Although the 2015 ICD-10 deadline seems far away, it offers practices a unique opportunity to proactively prepare for compliance without disrupting operations or patient care.

Our organization—Katzen Eye Group, a multi-site ophthalmology practice headquartered in Baltimore—invested in ICD-10 technology and training well before the delay to October 1, 2015, preparing for the original deadline. Along the way, we learned several lessons about transitioning to ICD-10 that can help other organizations now beginning the same journey toward meeting the new deadline.

1. Take the transition seriously. Regardless of when the conversion actually occurs, it will be a significant change with the power to impact your entire practice. Take advantage of the extra time to anticipate and minimize operational disruptions while staff and physicians learn the new codes and systems for applying them.

2. Share specific examples. Our physicians assumed our EHR would automatically assign coding, so we had to show them how ICD-10 requires a full assessment with more detail about the specific condition they diagnose. For example, instead of coding a in the right eye, ICD-10 coding requires the provider to also identify the type of cataract, cause and specific implications to the patient. Sharing real-world examples helped our physicians see how ICD-10 will affect their work and reinforced the need for training.

3. Educate everyone. Because ICD-10 has a direct correlation to future financial viability, it is important to train anyone who touches codes. We learned that ICD-10 coding requires more of a team process than past efforts and relies on checks and balances throughout the practice to ensure coding is done accurately and comprehensively. As a result, we created four-person training teams—including check-out, billing and clinical staff, as well as a physician—to capture different perspectives on the code set’s impact across operations.

4. Allocate enough time. A two-hour seminar at a national meeting does not instill the level of confidence needed to reliably apply ICD-10 coding. In fact, after the first two of our 25 physicians attended an all-day workshop, they validated the advantages of learning more about the new level of detail required by ICD-10. Their experience helped get other physicians on board who were less eager to complete the lengthy training. It is a large time commitment, so work now to identify and schedule training to minimize rescheduled patient appointments, cancelled surgery days or unnecessary travel expenses.

5. Understand the effect of system upgrades. Use the delay to plan and fully test any upgrades before deploying them across the practice. Involve anyone who uses coding in the testing to be sure everything is submitting appropriately. Otherwise, you could experience cash flow issues resulting from delayed payment.

Overall, we found that ICD-10 requires a more robust project plan than past changes have. However, the delay gives practices the time to create and implement such a plan, ensuring everyone knows how the new codes impact their role in care delivery and business operations. Committing now to ICD-10 preparations is a wise way to ultimately smooth the transition and limit practice disruptions.