Thursday, August 19, 2010

What Does ICD-10 Really Mean to New Coders?

If you haven't heard yet, the coding system is changing on October 1, 2013 from ICD-9-CM to ICD-10-CM and ICD-10-PCS. I have told a lot of new coders and coding students that this gives them a more level playing field when it comes to getting hired on as a coder. But 2013 is still 3 years away. If you are graduating soon and will be looking for a coding position, what does ICD-10 really mean to you? Should you start training on ICD-10 now so that you are well-positioned for the coding switch?

Why ICD-10 is a Good Thing for Wanna-be Coders
I always start with the prerequisite disclaimer when I talk about coders: I am a coder, so I can poke a little fun at our idiosyncrasies. Many coders don't like change. And that's part of what makes them so successful as coders - the ability to work in a routine environment coding patient record after patient record. So to coders who really dislike change, ICD-10 is like an atomic bomb. I've heard some say they will retire or find a new line of work when ICD-10 is implemented. Add those open positions to the decreased productivity that is inevitable with the implementation of a new coding system, health care reform, and the current national coder shortage, and what we have is an awesome opportunity for new coders to enter the field.

Coders who learn ICD-10 in school will likely be called upon by their new employers to share their knowledge of the new coding system with more established coders. Getting into ICD-10 on the ground level means more opportunities for new coders in the future.

Why ICD-10 Coding Jobs Won't be Super Easy to Land
While the need for more coders trained in ICD-10 will be there in 2013 and the codes themselves will be different, the one thing that makes a coder truly special will not change: navigating the medical record, deciphering medical terminology, and applying coding guidelines. These are skills that are not easily taught in school - this is the "experience" that employers are looking for when they say they want two to three years of coding experience. And while new coders right out of school will have oodles of exposure to the ICD-10 code sets, experienced coders will have that other type of experience - the type that goes beyond looking up a code in a book. That skill will still be coveted by employers.

I talk to a lot of people who are pondering changing careers and getting into coding because of what they've heard about ICD-10 and the future need for more coders. But just because we're nearing this massive change doesn't mean that it will be any easier to get hired as a coder in 2013 than it is now. There are many considerations you need to make in determining when ICD-10 training is appropriate for you.

What Kind Of Coder Do You Want to Be?
I have been trained in ICD-10-CM and ICD-10-PCS. The only reason I am trained is because I intend to do a lot of ICD-10 training myself and those who are getting educated now are the educators. I recently had someone tell me she planned to wait a couple years to get trained in ICD-10 because she heard it was so different from ICD-9-CM and she didn't want to have to learn a dying coding system. So let's start with the first question you need to ask yourself: What kind of coder do you want to be?

This is important because ICD-10 is divided into two code sets: ICD-10-CM for diagnoses, which will be used by all health care settings, and ICD-10-PCS, which will be used only by hospitals for reporting procedures. CPT will not be impacted by ICD-10 implementation and the format of ICD-10-CM is very similar to ICD-9-CM (granted all the code numbers are different!). I see the transition from ICD-9-CM diagnoses to ICD-10-CM being relatively easy (notice I said relatively - it will still be a bear!).

ICD-10-PCS is a whole different story. The procedure portion of ICD-10 is set up like no codebook we've ever seen. There is no tabular listing - only a series of tables that allow the coder to "build a code." Furthermore, the level of detail and the coder knowledge required to code an ICD-10-PCS code as opposed to an ICD-9-CM procedure code is astronomical. For example, there is one ICD-9-CM procedure code for repair of an artery. In ICD-10-PCS, the coder will need to know which specific artery was repaired and how that repair was approached.

So when people say ICD-10 is very different from ICD-9-CM, I have to ask, which code set? While the code numbers and code format will be drastically different, the way we code will be the same for ICD-10-CM as it is now for ICD-9-CM diagnosis coding. But ICD-10-PCS is like... well, CPT on steroids. The level of detail in ICD-10-PCS coding is much more specific than what's required even by CPT standards.

Why the long explanation? Well, if you plan to code for a physician office, you won't need to learn ICD-10-PCS. So I say, go ahead and learn ICD-9-CM now because the main change for you will be the code numbers themselves (and a couple of coding guidelines). If you plan to code for a hospital, you need to be prepared for a whole new game with procedure coding when ICD-10 is implemented. The good news is, ICD-9-CM procedure coding really isn't very difficult, so I don't see anyone "wasting" time by learning it now until 2013.

Do You Want to be More Than a Coder?
Let's get one thing perfectly clear here and now. The implementation date for ICD-10 (both CM and PCS) is October 1, 2013. There will be no push on that date. Everyone will be expected to be up and running on October 1, 2013. Rumor has it that this date will get pushed back, but everything I have heard from government representatives says that there will be no push on that date. So spread the word!

Let me get something else perfectly clear: ICD-9-CM will not "die" out. There will be a need for people to know ICD-9-CM diagnosis and procedure coding after October 1, 2013. Particularly if you work in a hospital, data analysis is often performed based on codes and we often compare case loads from year to year to see which services are growing, which are waning, and which are needed in the community that aren't currently offered. In the calendar year 2013, we will have data from both ICD-9-CM and ICD-10. That means a need to be able to crosswalk between codes for data analysis. And someone within the hospital needs to understand both systems. That might be you.

Take the Next 3 Years to Get Experienced
The biggest complaint I hear from wanna-be coders is that all employers are requiring 2-3 years of experience. So if my math is correct, if you wait 3 years to learn ICD-10 and it takes another 2-3 years to get experience, you won't really be working as a coder for another 5-6 years. Why wait? While it doesn't make too much sense to get trained specifically on ICD-10 right now because you won't remember it in 3 years, it does make sense to get hired on as a coder and start positioning yourself to take on a coding position in 2013. This might mean taking an entry-level position where you are exposed to the medical record, codes, or billing. Don't wait till 2013 because there will be a mad dash and employers who have open positions in 2013 probably won't have time to train someone who is complete green. As a matter of fact, I have been encouraging facilities to make education a part of their organizational culture now to lessen the impact of ICD-10 implementation.

Now is the time to hone your skills in coder detective work - where you find information in the medical record, how the patient's symptoms come together in the disease process, anatomy and physiology, medical terminology, and pharmacology. And the good news is, learning this now means you can also apply it to ICD-9-CM now and it will make it easier to make the switch to ICD-10.

Talk to Your School
If you're enrolled in a coding or HIM program or plan to enroll in one, do your homework. Ask the program director or coding instructor what the school's plan is for the ICD-10 transition. They should be referencing timelines like the one posted on AHIMA's website. If they don't have a plan now, you should be concerned.

Don't Hurry Up and Wait
I suppose the best way to sum up this posting is to say this: think of your coding education as a journey rather than focusing on the destination. Go ahead and get trained in ICD-9-CM now - it will not be a waste of time or money. Yes, you will need to train in ICD-10, but if you're credentialed, you will have every opportunity to train through AHIMA and the AAPC. And if you're employed, your employer will be be focused on training as well. Plus, I really do believe that those coders who know both ICD-9-CM and ICD-10 and can analyze and compare data across both code sets will be hot commodities.