The Quality CDI Professional

CDI Careers

What makes a quality CDI professional?  Even though you may get ten different answers from ten people, there are particular traits and skills that are beneficial for quality.  While these aren’t all-inclusive, they are the ones most often seen as important for a pathway to success in the unique CDI profession.


In order to be deemed a quality CDI professional, there must be desire…a desire to step outside a comfort zone and learn new skills.  No one is going to be successful if forced to do something they don’t want to do, that their heart is not in.

Along with desire is a willingness to learn the skills in an ever-changing profession.  One can’t be rigid and unwilling to change – we are in healthcare and it is constantly evolving; therefore, we must evolve.

A lot of people have desire and are willing to learn new skills, but the next trait involves having what it takes to stick it out.  CDI is not a mirror image of any other profession – as stated previously, CDI is a unique profession and success in CDI requires perseverance.  The quality CDI professional is the one that hangs in there through the tough times, who isn’t thrown off by a challenge, and who works through it.

If you were to ask me for one word that describes a CDI professional, that word is ‘inquisitive’ – and this is no different whether in the inpatient or outpatient environment.  The quality CDI professional is constantly asking themselves one question….WHY?

-Why is the patient displaying those signs and symptoms?

-Why is the provider documenting in this manner?

– Why? Why? Why?

Being comfortable building relationships and interacting with providers and leadership is a personality trait to a certain degree.  In addition to the clinical skills needed to talk the provider’s language, the CDI professional needs to be comfortable approaching and interacting with providers, not only one-on-one, but also in a group setting.


A quality CDI professional possesses clinical expertise.  A deep knowledge of anatomy, physiology, and equally important, pathophysiology, is crucial.  Understand that this is not bedside clinical experience, but expertise.  There is a difference between the two.  While it’s true that clinical experience can give an advantage with a shorter learning curve, it doesn’t mean that those without experience cannot gain expertise with the aforementioned traits and education.  Luckily, clinical expertise is a learned skill and there is a vast amount of clinical information to be obtained at every monetary level.

In addition to clinical expertise, it is vital that the quality CDI professional possess coding expertise.  While in the early years of CDI, understanding of coding guidelines and coding clinics was not required, and sometimes even discouraged, but thankfully today, a deep knowledge of the codebook, coding guidelines and coding clinics is essential for success in CDI.   Again, this is not coding experience, but expertise.  There is a difference between the two.  While it’s true that coding experience can give an advantage with a shorter learning curve, it doesn’t mean that those without coding experience cannot gain expertise with the aforementioned traits.  Coding expertise is also a learned skill, and the amount of information available on coding topics is immense and can be obtained at any monetary level.

A quality CDI professional must be able to write/develop a compliant query, and must prove that aptitude in order to be successful.  A non-compliant query can have legal ramifications and should not be taken lightly.  Thankfully this is a learned skill as well.

Effective communication skills are crucial in CDI.  Whether it is speaking to leadership, discussing clinical indicators with a provider, presenting a verbal query in a non-leading manner, developing a compliant, non-leading query, discussing a record with coding professional, or writing and answering emails, a quality CDI professional has exceptional communication skills.

In addition to being a trait to a certain degree, building relationships and being comfortable interacting with providers and leadership is also a skill.  The quality CDI professional is adept in reading body language and communicating effectively and at the appropriate time.  Whether working on-site or remote, the quality CDI professional needs to excel in interpersonal communication across all fronts, both verbal and written.

Using these traits and skills as a springboard to success and building on an established platform of ethics will take you far down the path towards a quality CDI professional.

I sincerely send my good wishes for your success!

Karen Newhouser, RN, BSN, CCM, CCDS, CCS, CDIP
Director of CDI Education

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