Regardless of whether they regard the yearlong ICD-10 delay as a burden or a blessing, hospital executives can use the extra time to their advantage.

The additional year gives the industry more time to ready systems and workforces while awaiting regulatory details still to come regarding the coding requirement.

How the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services decides to implement the change will have a big effect on how hospitals should react, says Jordan Battani, managing director of the CSC Global Institute for Emerging Healthcare Practices, a research division of Computer Sciences Corp. At press time, CMS had not yet issued guidance on the provision in the recently passed Medicare physician payment law that pushes back ICD-10 implementation until at least Oct. 1, 2015.

Aside from that, hospitals can focus on efforts to prepare for the transition whenever it occurs, and which also provide value now, recommends the Advisory Board Co. These tactics include improving clinical documentation and cash flow processes, both of which pay dividends under ICD-9 and are even more important in ICD-10, says Jim Lazarus, managing director of strategy and innovation, revenue cycle solutions, for the research and consulting firm.

The postponement also means that providers can relax a little in some areas, but not for more than a couple of months, says Stephen Stewart, chief information officer at Henry County Health Center, Mount Pleasant, Iowa. "There's an old pilot's saying, 'Don't give up runway that you can't get back.' That applies to time. You can't get this time back, so don't give it up."

Henry County Health Center plans to continue to push toward October 2014 readiness by conducting dual ICD-9 and ICD-10 coding and testing with payers, Stewart says. He wants to avoid wasting the training the coders already have undergone.

A benefit of the delay is that his hospital will have more time to bring the mostly independent physicians on staff up to speed on how to adjust documentation to support the precision in ICD-10 coding, Stewart says.