Starting Your Own Medical Coding Business

Chapter 6

Are you independent? Can you concentrate even when there are a million things going on around you? Are you able to meet deadlines if there's no one breathing down your neck, reminding you the cases are due tomorrow, or in an hour? Do you know what you want, and are you willing to do whatever it takes to get it?

These are just a few of the qualities of a successful entrepreneur. It's absolutely essential that you be a self-starter and be motivated to make your business a success. Starting a business isn't easy. You'll have to put in long hours, sometimes sacrificing your personal life, especially in the beginning.

Does your family support you? You'll need their support and understanding that you won't be able to spend as much time with them or devote the same attention as you normally would, at least in the beginning. Having their support is crucial to your ultimate success. You need to be able to focus on building your business without worrying how others will react.

Here are some valuable tips for starting and building a successful medical coding business:

- Make sure you're certified. Once you're educated as a medical coder, you want to get certified through either the American Health Information Management Association or the American Academy of Professional Coders. Employers want medical coders who are certified, and your potential clients will be no different. Become certified and maintain that certification.

- Gain experience. Starting a business right after you've graduated from a medical coding program and after you've earned your certification is an ambitious goal, but you're best bet is to get experience before you strike out on your own. Get a job in a hospital, a clinic or a physician's office, etc. - whichever setting you prefer - and get experience. In addition to invaluable experience, you'll also meet valuable contacts.

- Make sure you do your best job every day - excel as a medical coder. Be the go-to coder. You want to make an impression on your supervisors and your coworkers. They could be valuable contacts when you start your business.

- Network. You want to start networking before you start your business and aggressively network after - that means attending meetings of AHIMA and/or AACP and other professional organizations. Become an expert on message boards, answering questions for other coders and helping new or prospective medical coders by offering advice. Make sure your name and title is in the signature line, so people know who you are. Include your website address once your business is up and running.

- Talk with others. Talk with other medical coders who have started their own businesses. If you're not comfortable talking with medical coding business owners, who will later be your competition, contact business owners in another town or state. Often, other small business owners can give you invaluable tips and advice you can't find anywhere else.

- Understand HIPAA. You must know and understand the fine details of HIPAA. In fact, you can't just know it - you must be an expert in it, and you need to make sure you follow it to the letter. Otherwise, you may lose your business. You can learn more about HIPAA by clicking here.

- Write your business plan. You've probably heard the old saying, "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail." Your business plan is a crucial part of your business. Your business plan will allow you to map your plan for your business, including how you will finance the startup costs, what marketing techniques you will use and your goals for the future.

You can learn everything you need to know about business plans by visiting the Small Business Administration. The SBA offers advice to small business owners and can answer any questions you may have. Local chapters of the SBA often offer small business seminars, covering a variety of topics, for a minimal fee. Bplans.com is another valuable business planning resource.

Another invaluable small business resource is SCORE. SCORE is comprised of retired business owners who offer advice to new business owners like you. Visit their website for more information. You can also receive counseling from a retired business owner via an in-person appointment or via email. SCORE also offers small business workshops for a minimal fee.

Choose your business type and register your business with the state. Your next step, once the business plan is written, is to determine which business entity you will have: sole proprietorship, partnership or corporation.

  • Sole proprietorship - A sole proprietorship means you own the business. You will be personally liable for any lawsuits or other action that is taken against the business. For example, if your medical coding business defaults on a loan, you will be responsible for it.
  • Partnership - A partnership is viable for two or more people going into a business. So, if you and friend or relative decide to open a business, you might choose the partnership entity. The main disadvantage of a partnership is you are responsible for your partner's actions and vice-versa.
  • Limited Liability Company (LLC) - An LLC is the form of corporation many small businesses choose. Small businesses enjoy tax advantages and allow their owners flexibility in management.
  • Corporation - Incorporating is the most expensive and time-consuming business entity to setup. Basically, corporations are run according to stock ownership. Small businesses can incorporate, and you'll want to talk to an attorney or a SCORE advisor if you think this is the option you want to pursue.

Once you decide which entity you will create, you'll want to register your business with your state. Visit your state's website for more information on registering your business and associated costs. You'll also find many incorporation services online that can help with getting your business set up as a corporation or LLC. Many lawyers also specialize in business formation.

- Research your city's zoning laws. Will you need a permit to operate a business from your house? Contact your local zoning board to find out if you need a permit, and if so, the procedure and cost of obtaining one.

- Set up your office. It's critical you have space in your home specifically designated for your home office. If you have an extra room, use it. Make sure your family and friends know your work hours, so they don't interrupt you.

Among the equipment you will need:

  • A desk
  • A comfortable chair
  • A desktop computer
  • Internet access (high speed is preferable, and you want to make sure you have proper security and firewalls.)
  • Filing cabinet
  • Coding manuals
  • Medical coding software (i.e. SpeedECoder, Medical Insurance & Coding Activity Software or Alpha II Coding Software. Talk with other medical coders to find the most popular, and most effective, coding software.)
  • Data files
  • Medical billing software (if you are educated in both billing and coding, you may want to consider offering both.)

- Start a website. Every business - whether a small business or a multi-national conglomerate - needs a website. A website is an effective tool for marketing yourself (your skills, your experience and your certifications) and your business. If you don't know how to design your own website, you can hire a web designer. Unfortunately, professional web designers can be costly. You may want to consider contacting your local art school or college, and finding a student to create your website. It will cost you less, and the student will add to his portfolio.

- Ready, set, marketing. Marketing is essential to the growth and success of any business, and your medical coding business is no different. You can market in a variety of ways, including:

  • Networking. We've already discussed networking; however, it's important to emphasize just how crucial networking is in your business' success. Use the contacts you've established to get the word out about your business.
  • Create, or have someone else create, a brochure to send to doctors, hospitals and other healthcare facilities. Make sure your brochure is thoroughly proofread - errors, no matter how small you may think they are, can destroy your credibility. Ensure all copy is clean before having your brochures printed. A few days after your brochure was mailed, start calling the recipients. Follow-up calls are critical.
  • Visit local doctor's offices, clinics and other healthcare facilities. Take along your brochure, business cards or have pens printed - with your business name - and give them to the staff. Leave your information with the receptionist then follow-up a few days later.
  • Visit the Small Business Administration and SCORE for even more marketing ideas.

Emphasize the benefits. Emphasize the many benefits healthcare providers will enjoy when they outsource their medical coding to your small business. Benefits include:

  • They'll save money on benefits including health insurance.
  • They'll save space - they won't have to worry about finding office space since you'll be working from home.
  • They'll still be able to reach you via email, instant messenger or phone instantly.

- Offer to sign a non-disclosure agreement. All work you do for individual clients must be kept completely confidential and must adhere to all HIPAA rules and regulations. Therefore, you may want to offer to sign a non-disclosure agreement with your clients. Have a lawyer draw up an agreement, or ask a SCORE advisor to refer you to a lawyer.

- Start working. Once you've gotten clients, you'll be ready to start working. Some clients may want you to access their files from their local computer as they do with remote coders.

Alternately, you may use your own computer software and pick up files from your clients. You'll want to discuss your clients' wants, needs and concerns, and arrange a situation that is comfortable for you both.

- Finally, keep at it. You're likely not going to be a success overnight, but don't get discouraged. Even the most successful entrepreneurs faced their share of failures and down times. Don't give up - persist - and you'll eventually see your medical coding business achieve success.