Hospitals brace for new way to ID what's wrong with you

You may not realize it, but doctors and nurses use codes to classify what’s wrong with you. Currently, hospitals and clinics use about 14,000 different codes. But starting October 1st, that number will grow to more than 70,000 codes.

For years, hospitals have been training and preparing for the new codes, their rollout twice delayed by government action. But after billions of dollars in preparations, the rollout of the codes, called ICD-10, is set.

There are codes for accidents at the opera, getting struck by an orca whale, and even problems with the in-laws. And there are precise codes dealing with complex surgeries and injuries.
“The real key to this is learning how to be more specific about a disease so we’re really teaching people about what it means to be more specific in term of right versus left,” Dr. Brita Hansen, in charge of the transition at the Hennepin County Medical Center, told Fox 9, “It’s going to be a lot of work. Just sifting through a list of diagnoses that much longer is going to be felt by your doctor or other clinicians taking care of you.”

HCMC started using the codes for medial diagnosis this summer, but will start using them for billing on October 1st.

While the codes are new to the United States, the codes have existed in other countries since the 1990s.

“In the US, we've been slow to adopt it compared to other countries because we have the confounding factor that we use this for billing,” Dr. Hansen said.

That's where there's some concern that mistakes and confusion could lead to billing problems, or rejected claims. But both the Minnesota Hospital Association, representing hospitals, and the Minnesota Council of Health Plans, representing insurers, told Fox 9 they're confident patients won't even notice the changes.

“I think from a patient perspective, it's not clear what a patient will feel. I think in some cases, your doctor might ask you to provide more details than maybe they would have, but I don't know if it'll be much different because they want to get that story anyway,” Hansen said.

The group representing Minnesota health insurers said patients should carefully read their statements, and call the number on back if they think there's a problem.

Reception by doctors to the new codes is mixed. A physician with a practice in a small town told Fox 9 that the codes do not improve the quality of care. Others say the precise codes will lead to the accumulation of data helpful in medical research.