The dictionary defines “abstraction” as removing something, such as abstracting molars, and by deduction a Medical Abstractionist is someone who removes something from a medical source such as a patient record. That may sound as clear as a mud puddle, but when you look at the term from a computing angle, it begins to make sense. In computing, abstraction is studying data by removing all information that is not relevant to the search criteria you have established.
Why Medical Abstraction is Performed
An article by Total Therapeutic Management, Inc. gives the example of evaluating the quality of new home construction to explain this. You could get some information from the bills you paid for materials and for the labor of the home builders, but that wouldn’t tell you about the way they installed a roof flashing or the materials they used in the foundation. When the home is finished, an inspector arrives and checks the house to make certain it meets certain standards and building codes.
In the same way, some healthcare data can be gleaned from patient billing records, such as the diagnosis or treatment code, but that does not tell about the patient/doctor contacts or the progress of the treatments. For that, you need to access the patient health record. According to the parameters set for the search, not all of the data will be relevant and the job of the abstractionist is to obtain only the pertinent data for the search. Abstractions are done for case management, as documentation for certification purposes, for research and, most of the tine, for auditing. Each of these will have its own parameters for the data collected, and the abstractionist must search the sources for that data.
Who are Abstractionists?
Although some positions are available without post-secondary education, most employers prefer job applicants with a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in a field such as health information systems to get an entry-level position. These professionals are fluent in coding language and are often certified through an organization such as the AAPC or AHIMA as a Certified Professional Coder, or a Coding Specialist.
Abstraction is a detail-oriented position and when it is based in the medical field it entails knowledge of medical coding language and terminology. People who are not able to absorb and retain details and minute data would not do well in this career. Salary is dependent upon where you are employed and upon your experience, but the average salary for a medical abstractionist is $39,000. The job outlook for a Medical Abstractionist is bright with the digitalizing of the healthcare industry.
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