too much information in our industry as a consultant. The most important thing is that they be reliable sources. I attend seminars and dial in for audio conferences just like everyone else.
BC Advantage (BCA): You've recently been selected as on of the nation's official trainers for ICD-10 by the AAPC. When do you think that a frontline coder should start doing serious ICD-10 training? (BJ): In my opinion, I think that it is too early to learn the code set. Anyone that learns the code set now and then doesn't use it for 3 ½ years, is not going to remember it. If someone is interested, they can purchase a draft ICD-10-CM manual and look through it. Deb Grider has written a great book on ICD-10 that I also highly recommend. The AAPC website has a lot of articles archived on ICD-10. I think the important thing right now is to think about implementation strategy, budgeting, and ensure that your facility is ready for 5010 HIPAA electronic transaction standard conversion first, which must be done by January 1, 2012. If the coder will be teaching ICD-10, I think 2012 will be the time to buckle down, 2013 for frontline coders.
BC Advantage (BCA): Any thoughts on what will be big issues for 2010? (BJ): I think the consultation conundrum for 2010 is going to be difficult. One of my clients has been told by three of their commercial carriers that they still want consultation codes because they are still in the CPT book for 2010. It is going to be hard until everyone figures out how to handle the change.
BC Advantage (BCA): Do you have any advice for someone wishing to become a consultant? (BJ): Be ready for hard work, no vacations, no days off, and being very frustrated at times. But also be ready for good rewards, self-satisfaction, and justified praise at other times. Know your strengths and weaknesses and do not take a job in an area you don't have the expertise to handle. You will be doing your client a disservice and could be putting them (and yourself) in jeopardy. Your reputation is your most valuable asset. Oh, and don't forget to get liability insurance. It is definitely a job with a lot of ups and downs that is not for everyone, but I would never do anything else.
Betty is a nationally known consultant and speaker who carries more than 20 years of healthcare experience. Betty served on the National Advisory Board of the American Academy of Professional Coders from 2004 - 2007, and was elected as an officer on the Board from 2005-2007.
She currently sits on the editorial board for BC Advantage. Betty has spoken nationally for the AAPC, AHIMA, Blue Cross Blue Shield, The Coding Institute, and many others. Her articles on coding, billing, and compliance have been featured in numerous magazines including the Coding Edge and BC Advantage.
BJ&A provides educational services with live seminars to help managers, coders, billers, and providers to understand proper coding and billing methodology. Certification classes are also held for people who wish to become certified coders.