AMA questions vendor readiness for ICD-10

By Tom Sullivan
10:11 AM

Prominent among impending questions surrounding ICD-10 is whether or not technology makers will be ready, and the American Medical Association (AMA) is among the groups to most recently express this concern.

 “While physicians will need upgrades to their software systems to accommodate the new code set, many may not receive them until well into 2014,” the AMA wrote on the AMA wire.

 “At the same time, all physicians who will be participating in the electronic health record (EHR) meaningful use program will need to upgrade to Version 2014 certified software.”

Against that backdrop, the AMA is “seeking input about software vendors’ readiness to further demonstrate the challenges physicians face in adopting ICD-10,” the association wrote, urging providers to “respond to a 10-question online survey to help support AMA advocacy on this matter.”

With enough responses the AMA might be able to paint a clearer picture of how many practices will — or will not — find themselves facing an IT vendor conundrum in which they either must switch vendors or hold their breath for updates that enable software programs to handle ICD-10’s 7-digit codes.

It would be wise to bear in mind their advocacy intentions, and how those align with your own views on ICD-10, when deciding whether to take part in the survey. Certainly small practices suspecting their IT vendors will not come through might want to join the cause. Those looking forward to ICD-10, on the other hand, might not.

And I’ll offer three further considerations.

1. Whereas the AMA incorporates 2014-edition EHRs as part of the burdensome workload practices engaging in meaningful use are under, it is worth noting that a small but growing cadre of software makers has already promised that the 2014 iteration of their electronic health records systems or practice management software will be ICD-10 ready.

2. Practices using the same vendor for both EHR and PM software will have a slightly easier go of it, regardless of readiness, if only because they'll have one entity to hold accountable. If they won’t be ICD-10 ready with either offering, don't delay in switching.

3. The AMA is asking the wrong people. There is no easy way to answer the question of vendor preparedness, it’s true, but the best one can hope for in querying customers is to glean what they know of their vendor’s intentions. Secondhand information. Why not ask the vendors directly?

I write all this as someone who has spent the last few years covering ICD-10 and all the vagaries around its benefits, cost estimates, promise and potential pitfalls — and as someone who sees intrinsic value in actually answering this vendor readiness question as accurately and rapidly as possible because now we are at the point where timing really matters.

Indeed, when the Workgroup for Electronic Data Interchange (WEDI) published results of its latest industry readiness survey in mid-December, the research determined that in some ways vendors were further behind than they had been in early 2013.

What’s more, survey results that consultancy KPMG published last week found “staff training and productivity” to be providers’ biggest hurdle with ICD-10 — meaning, of course, that the longer it takes to get those requisite software upgrades in place, the less time practices will have to address their most pressing challenge.