Column: Medical coding system upgrade a leap in the right direction

The webpage for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) showing the countdown at lower left, where new medical coding will go into effect on Oct. 1, is seen in Washington. (CMS via AP)

Beginning Oct. 1, medical coding will be upgrading its system in doctors’ offices across the country, transitioning to the 10th edition of the International Classification of diseases, also known as ICD-10. This new coding system includes an increase from 14,000 to 68,000 different codes.

The increase in these codes will allow for greater specificity in diagnosing patients. It will now be able to tell the difference between animal bites and how long someone was unconscious during a concussion, just to name a few examples. It also contains codes for newer and growing diseases, such as Ebola and little-known strains of the flu. These are all extremely important for the health of the patients and the updated system will allow for better care.

Not only will the code increase allow for new codes on patients, but also better tracking of a patients’ medical history. According to a recent article from the Associated Press, patients’ medical history will be digitally stored by use of these codes. This calls for one less thing to be checked during a routine visit because the patients’ normal codes will already be stored. It also means that if a patient has many repeat codes with multiple visits, there could be something more complicated or severe happening.

If this is the case, severe diseases and complications can be caught earlier than ever before, making diseases, such as cancer, able to be detected earlier. To me, this upgrade in coding could mean a world of difference in medical care. 

The ICD-10 system will be set in place as standard nationwide. With this, patients with certain codes for diseases can be compared across the country. Trends of how patients deal with their codes can be compared with data from thousands of other patients with the click of a button. Trends of uprisings of more severe codes can also be tracked. 

With access to more codes, there is also less room for a misdiagnosis. No longer will a patient be reimbursed for a misdiagnosis from their physician because of the new specificity of the coding system; there is almost no room for error.  

With all the major benefits the new coding system will have on medical care, the question is not should it be implemented, but rather when it should be implemented. Are all doctors’ offices ready for the switch for the upcoming Oct. 1 deadline? Increasing the system by 54,000 codes is a huge step, especially for the smaller offices across the nation. 

The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services website states that they, along with the American Medical Association, are taking steps to prepare physicians and medical care providers for the switch. They are providing on-site training as well as webinars, articles, and national phone calls for those that they cannot reach in person. They want all healthcare providers to be ready by Oct. 1 in order to minimize potential problems with the system.

The updated system could lead to problems and complications such as claims being denied by insurance, repeat visits and audits. With such a big switch, it is easy to believe that not every doctor’s office in the United States is ready, especially the smaller ones. If this is the case, the deadline needs to be extended to insure that the system is in place nationwide. This would decrease potential problems for both physicians and patients. 

The coding system has not been updated for the past 35 years, making this switch both beneficial to patients, but also a necessary update. The new codes will provide better health services to all. Patients across the country, although they may not know it, will be receiving better care and treatment than ever before, which is a step in the right direction for healthcare in America.


Erin Hurley is a contributor to The Daily Campus opinion section. She can be reached via email at erin.hurley@uconn.edu.