Moving to ICD-10 Has Promises, Challenges

NEW YORK (Reuters Health)—While the new International Classification of Diseases, Tenth Revision, Clinical Modification (ICD-10-CM) codes offer greater diagnostic precision, their implementation will require training of clinicians, coders, and other staff to minimize payment denials or delays from both public and private payers.

Brian Outland and colleagues from the American College of Physicians in Washington, D.C., outline some of the promises and challenges of ICD-10-CM implementation in a report online Sept. 22 in Annals of Internal Medicine.

Although completed and endorsed by the World Health Assembly in 1990, ICD-10-CM’s implementation date has repeatedly been delayed, and it is now scheduled to take effect on Oct. 1.

The authors suggest that “the newer coding system will produce data that will indicate the clinical trajectory and other factors that will enable the data to be used in meaningful ways to better understand complications, design robust algorithms for clinical decision support, and track outcomes. Having these details built into the codes will decrease the need for health care providers to include supporting documentation with claims.”

The new ICD-10-CM alphanumeric codes will contain as many as seven characters that specify categories, subcategories, laterality, severity and other features.

The use of codes that are not specific enough can result in payment denials or delays, so practices will need to keep current on payer reimbursement policies to ensure the reporting of ICD-10-CM codes that support reimbursement, the authors note.

The cost for the training of clinicians and staffs will depend on practice size, specialty, the method of training, current documentation quality, and technology readiness and availability.

Dr. Susan H. Fenton from UTHealth School of Biomedical Informatics in Houston, Texas, told Reuters Health by email, “One of the thoughts I cannot get away from is that the U.S. is trying to manage a 21st-century, rapidly evolving healthcare system with a 1970s technology. I can think of little else in healthcare that has remained as static since the 1970s.”

“The diagnostic system added lots of codes, but the basic structure is the same,” she said.

“Certainly, with more detail such as laterality, as well as first encounter, subsequent encounter, and sequelae, it will be much easier to track care for specific conditions across providers,” Dr. Fenton said. “I think the issue of claims denials will have to play out over time.”

Resources and tools from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) can be found online at

The American College of Physicians also has helpful information available at

Outland did not respond to a request for comment.

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