ICD-10 and the changing role of the healthcare technologist

Jan. 22, 2016 / By AJ Dandrea

As a technologist, I can recall with some detail the anxiety and friction around the year 2000. The technology industry was in a state of panic driven by speculation that computer clocks would fail because they were not created to accommodate a change in the calendar year from 1999 to 2000. The result was a tremendous increase in technology spending for what the industry ultimately deemed a non-event. Now that a few months have passed, was ICD-10 a Y2K event?

Fundamentally, the difference between Y2K and ICD-10 is that Y2K was initiated by technologists and not as the result of a new regulatory requirement. In fact, Y2K may have been the first serious “C” level discussion that gave technologists an audience with financial decision makers. Within the healthcare technology sector, our Y2K executive sessions may not have been our finest moments as we tried to forecast the financial impact and communicate urgency. In 1999, the business technologist role didn’t quite exist and IT was struggling to gain a seat at the “C” table (some may say this is still the case).

Another discernible difference is that for Y2K, many of us were uncertain that the patches in place would allow for the calendar year change. I specifically recall stressful sessions with the Y2K team and mainframe consultants, vendors and stake holders. Remember that mainframe tech with the superhero belt of pagers and phones pacing around the Y2K war room with his fingers crossed? In contrast, my perspective is that ICD-10 was very well tested with observable results prior to October 2015.

I strongly believe this is due to the elevation of the business technologist to a role of leading influencer within organizations. How was ICD-10 handled within your organization? For example, was it an observable partnership between your IT application and systems teams and the business?

With Y2K, once we flipped the calendar to 2000 there was a collective sigh of relief and we moved on – ICD-10 is quite different. Will reimbursement workflows change? Are coders confident in their ICD-10 applications or will they be a catalyst for application change? What about changes to analytics as a result of more detailed codes? I think we can all agree that the Y2K experience was quite different from the ICD-10 transition. Both required high levels of collaboration between business operations and technologists, but unlike Y2K, ICD-10 will impact the decisions and contributions of business technologists for years to come.

For technologists, what impact have you seen or plan to address as a result of ICD-10?

AJ Dandrea is operations manager of the cloud hosting organization at 3M Health Information Systems