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Healthcare IT Faces Deadline on New Medical Codes

A new federally mandated medical coding system designed to better track diagnoses and treatments is requiring a massive overhaul of healthcare IT systems that some say will be nearly impossible to complete on time.

Medical providers and insurance payers must move from the current ICD-9 coding system to ICD-10 by Oct. 1, 2013.

"A large percentage of hospitals are in the heavy analysis stage, or they're just starting," said Casey Corcoran, a vice president at General Dynamics Information Technology, which offers ICD-10 consulting services.

The goal is to replace 15,000 seven-digit codes for medical transactions with 68,000 new, more granular codes, but the conversion comes at a time when providers are already racing to implement electronic health record systems .

The ICD-10 changeover will probably cost large hospitals $2 million to $5 million, and large healthcare groups as much as $20 million, said James Swanson, director of client services at Virtusa, an IT services provider.

"It is the kind of thing that people have compared to Y2K. It's probably more complex than Y2K . There's a lot more human interaction," said Robert Alger, vice president of health plan IT strategy at Kaiser Permanente .

Alger, who is in co-chairman of the HMO's ICD-10 implementation team, said the changeover has affected more than 100 internal systems, including clinical coding, financial, claims processing and customer reporting tools.

Kaiser Permanente expects to meet the government's deadline for ICD-10 with time to spare. Alger said his company began its implementation two years ago and expects to finish next year.

But many smaller hospitals, as well as public and private health plans, are running up against a deadline they're not likely to meet, said Jim Whicker, principal technology consultant in Kaiser Permanente's IT division.

This version of this story was originally published in Computerworld's print edition. It was adapted from an article that appeared earlier on Computerworld.com.

Read more about government/industries in Computerworld's Government/Industries Topic Center.

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