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How to Prepare Now for October ICD-10 Code Thaw

how-to-prepare-for-October-ICD-10_Code-Thaw.jpgYour wardrobe says a lot about you—where you work, your hobbies, snippets of your personality, and your overall taste, for starters. Maybe you’re thinking the time is right to take a good look at your closet and make the leap on an overall fashion makeover that would make the “Project Runway” judges very proud.

Well, imagine if you had to go without any updates to your wardrobe for five years. You’d still be holding many pieces that are out of style. Some items would need to be tossed out altogether, new items would need to be added to keep pace with current trends, and alterations may need to be made because certain items no longer fit the way they used to. 

Just like that outdated wardrobe, it is time for ICD to make some changes. In anticipation of the ICD-10 transition, the yearly updates were frozen in 2011. Now that we are almost a year past the transition, it's time to start the regular yearly updates.

The Need for Change

Medical codes are always changing and updating as new technology comes to the forefront and new diseases are discovered, but for the past five years, most updates have been frozen due to the long delay in transitioning to ICD-10.

The release of five years of code updates may well be a challenge, as it’s difficult to prepare for something without having the details. The definitive information on the proposed changes were just published in The Federal Register, and the changes will become effective in October. We know that upwards of 1900 new ICD-10-CM codes (which mainly relate to the musculoskeletal injuries code set) and 3600 new ICD-10-PCS codes(relating mostly to cardiovascular specialties), are among the changes, and of course, there is a new code for the Zika virus (A92.5).

Now, prior to October 2016, is the time to begin understanding what the coding thaw will mean for your business operations. Make a plan to work through what to do for your organization and why it is important. 

Planning and Preparation

As in every circumstance when healthcare hands us a new challenge, thinking ahead is the first step. If you have answers already for the four questions below, you’re well on your way. If not, it’s time to plan ahead.

Are your coders up to speed today?

Understanding coding convention and being proficient is crucial. The more up-to-date your coding team is prior to October 2016, the easier it will be to integrate new codes, revisions and deletions after that date. Seeing as you can’t fully prepare for putting the new codes in practice just yet, your time is best spent perfecting the coding work you’re doing today. Work through any bottlenecks and make sure every coder is as proficient as possible.

Who do you have in place to manage and coordinate these changes?

Many healthcare organizations are facing a lack of proficient, educated and credentialed coders. That’s why coding leaders must prepare for pending changes now to avoid quality and productivity issues down the road, as the latter together will inevitably affect revenue cycle performance. Do you have enough credentialed coders, and do you have the right speciality experience to meet your current and future needs?

How much time will be allotted for training based on what is needed?

If your team is already backlogged, it’s crucial to think about the additional education that will be needed with the upcoming coding thaw, and the time that will take away from current workflow processes. Whether it’s 2 hours per coder or 20, determining a workflow that accommodates extra training hours is imperative. And, just as crucial, who will handle the training?

What ramifications will the changes bring to your specialty?

It’s a good time to start building a strategy around staying ahead by answering the important questions: Which specialties will be most affected? Which providers will utilize the new code categories? Will there be a learning curve? What education do we need to provide, and where can we get it? 

To help answer those questions, utilize the resources available now about the changes. If your organization is unable to provide in-house training, consider AHIMA or AAPC as an alternative resource for your education needs.

The Bottom Line

By taking the time to understand if/how your specialty will be affected by the for October 1, 2016 coding thaw, and providing the appropriate training you can be confident in knowing your coding team will be up to date. In essence, they will have a closet full of the latest codes, and they’ll know just how to pair them when it’s showtime on the runway.


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