Note from the Associate Editorial Director: State of the industry looks for advancement opportunities

CDI Strategies - Volume 13, Issue 12

By Melissa Varnavas

Next week (Wednesday, March 27), I’ll be taking my CDI State of the Industry virtual road show to California and Minnesota (see the listing of local chapter upcoming events). Every year, I work with the ACDIS editorial and administrative teams to delve into our various publications to identify areas of evolving focus. The first place I look is the annual CDI Salary Survey.

When ACDIS first conducted its CDI Salary Survey, more than half the respondents earned $69,999 or less. In 2018, only 17% fell into that bracket, down from 20% according to 2017 results. Those who earn salaries of $100,000 or more, however, grew to 28.15%, up from last year’s 25.58%, indicating that top-earning CDI professionals found themselves on a path of continued growth in 2018. In fact, the majority of the 1,030 respondents to the 2018 survey reported earning a raise in the last 12 months.

If CDI specialists report continued earnings growth, does that logically mean there’s opportunity for professional advancement? If the answer to that question is yes, (and I’m arguing that it is) then we need to ask a host of other questions, such as:

  • What is driving this continued growth?
  • How can CDI programs adapt?
  • How can CDI professionals take advantage of advancement opportunities?

To answer the first question, I turn to our regular publications, the weekly e-mail newsletter that you’re reading now, CDI Strategies, and the bi-monthly online CDI Journal. Within these publications we learn, for example, the cost of sepsis readmissions.

CDI professionals historically understood the challenges of capturing accurate sepsis documentation given the state of affairs between varying coding guidelines and clinical definitions—which is challenging enough. But now consider educating staff on documentation clarifications related to Medicare’s Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program. There may be an opportunity to set experienced CDI professionals on a pilot program to investigate sepsis readmissions and work with the quality and coding team on the project.

In order to make that leap, we need to answer the second question. For this, I turn back to the CDI Salary Survey to see what stratification of job titles have shown growth this year and what programs are doing to provide professional advancement opportunities for staff. If the program doesn’t have a team lead, team educator, secondary reviewer, or CDI level II position, it could be more difficult to identify appropriate staff for a pilot program and to address productivity needs.

I then also turn to advice from our advisory board (don’t forget to vote for the new incoming members) and other boards and committees in the form of ACDIS position and white papers, which often offer help in answering all three questions. CDI managers/directors need to set a firm foundation for their programs drawing on their mission statement, established expectations for those working in the role, before they can set career path opportunities.

Papers such as “Developing effective CDI leadership: A matter of effort and attitude,” “Defining the CDI specialist’s roles and responsibilities,” and “How to conduct a medical record review,” help to set those core responsibilities and CDI skills white papers such as “Keep staff growing and engaged with a CDI career ladder,” “Clinical validation and the role of the CDI professional,” and “CDI and the evolution from finance to quality” offer insight into how to move past those core skills and into new areas of growth.

My point is really to showcase how much valuable information is actually at the fingertips of all ACDIS members at any given time. While you may not be 100% familiar with all the resources available to you, take a moment to watch some of the helpful videos the ACDIS team has posted recently which point out some of the best-loved and most frequently used tools. And if you’re working on a specific project and need a little help, just ask.

Editor’s Note: Varnavas is the Associate Editorial Director for ACDIS. Contact her at