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ICD-10 delay frees physicians to focus on other practice needs

However, analysts urge doctors to keep an eye on the new coding set plans and continue to prepare for implementation.

By Pamela Lewis Dolan — Posted March 19, 2012

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The Dept. of Health and Human Services has delayed the compliance deadline for ICD-10 diagnosis code sets that was scheduled for Oct. 1, 2013. So what does that mean for physicians?

They now have time to focus on more pressing issues while working toward the eventual switch to ICD-10, analysts say.

HHS announced in February that it will delay the compliance deadline. As of this article's deadline, a new date had not been set. The American Medical Association is continuing to oppose ICD-10 and to encourage another alternative to ICD-9. The conversion to ICD-10 would increase the number of code sets from 13,000 to 68,000. The AMA has said the original deadline was inopportune, considering other federal deadlines for such programs as meaningful use, and asserted that ICD-10 would not improve patient care.

In the meantime, doctors shouldn't assume that the delay will be indefinite, said Jason Fortin, senior adviser of discovery and development for Impact Advisors, a Naperville, Ill.-based health IT consulting firm.

The effort required to be compliant is significant; therefore, practices cannot afford to be idle, he said.

Rob Tennant, senior policy adviser for the Medical Group Management Assn., said that as physicians prepare to meet various regulatory deadlines, they should place their priorities in two categories: those needed for compliance and those needed to earn incentives. As they look at the technology needed for compliance deadlines, they should consider how that technology can meet meaningful use and ICD-10, when it comes around.

The delay allows breathing room for physicians still working toward other regulations such as HIPAA 5010 and the Administrative Simplification of HIPAA provision, as well as meaningful use. The deadline for HIPAA 5010 was Jan. 1, although the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is delaying enforcement until at least the end of March.

Steven D. Bush, MD, MPH, president and CEO of the Fox Valley Women & Children's Health Partners practice in St. Charles, Ill., said the ICD-10 delay "allows us time to get our houses in order so when it does come down, we're ready."

Most vendors have ICD-10 on their radars and are adjusting their electronic health records and practice management systems to meet those requirements, or have plans to do so.

Fortin said practices still in the market for an EHR system should make sure their chosen product has both cross-walk capabilities (the ability to map ICD-9 sets to ICD-10 sets) as well as the ability to capture ICD-10 codes natively.

Practices should make sure their vendors tell them how the conversion from ICD-9 to ICD-10 will work, said attorney Todd Rodriguez, a partner with the Exton, Pa.-based law firm Fox Rothschild and co-chair of the firm's health law practice group. Their explanation should be very detailed, he said.

Tennant suggested not focusing too much on training and testing until closer to the compliance date, whenever it is. Training too soon may need to be repeated, either because employees forget what was taught or because of staff changes in the interim. But Rodriguez suggested not waiting until the last minute since vendors, organizations and other groups facilitating the training will be backlogged in weeks leading up to the compliance deadline.

Practices that already have a system designed to meet ICD-10 regulations will benefit from the delay by having more time to work on identifying weaknesses and meeting the level of detail needed for proper ICD-10 coding, said Cyndi Steward, national advisory board president and ICD-10 trainer for the AAPC, a certifying body and training facility for medical coders. While practices cannot start using the new code set until the compliance date, testing with organizations such as a practice's clearinghouse or vendors may be possible.

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