Having the right EMR in place can help ease your practice’s transition to ICD-10—emphasis on the “right.” So, if you already use EMR in your clinic, it’s crucial that you make certain your vendor is ready for ICD-10. With the October 1 implementation date fast approaching, it’s about time you find out if your system is truly prepared to handle the transition. Shopping for a new system? Then ICD-10 readiness should be at the top of your buying checklist. To find out whether your current or future EMR is equipped to handle the switch, ask each vendor these five questions:

1. Is your system compatible with the new code set?

Ideally, your EMR software should be ICD-10 compatible long before October 1, 2015. That way, you’ll have a chance to test the new codes using fictitious patients before full implementation. If your EMR isn’t ready yet, you’ll need to find out exactly when the software will be ready so you and your team can conduct internal testing.

2. Will both ICD-9 and ICD-10 codes be available after the October 1 date?

Even after ICD-10 implementation, non-HIPAA-covered entities (think auto and workers’ compensation claims) might still require ICD-9 codes. To avoid claim denials due to incorrect submissions, you’ll want to be sure that your system can handle both code sets.

3. Will ICD-10 require a system update? If so, how much will it cost?

Some EMRs may require a costly update to switch to the new code set. If this is the case with your vendor, then I recommend investigating a new system. ICD-10 adoption is mandatory, so your software vendor needs to change no matter what; otherwise, it’ll go out of business. In my book, your practice shouldn’t have to foot the bill for a healthcare change that your vendor has to make. Furthermore, any system that requires excessive downtime or an expensive upgrade is most likely outdated, which means it probably won’t handle the switch so well. That could leave you saddled with unusable or glitchy tools or inaccurate claims. And what if it can’t handle the switch at all? In that case, you won’t have access to your documentation, patient records, schedule, or even your billing until your vendor gets with the program.

4. How will the system help with transitioning from ICD-9 to ICD-10?

Do you know how to code using the new ICD-10 code set? Are you positive you can find the most applicable ICD-10 code for each of your “go-to” ICD-9 codes—all without batting an eyelash? I’m going to take a wild guess that you aren’t quite to that point—yet. That’s why you need a system in place that will help you find the most complete and accurate code. Your system should make it easy for you to select the right code. However, it should never—ever—spit out one-to-one crosswalk conversions. That’s because a direct, all-encompassing ICD-9 to ICD-10 conversion simply doesn’t exist. According to this HIMSS article: “Although the implementation or use of an EMR can help with the documentation challenges providers will be confronted with in the new ICD-10 world, the use of an EMR alone is not a magic bullet.” So, if your current vendor offers a magic bullet, be wary. No software can produce a perfect one-to-one crosswalk without you, the practitioner, playing a vital role in the decision-making process. Thus, I recommend choosing an EMR that empowers you to select the most specific and correct code through the use of an intelligent and integrated tool.

5. Will you offer ICD-10 support? If so, how much will it cost?

Ideally, your system will offer ICD-10 support through educational resources and by having staff members available to answer phone calls and emails. A system invested in your success will offer all of this—for free. If you’re concerned about ICD-10’s complexity and how it will affect your staff’s productivity, be sure to find out how your system’s support team will help ease the transitional burden.

If you haven’t already, it’s time to start asking your vendors the right questions to find out how they will assist you during this time of change. And if you come to find that they aren’t prepared for ICD-10, then it’s time to shop for an EMR that is.