Will ICD-10 Solve Interoperability Problems?

Posted on April 21, 2009 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

I’ve been hearing a bit of discussion about ICD-10 really helping to solve some of the problems of interoperability. Their contention is basically that ICD-10 is more precise in its description of the diagnosis and so therefore the information that is coded using ICD-10 will then provide more specific codified information that can then be rather easily shared. If you haven’t read about the transition from ICD-9 to ICD-10, here’s a good article about the transition.

In theory, this is completely accurate. If everything went as outlined, we could really get a lot of interesting information for studies and for interoperability of health data out of our ICD-10 codes.

The problem is that in reality ICD-10 is just going to cause even more problems for sharing quality data. Not because we can’t share the data. That’s a topic for a different discussion. The problem is that we’re never going to achieve quality input of diagnosis codes.

I’m not a doctor and so I’m not going to give a specific example here. However, I think all we have to do is look at the current ICD-9 diagnosing patterns. I’ve seen from first hand experience that often a doctor gets stuck searching for the right ICD-9 code. Right or wrong, they end up picking a code that may not be exactly the right code for what they’ve seen. Maybe they choose NOW (Not Otherwise Specified) instead of the specific diagnosis that would be more appropriate. Add in the complexity of diagnosis requirements for getting the most out of your insurance billing and I don’t think anyone would disagree with the assertion that ICD-9 code entry is far from accurate.

I’m not trying to place blame. I believe this is a chronic problem in our health system that those in the trenches have known about for years. My point here is that if we can’t get the rather “simple” set of ICD-9 codes right, then how can we ever expect the much more complex set of ICD-10 codes right?

Everyone knows the common phrase of garbage data in produces garbage data out. When we’re talking about interoperability of EHR software, doctors really have to think if they want other people’s garbage in their system.

ICD-10 really could produce some awesome information if used properly. The challenge we face is producing systems that codify the data properly so we have meaningful interoperability of healthcare data.