If ICD-9 data has value, does ICD-10 data have more value?

One of the reasons used to justify ICD-10 implementation is that the granular data can be used in healthcare research.

It's worth noting there is healthcare research being done now with ICD-9 data. Serious studies are being done based upon ICD-9 codes. Healthcare providers are tracking ICD-9 codes as part of small research projects. And we are learning from this collection of data.

Thus ICD-9 data that is being collected by clinicians has value and affects how physicians treat their patients.

It's important to say this because one of the arguments against ICD-10 implementation is that all that granular data won't improve patient care. It's as if physicians will have to make a choice between having time to treat a patient and documenting the encounter.

But it looks like physicians are treating patients and contributing to research with ICD-9 codes. There seems to be room to do both.

Of course if this is happening now — if we're treating patients and contributing to a body of medical knowledge, it doesn't look like we need ICD-10 granularity.

And if you look at the studies being done already, you would be tempted to agree with that argument. Except when you consider that these studies take time — years — and a lot of data to draw conclusions. Having the chance to gather much more data will improve research.

For example, ICD-10 data will include medical complications and safety issues. And U.S. healthcare organizations will be able to compare data with countries using ICD-10 codes.

It won't be a magical improvement. Data is data. It will always be subject to misinterpretation and manipulation. But there should be enough of it that the truth will be harder to hide.

It's true that a physician choosing an ICD-10 code in an electronic health record will not magically cure any patient. But the ICD-10 data being generated by that encounter will contribute to research that can help physicians someday treat their patients better.

We can't argue that ICD data doesn't improve healthcare. ICD-10 data will give us more opportunities to improve healthcare and patient treatment.