Managing the Transition to ICD-10

A Guide for Physician Practices

The transition from ICD-9 to ICD-10 fundamentally changed medical coding. It impacted everyone who is covered by HIPAA—not just Medicare. In addition to adding thousands of codes, ICD-10 is structurally different from ICD-9 and required retraining of staff members who were accustomed to using ICD-9, as well as more documentation, and changes to software and information technology.

The ICD-10 transition went into effect October 1, 2015.

Here is a basic snapshot of the differences between ICD-9 and ICD-10:

Diagnosis Codes
Procedure Codes
Code Length
Code Form

around 13,000
around 11,000
3 to 5 digits
primarily numeric

around 68,000
around 72,000
3 to 7 digits

A quick note about the different types of ICD-10: The new coding system is broken down into two parts, ICD-10-CM, and ICD-10-PCS.

  • ICD-10-CM is used in all healthcare settings for diagnosis coding.
  • ICD-10-PCS is used in hospital inpatient settings for inpatient procedure coding.

Our focus is the impact of ICD-10-CM on physician practices.

HIPAA and the ICD-10-CM

The transition to ICD-10 will also require that healthcare facilities implement the next generation of HIPAA electronic transaction standards known as 5010. Since these standards were released in 2015, practices should already be in compliance today.

How Is ICD-10 Different from ICD-9?

The lack of specificity that has long been a problem with ICD-9 has been addressed in ICD-10, resulting in tens of thousands of additional codes. For example, if a patient has a burn on her right leg, the available codes in ICD-9 do not allow the coder to specify which leg sustained the burn. If the patient comes in a week later with a burn on her left leg, the same code would be used. In ICD-10, the code would specify on which leg the patient sustained the burn. This results in more accurate and specific diagnostic codes.

Preparing Your Practice for ICD-10-CM

Practices should already be well into using ICD-10. For those that still have questions and/or concerns, LS Coding and Education can help!  Here are some guidelines:

1: Assess Workflow & Systems

As mentioned earlier, the conversion to ICD-10 was not a simple upgrade. The implications were complex, this meant critical ongoing support from senior practice management!  First and foremost, the practice should have assessed how the workflow and process changed with ICD-10. Next, an evaluation should have been done with your IT systems to ensure they could accommodate the new data and workflows the implementation of ICD-10 necessitated. Analyzing the capacity of existing systems to handle the new alpha-numeric codes, and upgrading where necessary, was vital.  If your practice is having issues with denials due to diagnosis coding, CONTACT LS Coding and Education LLC, FOR DENIALS MANAGEMENT!

EHR Considerations

If your practice hasn’t already adopted an electronic health records (EHR) system, make sure that any system you adopt now or in the future is ICD-10-ready. Consider the following questions:

  • If you have an existing EHR, is the vendor prepared with a version that can handle ICD-10?
  • Is the EHR certified, enabling you to participate in the meaningful use incentive program?
  • Is the EHR equipped to handle both ICD-9 and ICD-10?

2. Budget Properly & Anticipate Ongoing Costs

The transition will not be without cost. Plan on expenses for ICD-10-CM coding classes for staff members, additional software, upgrades to your existing systems, and other costs.

The good news is that the transition may not cost as much as previously thought, according to a study in the Journal of the American Health Information Management Association (JAHIMA).1 The study surveyed 276 practices with six or fewer providers about ICD-10-related expenditures. The average per-physician cost was $3,430, which accounted for manuals, training, software upgrades and testing, and other expenses. As expected, the per-physician cost went down the more providers a practice had.

Ongoing documentation costs are where physicians may be hit hardest. A study by Nachimson Advisors, LLC found that documentation activities would likely increase by about 15 to 20 percent, resulting in a permanent increase of 3 to 4 percent of physician time spent on documentation for ICD-10.2 The increased physician workload has no foreseeable increase in payment. EHR systems were not expected to ease the increased documentation requirements either, according to the study.

3. Anticipate Issues Surrounding Reimbursements

The code sets in ICD-10 are longer and more detailed. This means physicians will have to be more detailed in their descriptions in order to be reimbursed properly. Examples of primary care conditions that will require extra information include:

  • Asthma: Practices must document whether the condition is intermittent, mild persistent, moderate persistent, or severe persistent.
  • Ulcers: Practices must document the specific stage.
  • Seizures: Practices must document whether the seizures are general or focal, the type of seizures, and intractability.

Prior to ICD-10 Release

  • Anticipate claim rejections and denials, authorization delays, improper claims payments, and decreased cash flow as a result of the transition to ICD-10. The best way to reduce the number of reimbursement and other problems is to prepare to the greatest extent possible.
  • Choose an internal “champion” or committee that will oversee the preparations and transition to ICD-10. This person/group should create a schedule for project meetings and ensure those meetings happen on time.
  • Identify all work processes and technologies that use ICD-9 in order to determine which staff members will require additional training and which systems will need to be upgraded or replaced.
  • Become familiar with ICD-10 and, importantly, know the codes most frequently used in your practice. You can obtain code set and guidelines here.
  • Practices that use an outside company for coding and billing should become familiar with that company’s ICD-10 implementation procedures.
  • Review all insurance contracts, and assess the possible impact on diagnosis-based payments.

Post ICD-10 Release

  • After ICD-10 implementation in October, practices should anticipate claims rejections—plan for this, and correct and resubmit any rejected/denied claims promptly.
  • Monitor your cash flow after implementation until claims under ICD-10 are consistently paid.
  • Monitor reimbursement accuracy and timeliness for each payer.

Practices that have not enrolled key staff members in coding classes to learn ICD-10-CM have no time to delay. The transition to ICD-10 is just around the corner—make sure your practice is prepared for this major change.





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