Trained and Ready for Expanded Codes

September 24, 2015

KANSAS CITY, Kan.— The days are ticking down to Oct. 1, when the nation's healthcare industry converts to ICD-10, a dramatically expanded system of medical codes that touches everything from billing and tracking diseases to prescribing medications.

Medical diagnoses will be much more detailed. Which thumb is lacerated – the left or right? Is a broken bone a displaced or non-displaced fracture? Which coronary artery is involved in a myocardial infarction? There will be codes for each of those.

In fact, ICD-10 (which includes two versions) encompasses roughly 140,000 diagnosis and procedure codes, compared to 24,000 in ICD-9-CM.

The immediate impact on patients at The University of Kansas Hospital and The University of Kansas Physicians should be modest, though bills might show more detail due to the increased "level of specificity" in the new codes, according to Theresa Jackson, the hospital's Health Information Management director.

More broadly, however, the change is expected to give hospitals and the healthcare industry much better data for analysis. More codes also allow physicians to better capture advances in technology and medical knowledge.

"The official launch of ICD-10 codes in the U.S. is long overdue," said Jackson, who notes most other countries converted to ICD-10 a decade ago. "ICD-9 was developed 30 years ago, and it doesn't accurately describe diagnoses and procedures at the level of detail needed in managing today's complex healthcare system."

In preparation for Oct. 1, employees have participated in hands-on training. Some groups have been dual-coding diagnoses (in the current and new codes) for more than a year.

Judy Bielby, a clinical assistant professor in Health Information Management at the University of Kansas Medical Center, is an expert trainer of the new codes. She believes the upcoming conversion – much like Y2K worries about computers on Jan. 1, 2000 – will be much ado about nothing.

"Everybody was so concerned about Y2K and worked so hard on it," she said, "and it went off without a hitch."

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