Whatever the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services decide about when ICD-10 officially launches, the new code set will launch at some point, and health care coding and IT experts warned hospitals that they still have no time to waste in preparing for it. "It is crucial that the field not stop its progress toward ICD-10 implementation," said Nelly Leon-Chisen, director of coding and classification for the American Hospital Association.


In a speech on Tuesday that surprised nearly everyone in health care, CMS acting administrator Marilyn Tavenner told attendees at the American Medical Association conference in Washington, D.C., that CMS is taking a new look at health care providers' concerns about meeting the October 2013 deadline for implementing ICD-10. "I'm committing to … re-examine the pace at which we implement ICD-10," she said. "I want to work together to ensure that we implement ICD-10 in a way that [meets its] goals while recognizing providers' concerns."

Later, Tavenner said CMS will announce its intentions in the next few days through the formal rule-making process.

"This is a promise from CMS to examine the timeline, not to change it," said Dan Rode, vice president for advocacy and policy at the American Health Information Management Association. "But government officials are sending mixed signals that many in the health care community will interpret as a reason for delay. This concerns AHIMA and our constituents as any delay in the transition preparation for ICD-10 will both increase actual costs and may diminish the value of other Health & Human Services programs, including meaningful use."

AHA officials noted that some hospitals "took the deadline seriously" and have made significant investments in preparing for ICD-10, while others are "struggling" to meet the cumulative demands of ICD-10, meaningful use and health care reform.

The AHA is encouraging members to complete a brief online survey by Feb. 24 to help the association understand hospital readiness and progress in preparing for ICD-10 implementation.

If CMS does decide to delay implementation, it will provide some breathing room for providers to get up to speed. Hospitals are advised to take full advantage of it.

"We are absolutely going to continue working on our ICD-10 transition, regardless of what happens at CMS," Maria Muscarella, assistant vice president for HIM and EMR at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, part of the St. Barnabas Health System, told my colleague Matthew Weinstock in an interview this morning. There is a large gap between the way clinicians currently code and what is required in the ICD-10 regulations, she says, and closing that gulf requires constant education, training and work on an overall ICD-10 strategy.

Bill Santamour is managing editor of Hospitals & Health Networks. Follow our tweets at www.hhnmag.com/twitter.