ICD-10 Delay Worries Health IT Leaders

The train's already left the station for organizations that have been prepping for an October 2013 ICD-10 deadline, say health IT organizations and CIOs.
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Reaction to last week's news that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will extend the timeline for ICD-10 implementation has been swift, with many leaders in the health IT community saying the delay could disrupt their health IT plans and cause them to lose the time and money they've already spent working toward the original implementation date of October 1, 2013.

In a letter dated Feb. 21, the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) requested that HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius act decisively when she takes the next steps that will guide the health IT community as they prepare to transition their systems from ICD-9 to ICD-10 code sets, which are used to report medical diagnoses and inpatient procedures.

"We strongly urge HHS to move quickly and decisively in setting a new compliance date for converting to ICD-10," Richard Correll, CHIME's president and CEO, said in the letter.

"Providers have spent millions preparing for a deadline set over three years in advance. Technology has been upgraded, new processes implemented, new hires made, and new education and training regimes established. This announcement has created a level of uncertainty that threatens much of the progress already made by many hospitals and clinics across the country," Correll added.

While organizations like the American Medical Association have expressed support for HHS' decision to postpone the implementation of ICD-10, several attendees at the annual Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) conference and exhibition in Las Vegas, Nev., expressed their concern that the money, time, and effort they've already spent on preparing for ICD-10 could be threatened, and the delay could create uncertainty across the healthcare system.

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"I have not talked to anyone who is not extremely disappointed about the delay," said Susan Heichert, CIO of Allina Hospitals and Clinics, which comprises 11 hospitals and 42 medical clinics that serves the northwestern Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area. "We tend to gear up for these things, we have a lot of moving pieces in place and it's costly to actually try and stop that train from going in an organization as big as ours."

Reflecting on his organization's ICD-10 strategy with a bit of humor, Todd Richardson, CIO of Deaconess Health System in Evansville, Ind., had this to say: "We just started working on ICD-12."

Richardson noted that you can't stop working on requirements like ICD-10 because they are tied to other health IT goals and you don't want to be in a position where you've "thrown work away."

HIMSS president and CEO Stephen Lieber said he is focused on the language of the statement from HHS, noting that the phrase: "HHS will initiate a process to postpone the date by which certain healthcare entities have to comply with ICD-10" does not apply to all.

"The reading that I have of the statement was a delay for certain providers. 'Certain' is a very important word," Lieber said.

Lieber's comments, as well as those of Richardson and Heichert, came during a press briefing held Tuesday to unveil the 2012 HIMSS Leadership Survey, which showed that, of the 302 healthcare IT professionals that took part in the poll, nearly 90% of respondents indicated they expect to complete their ICD-10 conversion by October 2013.

"The data clearly shows that the smaller the practice the more difficult this is," Lieber said. "I'm hoping that there will be a little bit of thoughtfulness that goes into the government's decision here, recognizing that there are provider organizations who have put a great deal of effort that are going down that path. This is actually not a good decision for certain providers."

Last week, HIMSS issued a statement saying the October 1, 2013 timeline should be retained.

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