Practices will need to be familiar with ICD-10 codes before the Oct. 1 deadline for the transition. Even those practices that use an outside medical billing and coding firm, which can significantly ease the burden of the ICD-10 change, will still need to learn basic ICD-10 codes. For physicians and their support staff, it's really only necessary to learn codes that are common and relevant to their practices in particular. However, replacing any ICD-9 codes on internal forms, signs and so on will require some ICD-10 knowledge.

One way some practices are tackling the ICD-10 implementation is through dual coding. This involves using both ICD-9 codes and their corresponding ICD-10 codes for every instance in which they are required at a practice. For instance, if physicians chart codes for each patient, whether on paper or in electronic health records (EHRs), practice administrators can ask them to try coding in ICD-9 and ICD-10. This can help physicians get intimately familiar with coding changes and similarities before it's critical for them to understand how it works in the months to come.

Understanding ICD-10
Dual coding is an opportunity for physicians and support staff to understand how ICD-10 works in a more experiential way than most training materials can manage to impart. For example, it's common to hear ICD-10 gets rid of unspecified codes, according to ICD-10 Monitor. The truth is much more complicated. ICD-9 contains plenty of codes that contain wording like "not otherwise specified" and "not elsewhere classified." Not having enough information to code more specifically than with these designations may be a feature of the diagnosis process or of a disease itself.

ICD-10 still allows for nonspecific codes, as they are necessary in cases where a patient can't answer questions that would narrow down a diagnosis, is experiencing a condition that isn't yet classified or has yet to undergo further testing. Doctors need to become comfortable with ICD-10's extreme specificity as well as its potential to remain vague when necessary, and they need to do so well before the implementation date. Dual coding can help cement concepts like this in physicians' minds, particularly as they will be connected to the more familiar ICD-9 coding system.

Practices should strongly consider familiarizing physicians and other staff with ICD-10 before it is implemented, even if an outside revenue cycle management agency will complete the heavy work of coding.