Will CAC (Computer Assisted Coding) Replace Medical Coders?

So, here’s a question I see posted in different FB groups every once in a while–Will CAC (Computer Assisted Coding) ever replace medical coders? There is a long and short answer. The short answer is No. The longer answer–still No, but there’s more to it than meets the eye.

We all know there are some computer programs out there that make coding easier. These programs pick up on key words in documentation and for lack of better word–the computer ‘codes’ it. But here’s the thing-computers may be good at picking up on key words, but they can’t think. Computers are not aware of coding rules and guidelines, modifiers, excludes 1 notes…etc. So what happens is, the CAC just codes whatever keywords it picks up on, but it may be all wrong because it doesn’t know the rules. Here is what I mean:

Sometimes, it codes the reason for the exam plus the findings. According to ICD-10-CM coding guidelines, that is incorrect. When there are findings that explain the reason for the exam, the report is coded to the finding. Another thing I’ve seen CAC software do is put about 5 or 6 diagnosis codes on a simple report, like an abdominal ultrasound. It’s not wrong per se, but really? Do we need to code every single incidental diagnosis? No. Incidentals don’t need to be coded, but I’ll save that for another post.

Here is another common mistake that I’ve seen on audits done by CAC software. If you’ve coded radiology, you know how radiologists love to say “consistent with.” So, say you’re coding a chest x-ray and the report says, “findings consistent with pneumonia.” According to ICD-10-CM Coding Guidelines, you would not code the pneumonia because it is not definitive (this is outpatient coding, by the way. Inpatient coding has different rules on this). Many times the CAC software picks up on the word “pneumonia” and codes it. That is not how that report should have been coded because of the “consistent with.” It would be coded to the symptoms or a definite finding in the report. So, like I said earlier, CAC does not think. Does not know coding rules.

My guess is though (and this is only a guess) is that maybe in the future, most coders will be just checking the codes that CAC software came up with, and having more of an auditing role. Many places use CAC and have success with it, but there are also people checking the codes before it goes out. At the end of the day, there will always be a need for coders. Coders do way more than assign codes based on keywords. We think and have an in depth knowledge that just can’t be replaced by a computer. Besides, would any doctor out there want their billing/coding not even checked by a qualified person before it goes out? Probably not.

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