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American Academy of Family Physicians
Thursday Jan 29, 2009

ICD-10: Y2K all over again?

People often see things differently. Two neighbors may call their county government offices, one to ask that weeds be sprayed along the road and another asking for a no-spray ordinance. Health care is not immune to such conflicting priorities.

Some are anxiously counting the days until the Oct. 1, 2013, deadline for adoption of the ICD-10-CM codes and the "granularity" they promise. I doubt many practicing physicians are among that group. A letter to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services from Jim King, MD, chairman of the AAFP Board of Directors, left no doubt the AAFP did not support this change. That said, I hope you are not losing sleep, hoarding canned goods or preparing to duck for cover. The transition from ICD-9 to ICD-10 will create some challenges but will not likely result in widespread calamity.

Don't get me wrong. This is not your average annual code update. As reported by the American Academy of Professional Coders, when the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association converted the 164 ICD-9 codes included in FPM's model superbill to ICD-10, the resulting mess was seven pages longer than the original list. (The FPM Superbill has been updated for 2009; you can download it from the FPM Toolbox.) Clearly the ICD-10 code set is cumbersome compared to ICD-9, but it's not as difficult as learning to diagnose and manage the 68,105 conditions that may be reported with ICD-10. You can handle this.

Here are some things to consider as the Oct. 1, 2013, implementation deadline approaches:

1. You will no doubt soon receive ads for ICD-10 products and educational resources. Please don't waste your money. Learning a complex coding system that you will not use for nearly five years isn't productive, and changes could be made to the code set before 2013. Keep reading FPM and plan to learn more when implementation is closer.

2. Don't let ICD-10 overshadow another change with the potential for significant financial impact, especially for solo and small practices -- the conversion to the HIPAA 5010 electronic transaction standards, which must be completed by Jan. 1, 2012. Version 5010 is an extensive revision and paves the way for submission of ICD-10-CM codes. If your software vendor charges for upgrades or floundered during prior changes, now is the time to start asking questions about implementation plans and considering your options (e.g., upgrade or change vendors).

3. If you think you might need to change your software, consider a combined EHR/practice management system. A combined system may relieve some of the ongoing burdens and costs of transitioning to ICD-10. Imagine having an ICD-10 look-up tool similar to the FPM ICD-9 Look-Up Tool built into your EHR and integrated with your billing system, or a system that automatically converts standardized nomenclature to codes.

Most of you have endured the Medicare enrollment process, so you are combat-tested. And you are not alone. The AAFP and FPM will continue to provide you with the best resources that we can find or create to help you make the transition to ICD-10.

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