ICD-10: One Small Step for Health Care—Politics Can Take a Hike

June 8, 2015 / By Rhonda Butler

If no further weird politics intervene, we will be able to use ICD-10 codes for real, finally, beginning October 1, 2015.

This experience has been emotionally draining for everyone. For years now we have worked in good faith toward what should have been a modest, straightforward and totally un-newsworthy goal—upgrading an old transaction infrastructure. Imagine this headline: “Old Wiring in the Basement Replaced.” That’s about how exciting ICD-10 implementation should have been.

But you all know those delays were never really about ICD-10. All that time and energy spent waiting and wondering when the people who turned ICD-10 into politics and theater would get bored with it and move on, did not get us one step closer to a better healthcare system. It is a big, fat sunk cost. And the problem with paying such a high price just to be able to begin to do something is that it raises our expectations of the return on investment. Everyone wants to talk about how we are going to benefit immediately from the switch to ICD-10. And that’s understandable. But implementation of ICD-10 will not pay off right away. It is only an initial investment in using the power of more precise coded data to improve healthcare delivery and control healthcare costs.

Implementing ICD-10 only sets us up to collect more precise data using a modern code set, it doesn’t magically do it for us. Good people using smart tools collect precise data. And even then, precise data doesn’t magically translate into increased healthcare quality and value. It will take a whole different set of good people from all over the healthcare system—working together, and using the smartest tools technology can support—to realize the potential of ICD-10 coded data, so that quality and good value in healthcare delivery can be recognized and rewarded.

That sounds pretty negative, but there are all kinds of exciting and cool things to do once we get over this implementation hump. So let’s get on with it already.

In the short term after implementation, we will likely be catching our collective breath, sort of stunned and amazed that we actually implemented the damn thing. I am fine with that. But after that, all you good people out there, let’s by all means pay ourselves back for all this waiting and do some bodacious great stuff. Bodacious. Great. Stuff. I’m in. Are you?

Rhonda Butler is a senior clinical research analyst with 3M Health Information Systems.

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