ICD-10 Education: HIM students learning more than medical codes

Carl Natale
by Carl Natale

There's more to ICD-10 training than learning medical codes, anatomy and physiology.

The School of Health Sciences at The College of St. Scholastica is teaching health information management (HIM) professionals how ICD-10 coding will fit into healthcare organizations. St. Scholastica is a small, private school founded in 1912 in Duluth, Minn, with about 2,500 traditional undergrad and grad students. Nontraditional would refer to the 2,500 - 3,000 online students. The Health Informatics and Information Management department is the country's first HIT department in education.

It is that department that is teaching students how they will be working with ICD-10 coding before it's even implemented.

Brooke Palkie, assistant professor of HIM, says the school is focused on the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) recommendations for educational institutions. Students enrolled at St. Scholastica are now learning about ICD-10-CM/PCS. Juniors will be sitting for the Registered Health Information Administrator (RHIA) exam.

Students also are learning how to utilize coding schemes for proper reimbursements. Basically it's about ensuring the proper code is used to get the right reimbursement.

But the curriculum goes beyond medical codes. Ryan Sandefer, chairman of Health Informatics and Information Management department, says the school tries to embrace real-world technology. For example, their Athens Project puts real, live cases into electronic health records (EHR) so students understand how it works. And the EHR system shows ICD-9 codes and ICD-10 codes for each case.

Sandefer said that helps highlights how much documentation needs to improve for  ICD-10 coding. "It really gets that whole conversation about clinical documentation improvement (CDI) started." It's a valuable tool for helping students understand the needs and concepts.

Palkie says a goal is to "Prepare students to go into an environment where there are competing initiatives and to look at them as not just as challenges." They want students to understand where ICD-10 coding and Meaningful Use intersect. Students need to understand how the documentation is important for clinical quality management.

"This is a whole other paradigm - a whole new way of looking at coding,"  "So what we're trying to do is trying to ... build this into some leadership skills," says Sandefer. St. Scholastica grads will have to work in teams on some of these projects. Students need to prepare to get medical coders and physicians working toward the same goal.

All this is being set up in the face of a lot of unknowns. Palkie says they're building it as it's being implemented. But they can work with healthcare partners to identify areas that will face the most change. For example, they can work with healthcare organizations to address areas such as heart disease and diabetes and focus CDI there.

And it goes beyond meeting challenges. Palkie sees this as a chance to streamline processes. It's about embracing technologies such as computer assisted coding (CAC) to help healthcare organizations make things better.

Majoring in making things better sounds like a pretty good basis for any education.