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Set your schedule now to prepare for ICD-10

March 13, 2012

Edited by Chuck Brownlow, O.D., Medical Records consultant

International Classification of Diseases (ICD)-10 implementation is approaching. ICD has been the “law of the land” for a long time with respect to choosing diagnosis codes in health care.

ICD was originally created so that researchers would be able to use five-digit numbers, rather than long descriptions, while doing research with medical conditions.

For decades, though, it has been used in reporting health care services, largely because five-digit codes take up much less space in medical records and on claim forms.

The issue that is currently in use, ICD-9, had been scheduled to be replaced by ICD-10 on Oct. 1, 2013, for diagnosis coding for Medicare and for all medical insurers in the United States. 

Most other countries in the world have been using ICD-10 for a decade or longer. We are essentially the last developed country to adopt the newest version. 

It is important that all health care providers take the Oct. 1, 2013, date very seriously and begin preparing now. 

All services provided on or after Oct. 1, 2013, will be reported using codes from ICD-10. 

Even though the deadline is 18 months away, all American health care providers should already be engaged in efforts to learn more about ICD-10, preparing to adopt it for use in their offices. 

There is no need to panic or expend a lot of time and effort, but every office should be developing a timetable and a plan for adoption and implementation of ICD-10.

The looming ICD-10 deadline follows a pattern among health care providers. 

Any large change in the health care system is preceded by dire predictions of huge conversion costs for all practices, tremendous time investment in doctor and staff training, significant ongoing staff and doctor time for dealing with the complexities of choosing diagnosis codes after Oct. 1, 2013, and mass confusion among providers and insurers as they scramble to prepare.

Take your time, but hurry!

The first half of 2012 is an excellent time to begin preparation, understanding that there will be many, many resources to assist in the changeover well before Oct. 1, 2013. 

If the conversion to ICD-10 follows the patterns of other big changes in medical records, coding resources, etc., the cost of education and conversion, and the time and effort required, will decrease as the deadline approaches. 

Past experience, as with HIPAA back in 2003, teaches us that earlier teaching aids tend to be more expensive, with the expense and quality of the educational materials improving as we get closer to the deadline. 

Even the CMS suggests offices hold off on training doctors and staff until the final quarter of 2012 or early 2013.

Introduction to ICD-10

ICD-10 will completely change the way diagnosis codes are chosen. ICD-10 codes will:

  • include three to seven digits
  • provide about five times the number of code choices as ICD-9
  • include at least one letter plus numbers
  • be more specific than ICD-9
  • include laterality in the code, e.g., side of body, right eye/left eye
  • have the capacity for adding new diagnoses and treatment modalities as they are identified
  • be chosen by the same process as ICD-9, but from a much larger number of codes

Remember you do not have to deal with the ICD-10 challenge, or any other challenge, alone. 

You have your colleagues and your state and national associations to help guide you through these regulatory and administrative changes. 

As questions arise, you are welcome to send them to askthecodingexperts@aoa.org

All AOA members and staff of AOA members are able to send questions at any time. A group of AOA staff and volunteers stands ready to find the answers for you and get them to you promptly.

Remembering the run-up to the implementation of HIPAA in 2003, with its scare tactics and threats, will make it easier to be confident that the ICD-10 conversion will not be as bad as many predict it will be. 

It is up to each of us to make the transition so smoothly, by calmly and confidently preparing and availing ourselves of the information and assistance that will be available throughout the process!

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