ICD-9 vs. ICD-10: What Are the Primary Differences?

The move from ICD-9 to ICD-10 has many in the medical coding field confused and worried about the possible changes to course curriculum and what it could mean for their continuing studies and practices. Fortunately, the move isn’t that hard to understand when you break it down into primary differences. Essentially, it’s like comparing tapes to CDs; the ICD-9 is “old school” while the ICD-10 is more progressive and gives users more options for faster coding and data retrieval.

Two Big Differences Between ICD-9 and ICD-10

There are two primary differences you have to learn if you want to stay competitive in your current job—or, for those currently enrolled in training programs, obtain a new job. These are:

  1. The overall number of codes is significantly higher: While ICD-9 has a little over 14,000 diagnosis codes and almost 4,000 procedural codes, ICD-10 blows these numbers out of the water, with over 68,000 diagnosis codes—also known as clinical modification codes—and over 72,000 procedural codes that medical coders will have at their disposal. This increase was deemed necessary due to medical advancements and technological capabilities. The number was inspired by need plus opportunity with the hope that the system will be comprehensive and flexible enough to serve the medical coding industry for many years to come.
  2. The amount of information given by each code: In order to expedite data retrieval and make the entire coding process more efficient, the current status of ICD-9 codes containing three to five digits, beginning with either a number or a letter and a decimal point placed after the third digit, has been replaced by seven digit codes. The first three digits are similar to the ICD-9 codes found in corresponding books and the decimal point still comes after the third digit; however, the similarities cease there, as the digits succeeding the decimal point give specific meaning to the code itself. For example, medical procedures are now specific to the body part in which the procedure is performed as indicated by the digits following the decimal point. If a specific place in the code isn’t being used, a placeholder character (x) replaces it. The numbers also indicate the surgical technique and approach, as well as many other qualifications needed to complete the billing process. All in all, ICD-10 gives a faster, more comprehensive view of the entire procedure being coded and billed, and in a shorter form.

When Does ICD-10 Replace ICD-9?

So, when do these big changes take place? Well, the ICD-10 revision has been in effect since 1998, but you probably didn’t even notice it here in the United States. We are the last of all industrialized nations to put ICD-10 into practice, so unless you have coding experience abroad, you probably have not used the new system. This delay of almost 15 years has been caused by the costs of implementing the system at a time when the skyrocketing costs of health care in the United States are trying to be controlled.

But now, under Obamacare, ICD-10 is expected to move forward without further delay so anyone not getting on board with the new system is bound to be left at port without a life vest sooner or later. This change comes despite the American Medical Association (AMA) fighting back against the implementation of ICD-10, so you know there are some powerful forces pushing this one through the system.

What Does This Mean for Professionals?

Unfortunately, this means that more training is going to become necessary over the next few months to several years. Even medical coders who have been in the industry for decades will have to be retrained in the ICD-10 coding system since the entire system is based on seven-character long alphanumeric codes.

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