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Converting to the ICD-10 medical diagnosis code set is not for the faint of heart. It's likely to be complicated, expensive and may entail a loss of productivity that could take five-to-six years to gain back, according to experts. The conversion is federally mandated by Oct. 1, 2013, and unlike many times in the past, theres no indication it will be postponed.

Orlando Health, a provider of healthcare services in Central Florida is forging ahead to meet the deadline.

We do have an organizational methodology, said Sharon Addison, senior project manager, ICD-10, at Orlando Health. We know the steps, we're executing those steps as we speak, and we will comply on Oct. 1, 2013.

Addison was part of an Orlando Health panel on ICD-10, organized by CHIME the College of Information Management Executives at HIMSS 11.

As Addison noted, ICD-9 in use today across the country, consists of 17,500 codes, while ICD-10 has about 157,000 codes. However, ICD-9 is 30 years-old. ICD-10 offers the Å“granularity and specificity that ICD-9 cannot, she said.

It's a pretty dramatic change in healthcare,she added. It really is a project that touches every single entity inside Orlando Health."

Training and communication will be vital to the project, Addison said, because if you don't have good documentation, you have inaccurate coding, and that impacts reimbursement. There's lots of trickle down issues.

Also, Addison suggested, when you're spending millions of dollars on a project this size, you should look for other parts you can do to improve process and other aspects.

Alexander Veletsos, chief applications officer at Orlando Health, agreed. But, he cautioned, It's almost like assessing a moving target.

Bridget Walters, corporate director of patient accounting, said conversion to ICD-10 code would save money because it provides more specific coding. We're hoping ICD-10 will decrease denials, she said.

The average time now for billing after services is five days. Walters said ICD-10 could triple that time. The accounts receivable now at 49 days could also triple, according to Walters' research.

The project is certain to cost millions, said Veletsos. Just how many millions is yet to be determined.

Addison said most healthcare organizations the size of Orlando Health, which operates eight hospitals and 49 physician practices, are equally prepared and perhaps some are slightly ahead of Orlando Health in their ICD-10 work. But, it's a lot tougher for small community hospitals to achieve, and vendors and payers are struggling with the conversion, too. 

March 2011 - Healthcare IT News