ICD-10 and CAC, part 2: Tech won't kill coders

Carl Natale
by Carl Natale

This particular Autumn must be CAC season. But as more and more computer-assisted coding software makers gear up for ICD-10, concerns stir anew that the productivity promises of such tools might belie a darker side that eliminates some coder jobs.

To the contrary, ICD-10 itself will create demand for jobs, coders among those. At least one industry veteran, meanwhile, told ICD10Watch that coders will essentially walk on water as the compliance deadline, October 1, 2013, draws closer, while others add that ICD-10 just might spark a sort of coder chaos.

Looking to help customers better handle the forthcoming code sets, a number of vendors in late September brought new CAC, as in computer-assisted coding, as we reported in part 1: CAC's tide rising with ICD-10. And the march has thus far continued into October as well.

Most recently, MedQuest joined the party with a new iteration of CodeRunner, which the company describes as a tool for “improved coder productivity, efficiency, cost-savings and reimbursement,” in marketing literature. CodeRunner comes on the heels of ICD-10-related CAC acquisitions and announcements involving the likes of A-Life Medical, Amerinet, Artificial Medical Intelligence, Coding Strategies, M-Modal, Precyse Solutions. And QuadraMed weighed in with a new tool of its own, too.

Vendors boast that CAC software can be used to streamline coding processes, lower a facility's DNFBs (Discharged Not Final Billed) and denials, shorten coding turnaround, simultaneously boost coder productivity and accuracy, reduce backlogs and overflow, and generally help providers do more with less.

[Related: Why 2011 is the year to build hardware into your ICD-10 budget. See also: Top 5 ICD-10 cost concerns.]

"Even before converting to ICD-10, automating the process will be important for meeting coding volumes and the need to be more consistent and productive,” explains Christopher Spring, MedQuist vice president of Product Management, in a prepared statement. “By letting the technology enhance the coding workflow, facilities can stay ahead of the workforce challenges that they will face with these upcoming changes in the industry."

The collective of vendors releasing new CAC products and making similar productivity promises has the tendency to spark concern that as technology moves ever deeper into healthcare workers' daily lives, that same technology might eliminate jobs.

This new crop of CAC tools, however, will still demand good old-fashioned coder know-how.

“Coders are taught to make the appropriate coding decisions based on clinical documentation, coding standards of practice methods and standard business practices. The addition of CAC software will provide suggestions for codes based on the interpreted text, however it will still require an educated coder to review that suggestion and evaluate it for accuracy, follow-up with clinicians if additional detail is warranted, etc.,” explains Tori Sullivan a manager in Capgemini's healthcare division. “These tools are meant to be a way of speeding the coding process, but as just as the implementation of EMRs, they still require end-user input for verification, validation and quality control functions.”

Editor's Note: Vote in our reader poll! Will you use mobile phone apps to look up ICD-10 codes? We'll report the results and what they mean.