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With ICD-10 implementation, the medical industry can escape the past

I’m getting déjà vu from ICD-10, and not in a good way.

As the healthcare industry marches forward on the ICD-10 implementation on Oct. 1, 2015, a look at the coding system’s history shows that the federal government again got caught in a weird time warp.

This situation brings me back to the days I used to cover fire safety in hospitals. Fire protection folks faced a similar dilemma with Uncle Sam using outdated standards.

Today, CMS enforces the year-2000 edition of a guideline called the Life Safety Code. A new version of the code is published by the National Fire Protection Association every three years, so the 2015 version is the most current code book available. That’s 15 years of fire-related engineering developments lost in the Life Safety Code gap, including any advances following the Sept. 11 attacks.

So I have to shake my head when I see another important update tripped up in red tape. ICD-10 has been the subject of several delays owing to concerns and outright opposition to the coding standard. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued its last delay of ICD-10 in April 2014, which led to the latest implementation date.

The punch line is that right now, the United States recognizes ICD-9, which the country adopted a long time ago, in a decade far, far away  … 1979 to be exact.

Last week, most members of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health voted in favor of keeping ICD-10’s Oct. 1 deadline on track. The subcommittee’s chairman, Rep. Joe Pitts (R-PA), acknowledged the currently-used, timeworn standard.

“ICD-9 is more than 30 years old and does not capture the date needed to track changes in modern medical practice and healthcare delivery,” Pitts said in a statement. Watch the clip below for a taste of the witness testimony during the subcommittee’s hearing.

ICD-10 has about 10 times as many codes for medical conditions compared to its predecessor. Supporters say the increase in codes will lead to better data about patient conditions, although critics say such an onslaught of new information will hinder doctors.

“We don’t treat by statistics. This is just something that gets in our way of taking care of our patients,” William Jefferson Terry, M.D., said during the hearing. Terry is a urologist from Mobile, Ala., who spoke on behalf of the American Urological Association.

The College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) wants to see ICD-10 move forward without further delays, which have repeatedly caused providers to waste time and money preparing for the stop-and-go provisions.

“If we’re going to do it, let’s do it and do it well,” Russell Branzell, FCHIME, CHCIO, president of CHIME, told me.

I’ve learned you can’t predict what the government will do with regulations, including the ICD-10 implementation. But at this point, arguing for ICD-9 to stay in place is like hoping your music will always remain on CDs instead of a digital format: There might be great reasons not to modernize, but with that stance, you risk being frozen in the past.

Scott Wallask is news director at SearchHealthIT. Follow him on Twitter @Scott_HighTech.