First Word: Scary Trends

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 - C.P. Kaiser

In this month of trick or treating, we are reminded that cardiology practices and departments are continually searching for “tricks” to maintain or bolster their “treats.” While the slumping economy has been challenging, there are further challenges of EHR implementation and ICD-10 coding conversion deadlines. To be sure, there are tricks to be learned.

The transition to ICD-10 codes requires the completion of time-sensitive steps to ensure that no integral aspect will be overlooked in terms of training, software upgrades and budget requests. It’s a colossal undertaking that could cost thousands of dollars, depending on the size and requirements of the provider setting. Unfortunately, surveys reveal a significant number of practices and facilities aren’t in-step with anticipated timelines. Many providers have not even completed a preliminary assessment of their needs, not to mention significant purchases or training.

This is a mandated switchover. The pall of an ICD-10 transition has hung over U.S. practices for a decade. Many European countries and Canada have converted to some form of the new codes. One source in our cover story offers an explanation for the lag in preparation: “The government has delayed many new programs, so people are hoping it will delay this one too.” But don’t count on it.

The adoption of a certified EHR system, however, seems fraught with less inertia than the ICD-10 conversion process. Many practices and facilities have deployed EMRs, recognizing they can lead to better patient care and more captured dollars. Consequently, much of the delay in implementation has been due to the wait for government-sanctioned certifying bodies.

In late August, the first two certified organizations were announced, with more on the way. That will certainly help speed up EMR implementation. But as our feature on page 12 indicates, some practices will not rush to adopt an EMR just to qualify for government funds in 2011. Rather, they will ensure the right product is bought for their needs, even if it means waiting a year or two to reap stimulus dollars.

Yet, we still are in the shadow of tough economic times and the articles on pages 14 and 16 reinforce the effects of the recession. Both are based on surveys: one deals with what electrophysiologists (EPs) think might happen down the road and what must be done to ensure a steady supply of qualified EPs, while the other outlines current defensive maneuvers being taken by practices to survive. They are a must read!

The outlook for cardiology can seem chilling and could lead to an interesting phenomenon on the eve of Oct. 31: Hordes of youngsters costumed as cardiologists, apparently aware of the scary uncertainty of the specialty. Be kind to them. No tricks, just treats.

Drop me a line about how you are weathering these challenges.