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4/12/2012
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Don't Hit Snooze Button On ICD-10

Given a one-year extension for ICD-10 compliance, healthcare groups must make the most of the preparation time.

Lots of healthcare CIOs, doctors, and admins have been losing sleep over ICD-10. But now that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services this week has proposed extending the ICD-10 compliance deadline by one year, healthcare organizations need to make the most of this extra time, and not just hit the snooze button.

Everyone loves getting an extended deadline from time to time, especially with tough assignments. While it's great to have some extra wiggle room to make sure a job is well done, the trouble with delayed deadlines is that they give procrastinators more excuses to postpone the inevitable.

Hopefully, healthcare organizations that have argued for more time to complete their code conversion from ICD-9 to ICD-10 will use the extra year to proceed with work that's already underway--and if they haven't started, they'll get going quick. But with all the other health IT and non-IT related projects, mandates, and deadlines that providers are dealing with right now--including Meaningful Use, HIPAA audits, and payment reform--there is a pretty good chance that this extra time won't end up being used for ICD-10 efforts, but rather for reallocating resources to other tasks.

Meanwhile, the delay also penalizes organizations that have made strides in preparing for the previous Oct. 1, 2013, ICD-10 deadline.

"A delay will mean increased costs, because those that have implemented ICD-10 will have two systems to support," said Lynne Thomas Gordon, CEO of the American Health Information Management Association in a recent interview with InformationWeek Healthcare. "There will be lost momentum," she said.

The delay also translates into added uncertainty for ICD-10 trainers working within healthcare organizations. It will likewise create headaches for universities and colleges that over the last several years have changed their curriculum to prepare students in time for ICD-10's anticipated implementation, according to Gordon.

Nonetheless, the extra year to complete the transition to ICD-10--which has five-times the number of diagnostic and in-patient procedure codes as ICD-9 and impacts nearly every system ranging from clinical to financial--will be critical to many organizations that truly have too much to juggle right now.

Still, one also has to wonder if organizations getting more time for ICD-10 remediation will even take the new deadline seriously. After all, this is the second time in three years that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has postponed ICD-10. In 2009, HHS extended by two years the then-deadline of Oct. 1, 2011 to Oct. 1, 2013. Now that's been pushed back another year.

Healthcare organizations have seen other deadlines moved by CMS, including the transition to HIPAA 5010 electronic transaction standards, for which the enforcement date was moved several times from Jan. 1, 2012, then to March 2012, now to June 30, 2012.

It's fine to give and get more time in order to ensure that important projects are successful. But when deadlines are moved too frequently, there's a good chance that some will just ignore the new due-date, figuring it's not going to stick. And then when the next new big project comes along, that deadline too will be approached with even more skepticism.

Bottom line, before the next big healthcare mandate is announced, perhaps the feds should overhaul their initial deadline-setting process so that dates more realistically reflect the effort that's needed for compliance, rather than trash deadlines later.

Then again, no matter what the deadline, there will always be last-minute crammers and snoozers.

The 2012 InformationWeek Healthcare IT Priorities Survey finds that grabbing federal incentive dollars and meeting pay-for-performance mandates are the top issues facing IT execs. Find out more in the new, all-digital Time To Deliver issue of InformationWeek Healthcare. (Free registration required.)

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