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AHIMA conference attendees stand at brink of ICD-10 transition

It seems almost uncanny how the health IT conference most associated with ICD-10 and all things medical coding is being held this year literally on the eve of the historic transition from ICD-9 to ICD-10.

Indeed, when the 2015 AHIMA Convention & Exhibit ends in New Orleans the afternoon of Sept. 30, the ICD-10 deadline will be only about eight hours away at midnight on Oct. 1.

While some worry about the changeover, the ICD-10 milestone is one that leadership of the American Health Information Management Association, and the majority of AHIMA’s members, overwhelmingly support, considering that AHIMA has been one of the strongest advocates for ICD-10.

“There’s going to be a celebratory atmosphere,” Sue Bowman, AHIMA’s senior director for coding policy and compliance, told SearchHealthIT. “I think the vast majority of the industry is ready.”

Even so, there is simmering unease in some quarters about the advent of the new and exponentially more complex coding system, particularly among physicians and physician practices.

For an up-to-the-minute expression of this ICD-9 to ICD-10 angst, check out this blog post from Merge Healthcare Incorporated, the VNA vendor that IBM Watson Health recently announced it plans to acquire.

A Merge poll of its medical enterprise imaging clients found that about half felt they were 80% ready for ICD-10, and another 40% felt they were 50% to 80% ready. Many of those polled were worried not so much about the switch itself, “but rather the interim period following the switch where they will likely have to use both code sets for billing,” the blog says.

All that said, the AHIMA conference — expected to draw several thousand health information management professionals and a few hundred vendors — will deal with more than just ICD-10, though there will be panels devoted to last-minute conversion tips and vendors selling ICD-10 accessory software.

High on the agenda is information governance, a field that has been prominent for years in information management in other industries, but only made its first real splash in health IT last year at the AHIMA conference in San Diego.

This year, AHIMA is rolling out a host of information governance resources, including consulting services, Bowman noted.

In the meantime, Bowman said she feels confident that individual practitioners and others who see adopting ICD-10 as daunting will ultimately come around to the coding system’s benefits: more than six times as many codes as ICD-9 and the resulting richer trove of health data for analysis and mining and clinical knowledge.

“I think even physicians will see that it’s not too hard to use and will give them better health data,” she said.