New ICD-10 start date doesn't stall practice training, upgrades

Even with a firm compliance deadline in place, physician practices have their work cut out for them in preparing for conversion to ICD-10 coding by Oct. 1, 2014.

The long-anticipated transition daunts physicians and practices for several reasons. First off, the new, more specific system will mean a five-fold increase in the number of diagnosis codes physicians and their staff will need to report on claims--from about 13,000 codes to roughly 68,000, Steven J. Stack, chair of the American Medical Association's Board of Trustees, noted in a recent American Medical News article.

But the sheer number of new codes doesn't fairly represent the challenge, according to Barry Blumenfeld, CIO of Maine Medical Center in Portland, Maine. As he explained in a Healthcare IT News article, the complexity of switching to a new system "makes things very complicated for physicians choosing codes and will require a lot of training and a lot of insight into how these codes are different." 

As a result, practices could incur a steep financial burden. According to Fred Ralston, Jr., an internist in Fayetteville, Tenn., and past president of the American College of Physicians, physician and staff training, plus any necessary technology upgrades to accommodate ICD-10, could cost practices thousands of dollars per physician, amednews reported. The AMA has estimated that total compliance costs could run as high as $2.7 million for large practices.

The AMA and other physician organizations welcomed the implementation delay but expressed some disappointment that it wasn't for longer. Nonetheless, Ralston told amednews that while his practice could have done a more careful job preparing for the transition with a two-year delay, as the AMA requested of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, he and his staff should "be able to attach an ICD-10 code of some sort to most of our diagnoses by the deadline." He added, "We are making sure that physicians are aware that every code needs to be addressed, and this will take significant physician time and involvement."

Part of the difficulty, American Academy of Family Physicians President Glen Stream noted in a recent AAFP News Now post, is that physicians will be forced to face not only ICD-10 conversion but multiple regulatory burdens at once.

"We advocated for such a delay on behalf of our members, most of whom are working tirelessly to implement multiple Medicare incentive and penalty programs while also engaging in new delivery and payment models," he said.

The bottom line: Practices that aren't ready have little time to waste. "The transition will require months of planning and execution" on the part of physicians and their staff members, Stream said.

To learn more:
- read the story from Healthcare IT News
- see the article from American Medical News
- check out the post from AAFP News Now