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ICD-10 codes elicit humor

“Struck by Orca” is by no means the most obscure or unintentionally humorous entry in the voluminous catalog of new ICD-10 codes for medical conditions.

But it is, indeed, the memorable Twitter handle of the publisher of an illustrated guide to ICD-10, an entertaining roadmap for the much-delayed new coding system that appears nearly certain to go into effect Oct. 1 despite howls of protest from groups such as the American Medical Association (AMA).

The guide’s creators tout the graphic compendium as a guide to 72 of the most important codes, but that could be tongue in cheek, because many of the included codes are just as quirky as the one denoting being injured by a whale.

Among the chosen examples:

  • Sibling rivalry
  • Acquired absence of unspecified great toe
  • Opera house as the place of occurrence of the external cause
  • Prolonged stay in weightless environment
  • Burn due to water skis on fire, subsequent encounter
  • Bizarre personal appearance

The contributing artists include physicians as well as professional illustrators.  And, yes, the guide is actually a physical object — a 6-inch square paperback promoted as perfect for the coffee table or doctor’s waiting room.

The guide’s lighthearted tone — meant to “educate and cause smiles” — is not mean-spirited. It appears its creators bear no serious grudge against ICD-10, even though many physicians and healthcare CIOs think the coding system with its huge array of codes is needlessly complicated and hard to manage.

No one really knows who was directly behind Congress’ 2014 vote to delay the transition from ICD-9 (which has half as many codes) until this fall, but many in health IT felt providers and payers simply weren’t ready.

Despite the grumbling, ICD-10 has some influential advocates, including the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA), and in the end they have prevailed with their message that ICD-10’s added complexity provides greater accuracy, detail and data about patients’ medical  conditions.

Meanwhile, for a similar educational chuckle about the meaningful use program, check out the ICD-10 guide’s companion, MU2 Illustrated.