ICD-10 Will Allow for Better Disease Tracking

Although it may not be the first thing one thinks about when considering the job description for a medical billing and coding professional, this allied healthcare field currently plays a part in disease tracking- a role that will increase with the coming implementation of the ICD-10.

As alluded to in a previous article about about the billing and coding professional’s role in preventing a pandemic, public health officials have the capability of tracking diseases based on how they are classified and recorded in the medical record. Statistics on these classifications can be taken from insurance billing records or from a patient’s health record, which can be affected by a coding professional with access to a patient’s file.

Of course, having more specific information regarding a disease or its symptoms means public health officials can better monitor, track, and analyze an outbreak or appearance of a disease. This is exactly what public health officials are doing across the world during the current Ebola outbreak: sharing data about infections and monitoring people who may have been exposed for symptoms. When health officials are comparing notes on things like symptoms and infections worldwide, it is important for everyone to be on the same page. As it turns out, the United States is the last industrialized nation not to have adopted the ICD-10 standards, still continuing to use the ICD-9. This delay in implementation was the topic of a previous article.

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In the case of the Ebola outbreak, the issue has jumped to the front of worldwide attention and caused public health officials to establish unprecedented lines of communication. In this exceptional case the confusion between different classifications can be kept to a minimum, but when it comes to more routine disease tracking this may not be the case and the United States’ ability to track global health threats in real time can be slowed. The analysis of health threats and disease patterns can also be hindered by a slow adoption of the ICD-10, as international comparisons of best practices and quality care can be impeded by not using an identical code book.

Aside from communication, the level of detail allowed for with the ICD-10 is much greater than its predecessor. As explained in an entry about the ICD-10, this new version of disease classification will have more than 155,000 codes to specify a wide range of details about human afflictions. By contrast, the ICD-9 has just 17,000 codes to cover mostly the same range of ailments. One of the new key features of the ICD-10 is specificity in regards to areas of the body.

Take breast cancer for example. The ICD-9 has codes that can specify what type of cancer is afflicting a breast and the specific region of the breast that is afflicted. However believe it or not, the ICD-9 does not have a code for distinguishing whether or not it is the left breast or the right breast that is afflicted. The ICD-10 does. This difference alone can mean that monitoring reoccurring breast cancer in the same breast is now possible based solely from the code placed on a patient’s health record. This will greatly simplify the gathering and extrapolation of macro statistical data and allow for a more efficient and targeted public health policy.