Reimbursement Advisor

Moving forward with ICD-10: Capitalize on this extra time

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Even though the implementation of ICD-10 has been postponed until October 1, 2015, now is not the time to breathe a sigh of relief and go back to business as usual


Yes, we have been here before. Another day, another delay in implementing International Classification of Diseases, Tenth Revision, Clinical Modification (ICD-10-CM). But, do not expect another postponement. If you are already conducting training sessions to move to the new system come next October, continue to do so. If you have not yet started, now is the time to start. ICD-10-CM is coming to your practice, and it will change everything.

“Why the switch?” you ask?
This change in our diagnostic coding system is required to allow coding for increased specificity in the reporting of diseases and recently recognized conditions as well as to maintain our status with respect to the rest of the world (which has been using ICD-10 for years). It also will be essential to use this coding system with the electronic medical record (EMR), so that meaningful use can be demonstrated more easily. Keep in mind that failure to show meaningful use will lead to penalties in the future. This new system offers improvements over ICD-9-CM in coding primary care encounters, external causes of injury, mental disorders, neoplasms, obstetric complications, and preventive health. It also allows physicians to demonstrate severity of illness in a way that is not possible with ICD-9-CM.

There will be 65,000 more codes than currently exist in ICD-9-CM. No physician will be able to keep all of these code numbers handy, but by making changes to clinician documentation and applying diagnostic coding guidelines correctly within the framework of the new system, the transition will not be onerous. And consider that, while the number of new codes is great, the number of codes used in the typical ObGyn practice will be a fraction of that number.

Related article: As ICD-10 conversion nears, keep these factors in mind to ensure proper reimbursements in 2014. Barbara S. Levy, MD (Audiocast, January 2014)

For ICD-10, documentation is paramount
The most important issue when considering overall coding and practice changes will be recognizing that clinician documentation will be the key to coding the highest level of specificity—and this high level of specificity may be required by most payers when ­deciding to reimburse for treatments rendered. Complete documentation sets the stage for the severity of illness and should in fact result in fewer denials for medical necessity.

For the new process to work efficiently, however, without a lot of delays due to coders and billers having to get more information from clinician offices before sending out claims, your understanding of and “buy-in” to the more clinically specific documentation will be essential.

To explain, under ICD-9-CM coding, simply documenting amenorrhea was acceptable. But when we switch to ICD-10-CM, documentation will need to specify whether the amenorrhea was primary or secondary. This more specific diagnostic coding will make a difference in the health statistics we collect. These data are used for research and to make decisions about allocation of resources—all essential components to excellent quality patient care.

The codes themselves will look different, which may be why some are resisting the change. Instead of the up to five digits required in ICD-9-CM, ICD-10-CM will require up to seven characters. All of the ICD-10-CM codes begin with a letter, may require a placeholder code of “x” as part of the code number, and the seventh character can be either a number or a letter. For instance, with some ICD-10-CM diagnoses reported by ObGyns, a seventh character might require documentation of the encounter as being initial, subsequent, or a sequel; in other cases, that seventh character will be used to identify which fetus has the problem identified by the diagnostic code.

Related article: The economics of surgical gynecology: How we can not only survive, but thrive, in the 21st Century. Q&A with Barbara S. Levy, MD (Practice Management; February 2013)

Your understanding, although not a necessity, is best for all involved
In truth, most clinicians are not familiar with code formats and code numbers within our current ICD-9-CM code set. The expectation that you will suddenly become fluent in ICD-10-CM “code speak” is not realistic. But an understanding of the new codes in relation to documentation expectations will go a long way to making this transition as smooth as possible. For instance, when a patient currently presents reporting vaginal pain that is found to be due to erosion of a previously placed mesh, the code 628.31 (Erosion of implanted vaginal mesh and other prosthetic materials to surrounding organ or tissue) is reported. But in ICD-10-CM, the documentation would need to include whether this was an initial encounter and the code would become T83.711A (Erosion of implanted vaginal mesh and other prosthetic materials to surrounding organ or tissue, initial encounter).

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