During the last few years most of us have had the Oct. 1, 2013 ICD-10 implementation date ringing in our ears. It was our understanding, whether we were vendors, educators, early adopters, consultants, or payers, that CMS was standing firm with the date and not looking back. As far as I and many of my colleagues were concerned, ICD-10 was steaming along full speed ahead – at least until CMS announced “the delay” the week of Feb. 13. How long of a delay, no one really knows to date; it could be a few months, a year or as long as two years. Only CMS knows the answer to that question, and they are not sharing at this time.

There is a sense of frustration among many of us, as the announcement of a delay decreases the sense of urgency for providers to move forward with ICD-10. Many of us have invested crazy amounts of time and money in preparation and development of software, implementation planning, and educational programs to assist our customers in understanding the vast impact of ICD-10 on their organizations.

The amount of rework and funding associated with the delay is overwhelming. Let’s also not forget the impact of jobs created to focus on ICD-10 and the career schools and other schools alike that have created ICD-10 coding programs to prepare students who will graduate in 2013. Our country needs to take every advantage to create sustainable jobs to support a viable economy.

Just one week after the announcement I attended the HIMSS12 conference in Las Vegas and had the privilege to participate in the ICD-10 knowledge center. It was a great opportunity for ICD-10 collaboration, networking and education among industry leaders. As I reflect on the experience, I believe that many attendees did not take advantage of this opportunity – and I can only believe that the decrease in attendance had to do with the announcement of the delay. If the announcement had occurred after the conference, there would have been great buzz about ICD-10, and providers would have been more engaged. In my opinion, the delay is truly a “buzzkill.”

History does repeat itself. I saw the same “buzzkill” when the implementation date for Ambulatory Payment Classifications (APCs) was delayed for years. In the late 1990s providers had no sense of urgency to get their organizations prepared for a new outpatient prospective payment system. Once CMS announced an implementation date of August 2000, providers laughed and brushed it off, believing that there would just be another delay. CMS had the last laugh when the new payment system went into effect and providers were not prepared, as accounts receivables went through the roof and revenue opportunities were lost due to lack of system readiness. This cannot happen with ICD-10, especially since the United States ties the new coding set to reimbursement.

My recommendation to our customers and colleagues is to keep the momentum that you had just a few weeks ago. For many, this is an opportunity to “catch up” and be fully prepared for a new coding system that will affect every aspect of an organization. Any assessments that have been done should be seen as a positive. The delay should not be seen as an opportunity to stop scrutinizing your current business practices under ICD-9, regardless of when ICD-10 will arrive. Preparing your organization for major change takes time. Take advantage of the delay and take this time to get to know your vendors, understand your contracts, inventory your IT systems, understand your coders’ knowledge gaps, and create a sustainable clinical documentation improvement program. These steps will only make organizations stronger under ICD-9 and help them become better prepared for the inevitable that is ICD-10.

Don’t let the buzzkill get the best of you, and most of all, don’t let CMS have the last laugh yet again. Do your due diligence and move forward, acknowledging that ICD-10 is right around the corner. No matter how long of a delay occurs, it will go into effect and organizations will need to be ready.

For those of you who have maintained momentum and have not let the delay announcement halt your efforts, I applaud you.

About the Author

Maria T. Bounos, RN, MPM, CPC-H, is the Business Development Manager for Regulatory and Reimbursement software solutions for Wolters Kluwer.  Maria began her career at Wolters Kluwer as a product manager, responsible for product development, maintenance, enhancements and business development and now solely focuses on business development.  She has more than twenty years of experience in healthcare including nursing, coding, healthcare consulting, and software solutions.

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