Pena4 Provides Mentoring and Meaningful Employment for Neurodiverse Workforce in Medical Coding: Part 1

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Pena4 recently partnered with Rockland Jewish Family Service to support newly trained medical coding professionals. Rockland Jewish Family Service (RJFS) is a New York organization dedicated to providing compassionate, professional human services, support, resources, and philanthropic initiatives throughout the surrounding community. Prior to COVID-19, RJFS partnered with New York State and local Hudson Valley employment resources to organize medical coding training for 11 neurodiverse community members to help them find meaningful, long-term employment opportunities.  

The initiative began in the Fall of 2018, when all 11 individuals attended an intense (off-label) coding curriculum organized and proctored by RJFS and the NYS/Hudson Valley organizations. Upon completion in February 2020, a few of the participants passed the AHIMA Certified Coding Associate (C.C.A.) exam. Unfortunately, even with the C.C.A. credential, the individuals need at least two years of on-the-job training or experience to sit for the actual AHIMA Certified Coding Specialist (C.C.S.) exam. As most medical coders know, getting two years of experience is challenging at best. The global pandemic added a new layer of complexity for these individuals. RJFS lead business consultant, Andrew Hoffman, and John Byrne, who was also consulting with RJFS, connected RJFS to Pena4 to discuss and evaluate the students' aptitude and work readiness.

Manny Peña, CEO of Pena4, Inc., and Joseph Gurrieri, COO of Pena4 met with RJFS and New York State and Local Hudson Valley Employment resources. After hearing about the training provided and the difficulties faced trying to obtain the required experience, Pena4 was compelled to help in any way they could. Pena4’s Paul Strafer, Director of Client Operations, immediately assessed all 11 individuals and placed them into Pena4's Central Learning application, where they could all practice coding with actual medical records while the application continuously assessed their coding skills.  

"It was great watching our group of 11 excel throughout the medical coding training and certification," said Maria Dowling, CEO of Rockland Jewish Family Service. "We had no doubt that everyone would pass; however, we also knew that C.C.A. credentialing was just a first step in the process of finding long-term employment for our skilled and dedicated group of 11. We immediately began to seek out appropriate next steps and knew that Pena4’s Central Learning platform was the right option."

Pena4's Central Learning application was used to develop over 350 coders for Pena4. The platform is also a tool for the National Coding Contest, where thousands of medical coders compete for the "best in coding quality." All 11 individuals in the program were given access to the same tools and resources that highly skilled coders use to assess and fine-tune their coding proficiency. 

Manny Peña, RHIA, Founder & CEO of Pena4, Inc., had this to say about the program and the company's partnership with the RJFS cohort: "We were thrilled to work with Rockland Jewish Family Service, NYS and Hudson Valley to help their newly trained medical coders test out their skills and knowledge on Pena4's Central Learning platform. This system offers an objective resource to measure true coder accuracy, without the excessive time, prep, cost, and management inconvenience associated with manual coding audits," he noted. "We were able to offer an unbiased assessment of all 11 coders to develop a comprehensive understanding of skills." 

RESULTS

Pena4 publishes the National Coding Contest’s average accuracy scores. Over the last four years, the coding contest’s participants’ accuracy scores were: 

  • 2016: 38%
  • 2017: 41.0%
  • 2018: 42.0%
  • 2019: 40.4%

Pena4's Paul Strafer, RHIA, CCS stated, “This is a clear indication that coding accuracy and quality in the United States is suffering ever since the onset of ICD-10. Coding audits and remedial education have trended over the last several years to address the systemic decrease in coding quality. However, all 11 individuals from the program did very well in their Central Learning Assessment, often scoring significantly higher than the national average.” As a result, Pena4 determined that the individuals have the knowledge and skillset to move forward in the coding profession.

"After seeing the assessment results and examining the current trajectory of the 11 participants, Pena4 determined the next best step was to get each individual into the AAPC's coding education and credentialing program to ultimately gain the Certified Coding Professional (C.P.C.) credential. We are confident that CPC-A certification, and eventually, a straight C.P.C. certification from the AAPC, is an excellent option for all 11 medical coders," Joseph J. Gurrieri, RHIA, CHP, President & COO of Pena4, Inc., said. "The CPC-A certification is a differentiator in the medical coding industry and can help set this group of talented coders apart from other job seekers competing for the same opportunities. It's a great way to accelerate the process of finding meaningful employment in the medical coding vertical."

Pena4 coordinated a meeting with Dan Schwebach, Senior V.P. of the AAPC, RJFS, and NYS/Hudson Valley to discuss the initiative, the status of the 11 individuals, and the proposed next step. RJFS, Pena4, and the AAPC met to discuss, brainstorm and develop a pathway for success for the 11 individuals. As a result, the AAPC has agreed to enroll the 11 individuals into their coding training and education program and to have dedicated live education sessions in conjunction with the online training. 

More to come! Pena4 will keep you posted on the progress of the 11 coders.