Healthcare IT industry is about to undergo a big change, as the deadline looms to revise the medical classification list for coding everything from diseases to external causes of injuries. And as a result of this federally mandated ICD-10 revision, which has an implementation deadline of Oct. 1, 2014, IT specialists with a background in hospital billing and electronic health records may find job opportunities open up. And those with experience in ICD are likely to find themselves in high demand.

Getting Familiar with ICD

First created by the World Health Organization 20 years ago, the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, is in its tenth revision as ICD-10. With 69,000 medical codes and growing, ramping up for ICD-10 is a huge challenge for healthcare IT but a challenge that must be met. After a series of false starts and delays (2009, 2011, 2013), many dealing with software implementation problems, the federal government mandated the official use of ICD-10 in 2014. All HIPAA "covered entities" must make the change or be subject to fines, and that’s a rapidly approaching mountain for healthcare IT professionals to climb given that experts in the field say it can take up to 18 months to take an ICD-10 upgrade project to fruition. How does a healthcare facility make the move? IT recruiting firm Kforce breaks it down into four basic phases: Phase 1: Assessment Consultants analyze the current work streams looking for gaps in operational and technical capabilities and evaluating the current state of physicians’ documentation practices while simultaneously estimating the amount of time and labor it will take to make the switch. Phase 2: Planning Trainers launch an awareness campaign and create training programs not only for physicians but for every department that will be affected. At the same time, budgets for all this work are being formulated. Phase 3: Remediation IT pros come in to upgrade, modify and replace IT systems, start parallel coding in both ICD-9 and ICD-10, create documentation, and prepare to provide go-live support. Phase 4: Stabilization IT and coders conduct coding and documentation audits, monitor the systems, start generating performance reports, and manage adoption of all the new systems going forward.

ICD Jobs

Jobs that are created in the midst of the ICD-10 transition fall into two main categories: technology and training. In both cases, some kind of experience in the field is required. As Kristine Weinberger, senior healthcare business consultant at Edifecs, explains, "It wouldn’t hurt for IT professionals to take some of the same introductory classes as clinical coders to get the high-level picture of what the transition is all about. And for those IT professionals moving into healthcare from other industries, it’s recommended they learn as much as possible about the industry itself. The healthcare industry operates under different constraints than other industries, many of which impact the IT environment." A quick scan of job listings for senior-level ICD-10 positions (Dice has close to 100), such as ICD-10 Project Manager or ICD-10 Architect, confirms Weinberger’s assertion that some previous knowledge of hospital billing and electronic health records is a must. That’s because time is short, and the organizations involved don’t have time to lead their ICD-10 implementation teams along a long learning curve. "This role combines strong technical architecture expertise, a solid understanding of healthcare Payer domain, ICD-10 impacted business processes, CMS, and key ICD-10 requirements as well as EDI 5010/4010 experience and a broad knowledge of claims adjudication and EDI front-end systems," says one daunting job listing. Another listing asks for someone who "doesn't get overwhelmed with a fast-moving project with many work streams." And as anyone who works under federal mandates knows, this year’s mandates will likely change next year. Flexibility is key. "It’s critical that job seekers in the healthcare IT field stay up to date on the progress and changes shaping the regulations and incentive programs facing the industry," says Weinberger. "The best healthcare IT pros are flexible, willing to learn, and can train their colleagues on the operation of new technologies necessary to implement new mandates. The most successful people are forward thinkers  and eager to explore IT solutions that are easily adaptable and expandable as the industry evolves." Related Links ICD-10 FAQ  [AAPC] ICD-10 Watch [MedTech]