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A recent survey revealed that nearly nine out of ten physicians believe the complexity of ICD-10 codes will make it much more difficult for them to document patient conditions and, as a result, will negatively impact their productivity.  And it’s not just physicians who are worried— provider organizations also share this concern about how ICD-10 will affect their clinical staff’s productivity and, consequently, their bottom lines.

No one is denying that change can be challenging, but the ICD-10 transition does not necessarily warrant a doomsday countdown clock.  Here are some steps that will guide providers through these changes while preparing physicians and health information management teams, alike, for October 2014:

Evaluate your current situation.  You have a year until full implementation is required, so now is the time to take a step back and assess your transition strategies – including the creation of a backup plan. This isn’t a belt-and-suspenders exercise, carefully considering potential delays and creating a contingency plan is essential to successfully navigating any unforeseen changes that could emerge over the course of the next year.

Paint the bigger picture.  In order to make sure the ICD-10 transition goes smoothly, make sure everyone knows the end goal: improved patient care and better population health management.  This is particularly important for physicians, who are feeling the added weight of the data entry now being required of them.  Create physician champions who can point out how ICD-10 is moving our coding system into the modern era – finally catching up with systems and physicians in other countries – will help provide some perspective throughout the transition.

Communicate often.  Making sure everyone is on the same page is critical, so be sure you are communicating with all stakeholders, from your physicians, coders and clinical documentation specialists, to your administrative team and vendors.  Everyone needs to be on the same page.  It is important to talk with your physicians about working collaboratively and consistently with documentation specialists and coders to build the necessary infrastructure so they understand how get clinical documentation right the first time, as well as when and how to use technology to make the process easier.

Eliminate the mythology.  Physicians have heard rumors that they will have to spend extensive time writing creating tomes of documentation for ICD-10.  That simply is a media myth.  While ICD-10 is much more challenging for coders, due to the increased specificity of diagnosis and procedural coding, much of the “new” coding terminology is the result of advances in medicine over the past 35 years.  

Teach for the test.  Proper physician education is key to ICD-10 success and to ensuring clinical documentation accuracy.  As is the case with any standardized exam, including medical specialty boards, teaching specific facts that are relevant to your physicians’ specialties will drastically reduce the amount of irrelevant information, save time, reduce frustration levels and improve retention.

Use technology.  These days it’s rare to see someone using a paper map over GPS because technology makes things faster, easier and more accurate.  The same is true in healthcare: physicians need technology solutions that are not disruptive to their practice and that provide them with the customized information they need.

Evaluate your program.  Checking in with physician and health information management champions will help you monitor how your teams are managing the ICD-10 changes.  Keeping your finger on the pulse of the implementation process will also help you more efficiently address pain points as well as course correct, should any issues arise.

Without a doubt, there will be challenges over the next year.  This is to be expected, however, by taking the time now to meet with your coders, clinical documentation specialists, physicians and vendors and truly create an educational partnership, you can help ensure a smoother transition.  Remember, ICD-10 adoption is a team effort, and proper education and technology are critical components of a successful October 2014 outcome.


Dr. Paul Weygandt

About Dr. Paul Weygandt

This was a contributed post by Paul Weygandt. He has developed specialized approaches to physician documentation, assisting physician leaders in communicating the importance of accurate, legally-compliant clinical documentation. Paul attended the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine and the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law. Paul has boy/girl twins – both of whom are physicians – and a daughter who is a business executive. He and his wife are excitedly engaged in the ongoing restoration of a 150-year-old farm. To see more content like this, visit the Healthcare section of the blog.