Love of helping eases her work


Sandra Baker, diagnostic coder, Northwest Hospital, Randallstown

January 11, 2009|By Nancy Jones-Bonbrest | Nancy Jones-Bonbrest,Special to The Baltimore Sun

Salary: $60,000

Age: 53

Years on the job: 32

How she got started: After completing a two-year medical records technology degree from the Community College of Baltimore (now Baltimore City Community College), Baker went to work as a diagnostic coder for Baltimore County General Hospital, now Northwest Hospital.

Since then, she has become a certified coding specialist through the American Health Information Management Association, which requires yearly self-assessments and continuing-education credits.

Typical day: Baker's job is to translate a patient's medical diagnosis and procedures into numeric codes for insurance and billing purposes.

Once medical charts are delivered to Baker, she has four days to complete the coding. She is expected to finish 20 charts per day, though she averages about 23. A typical chart involves a hospital stay of four to five days.

Baker's job includes checking the medical chart for accuracy and completion. She said that in coding a patient's chart she looks for any medical procedure, condition, test or medicine that has been "mentioned, monitored or managed." Her focus is on accurate coding for documentation, data quality and reimbursement.

"If the hospital expended cost for the treatment, that's what we're looking for."

Coding is often used for statistical purposes, including analysis and marketing. If a code comes up often, the hospital may choose to add new services.

Although most of the files Baker works with are in electronic format, other documents such as progress reports are handwritten and must be deciphered. She is one of five full-time coders at Northwest. About 75 percent of their work is audited for accuracy every month.

"I prefer quality over quantity," she says. "You want to do it right; it's a personal thing."

Baker chooses to work from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, but the job offers flexible hours.

Changes: When Baker started her job, all charts and codes were handwritten. As the process became computerized, data entry got easier. But medical procedures, and therefore codes, have become much more specialized and complicated.

The good: "Knowing that I've read the chart to the best of my ability and I applied the right codes."

The bad: Deciphering notes can prove tricky.

Philosophy: Teamwork, caring and respect are important traits when it comes to working in a hospital, says Baker, who added, "I love people, and I love helping people. So it makes it easy to do those things."

Have a suggestion for an At Work feature? Please e-mail us at

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.