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Q&A with Denise Fotopoulos

Toronto, June 6, 2016

By Leslie Shepherd

Denise Fotopoulos
Denise Fotopoulos, manager for health data and coding in Decision Support Services. (Photo by Katie Cooper)

Q. What does a coding specialist do?
A. The primary role of a coder is to tell a patient’s story by reading his or her chart and translating all the diagnoses and procedures done at the hospital into alphanumeric codes using the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases. Coders collect a large amount of clinical and administrative data through discharge summaries, consultations, progress notes, OR procedure notes, and diagnostic reports. We must follow strict coding standards to ensure accuracy and consistency. We code all inpatient, day surgery and emergency care and visits to select clinics (dialysis, colposcopy and oncology).

Q. Why is coding important?
A. There is an increased focus on the importance of coding and data quality with the introduction of Health System Funding Reform in Ontario. Coded information is used to inform government funding decisions, but equally important, it is used internally and externally for quality and performance measurement, disease surveillance, research, planning, policy and resource management by hospital administration. It’s critical that our coded data is of a very high quality and reflects the complexity of our patients and the resources involved in their care.

Q. What does a typical day look like for you?
A. Every day is different. I manage a team of highly skilled health information professionals who must always stay up-to-date on data standards and reporting requirements. As a department, we must ensure data is submitted on time and passes our quality assurance checks. We work very closely with Decision Support Services, Finance, clinical programs and physicians to maintain the accuracy and integrity of patient data and to ensure standardization in coding practices. And of course we are always looking for ways to improve the quality of documentation within the health record.

Q. What is your background?
A. I knew from Day 1 that I wanted to work in health care. After completing my biology degree from McMaster University I studied chiropody at the Michener Institute. Preferring to work behind the scenes, I enrolled in George Brown’s Health Information Management program. I have worked in the field for a little over16 years and I love it. In addition to positions in coding, I spent eight years in decision support and was seconded to CIHI for a few months as an auditor to evaluate hospital compliance with the Canadian Coding Standards. Most recently, I managed the coding and data quality team at a large community hospital.

Q. What do you do in your spare time?
A. I have a 15-month-old son who just started walking, so I have no spare time! I’m enjoying being a new mom, but I do miss going to the movies. I’m a big documentary fan and hope to catch a flick or two at the Hot Docs Festival.

About St. Michael's Hospital

St. Michael’s Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in 27 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, care of the homeless and global health are among the hospital’s recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Centre, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael's Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.