ICD-10 Testing and Readiness: No Longer a Marathon, It’s a Sprint

In conversation recently with a dear old friend, who also happens to be an outstanding IT project manager in a cutting-edge hospital system, I broached the subject of their transition to ICD-10.

It was progressing well, she confided. In fact, they would be ready to start testing by mid-August!

I was slack-jawed with surprise. Weren’t they cutting it rather close?

As a former hospital CEO, I found myself calculating the revenue risks and potential costs associated with missing the October deadline.

But as I slipped toward being judgmental, I reminded myself that her IT department is juggling chainsaws and blowtorches on a daily basis. And they are understaffed, a challenge that most hospital CIOs cite as their number-one hurdle in achieving IT goals.

I also reminded myself that ICD-10 conversion is not just an IT project. It’s the responsibility of the whole institution, engaging processes and people across a myriad of functions and departments.

One thing I can say for certain about my friend’s project schedule is that she is not alone.

Many institutions, large and small, have yet to begin ICD-10 testing, according to recent industry surveys. One such report from WEDI found that only half of providers will have begun external testing by June.

This, of course, lags well behind the recommendations of CMS and knowledgeable consulting firms who have advised a longer, more rigorous testing period. But as one observer recently noted, “it may be about time to throw out the official timelines and checklists in favor of an accelerated sprint towards readiness.”

From my vantage point, as CMO of a firm that provides HIT staff augmentation services, the full-out sprint has yet to begin. But there are signs that many hospitals are, at least, lacing up their track shoes.

In our discussions with clients so far in 2014, ICD-10 needs are rising to the top of their lists. Cross-coders and software testers and project managers skilled in ICD-10 processes are in greater demand, and the dance cards of these individuals and other ICD-10 consultants will fill quickly as the conversion deadline nears.

As an emergency physician, I’m reminded that practitioners are often faced with unstable, critically-ill patients. A misstep can cost a life. Asking for help is the right thing to do.

The ICD-10 transition is analogous. Very few organizations can weather sustained, extensive claim denials for provided services. In like manner very few organizations have the depth and experience available to speed up ICD-10 transition and testing.

C-suite wisdom will be needed in balancing post-October 2014 revenue cycle loss versus the expense of adding consulting resources for accelerated conversion.

Organizations that are looking to do end-to-end testing after June have a toxic timeline. The wise action is to carefully select outsourcing options for acceleration that do not bankrupt or disrupt critical functions of the institution.

Some are betting on the October deadline being moved. I am not. My counsel is to garner all of your available internal resources, supplement with external experts, and then start sprinting.