‘Huge expansion’ of medical coding seen as curse, cure

By Ellan Marks

Albuquerque cardiologist Harvey White says it’s like making doctors take bitter-tasting medicine.

A health care data analyst says the change will be a “huge improvement,” while a local ophthalmologist says it will be the swan song for some already overburdened doctors.

Regardless of their opinions, doctors and health care providers are staring at a huge change in the highly technical world of medical coding, starting Oct. 1.

And it won’t come cheap: A small practice can expect to spend at least $10,000 preparing for the new system, while Presbyterian Healthcare Services has spent about $8 million since 2012 on the transition.

Medical coding worldwide is based on the International Classification of Diseases, or ICD – a system of letters and numbers used to describe a patient’s medical conditions and procedures used for treatment. The codes are used in patient records and billing documents when health care providers seek payments from Medicare. Claims can be rejected if they aren’t coded properly.

The system that’s in use now is 36 years old, so its codes are outdated and lack enough detail to adequately describe modern diagnoses and treatments, federal officials say. Many countries around the world have already made the switch.


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