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Jul 17 2014   11:22AM GMT

Leverage the ICD-10 delay to address coder shortages

Posted by: adelvecchio
Coding and documentation, ICD-10, ICD-10 delay, ICD-10 migration planning, ICD-10 transition

Minnette terlep_compressedGuest post by Minnette Terlep, vice president of business development and chief compliance officer, Amphion Medical Solutions

The one-year delay in the transition to ICD-10 is considered by some healthcare professionals to be a significant setback in the progress healthcare systems had made toward implementing the expanded code set. The ICD-10 delay will likely create a financial burden for those that heeded vows from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) that there would be no further delays. Many existing preparations were rendered largely useless because of the “use or lose it” nature of the skills so carefully honed in ICD-10 training programs.

However, setting industry-wide disappointment aside, there are actually a number of ways in which healthcare organizations can use the delay to their advantage. For example, they can make use of the extra time to put together a detailed plan that will mitigate the anticipated effects on productivity and the data fog that will hover during the first few months after ICD-10 becomes the law of the land. The delay also allows providers that were behind schedule a chance to conduct critical gap analyses.

Perhaps the best way to make the most of the extra year is to conceptualize strategies to counter the delay’s effect on the coder shortage, which many industry experts place at 30% nationwide. The delay will likely worsen the problem because, in preparation for the expected 2014 transition date, most new coders were trained exclusively on ICD-10 codes — skills that don’t easily apply to ICD-9.

And it will get worse before it gets better.

The aging workforce has bumped the average age of today’s coder up to 58 and the largest segment of the Baby Boomer generation is rapidly approaching retirement age. Many older coders have indicated they will retire or choose other employment rather than invest time and effort into learning the new ICD-10 code set.

Hospitals can leverage the ICD-10 delay by identifying ways to mitigate the impact the shortage has on their ability to keep up with current and future coding needs. The American Health Information Management Association recommends a multi-faceted approach that combines some or all of the following steps to create a customized program.

  • Retraining outpatient coders in ICD-9: Hiring quality inpatient coders is a far more difficult task than hiring their outpatient counterparts. Thus, hospitals have identified retraining their outpatient coders as a worthwhile investment.
  • Transitioning transcriptionists to ICD-9 coders: Transcriptionists can readily be cross-trained as coders because of their familiarity with patient records and clinical terminology. This creates a valuable resource that can be tapped to manage fluctuations in volume and planned or unplanned staff shortages — particularly as demand for transcription service declines in the wake of speech recognition technology implementations.
  • Retraining new graduates: Most new graduates are coming out of coder training programs ready to operate in an ICD-10 environment. The problem, for at least the next year, is that organizations are still coding under ICD-9. Incorporating ICD-9 training programs into recruitment efforts gives these new graduates the short-term skills they need until they can apply their ICD-10 knowledge and makes them more experienced for when ICD-10 is implemented.
  • Outsourcing: Finding qualified coders can be a daunting task. Hospitals have to use good business sense to determine if recruitment and training is where they want to put their energy and resources. For this reason, outsourcing is an appealing option for many facilities that don’t have access to a pool of qualified coders.

While each hospital has different needs, they all share a common challenge: finding enough coders to support current ICD-9 and future ICD-10 needs. Healthcare organizations that take advantage of the extra time created by the ICD-10 deferment and implement strategies to minimize the impact the ongoing coder shortage has on their facilities will benefit in the long run.

Minnette Terlep, B.S., RHIT, is vice president of business development and chief compliance officer for Amphion Medical Solutions. She can be reached at

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