10 Ways ICD-10 Will Improve Quality of Care

Cheryl Clark, December 1, 2011

The popular approach to writing anything about ICD-10 conversion these days is to describe the disastrous impact providers say it will have­—or is already having—on healthcare, nearly two years ahead of its launch. 

From the sound of it, everyone from physicians to nurses to CFOs and CIOs must be preparing for hell itself, or at least stocking up on awesome quantities of Pepcid.

Peter Carmel, MD, president of the American Medical Association, and flocks of physician groups speak of its "onerous" burden, costing each physician $28,000, on top of the reimbursement cuts and other changes they already face.

It's another unfunded mandate with no clear benefit leading to access problems for patients, says Diane Bristol, OB-GYN legislative liaison for the Medical Group Management Association in Midland, MI.

I get it; ICD-10 means headaches, money, and time. But I write about quality, so I'm going to damn the torpedoes and talk about the whole point of this undertaking, which is, after all, to improve quality.

The decision to require the transition to ICD-10 was made years ago. Federal agencies and providers developed the U.S. version together with documentation showing that ICD-10 code sets will improve our understanding of why we get sick and how we give care.

ICD-10 will increase the number of procedure codes from 4,000 to 72,000, and the number of diagnosis codes from 14,000 to 69,000.  Sue Bowman, one of several ICD-10 cognoscenti who shared her expertise with me, says most physician practices will use only a small set of these codes, so it's really not so draconian.

So tune out all the sobbing, screaming, and procrastinating and focus on 10 reasons why ICD-10 will prove to be a good thing, eventually:

1. Updates to current terminology and specificity

ICD-9 was developed in 1979, a time when terms like laparoscopic, endoscopic or thoracoscopic were unheard of in surgical suites. "Our ICD-9 system is ancient," says Bowman. Take the structure of disease management codes for asthma, she says. "It's either intrinsic or extrinsic asthma, which doesn't match the clinical classification currently in use, that is persistent, or intermittent," or any number of other types.

"When you think about the fact that this system is now over 30 years old, and you think of the state of medicine in the 1970s... you realize it's not surprising that there's a lot of these problems (within ICD-9) that structurally just can't be fixed," she says.

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