In a recent study, the American Medical Association (AMA) reported that ICD-10 may cost small physician practices up to $226,105. My conclusion? Physical therapists’ transition to ICD-10 is going to be a breeze compared to their MD colleagues. Now, I’m not saying every step of this process is going to be a walk in the park; but I am saying it won’t cost you or your practice hundreds of thousands (or even tens of thousands) of dollars to make the switch—unless, of course, you do something really silly, like invest in a prehistoric server-based electronic medical record (EMR) and hire a full on-site IT staff to support it. But you’d never do that—you’re already using the best web-based physical therapy EMR on the market, right?

If you’re smart about the process—you study the new codes, gather great resources (like the ones you’ve found here), hire an expert ICD-10 coder (or train someone already on your staff to step into this role), partner with vendors who have your best interest at heart, and squirrel away at least six months’ worth of cash revenue—then you may end up with a few hurdles to overcome, but it won’t be all that bad. Speaking of partnering with the right vendors, the AMA study found that the majority of the cost physician practices will incur to make the transition comes from the price to adopt or upgrade an electronic health record or project management system. A recent Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) study came to a similar conclusion: Almost 87% of physicians surveyed needed to?or already had to?upgrade or replace their EHR software to use ICD-10 codes. Almost 37% have/had to cover the cost?a staggering $12,885 per full-time physician.

Unfortunately for physicians, the AMA found that the cost to transition to ICD-10 will be even higher than what they originally predicted back in 2008, which means many practices may be approaching the switch unprepared. Additionally, many physician-specific EHR vendors?which have to deal with both meaningful use certification and the ICD-10 transition?aren’t releasing necessary updates until as late as this summer, leaving physicians little time to practice with the new codes and the new technology. According to the MGMA study, only 4.8% of medical practices feel that they have made significant progress in terms of overall readiness for ICD-10.

Luckily for physical therapists, niche, cloud-based EMRs cost a small fraction of that scary number above—and they update automatically, so users always have access to the latest in technological advancements and compliance tools. And many physical therapy-specific integrated billing services are already ready for the transition, too. Kareo, for example, has an ICD-10 100% Success Plan, which lays out steps from now through October 1, 2014, that providers should follow to ensure a successful transition. Over the next three months, Kareo also plans to release new ICD-10 tools and features, including top code reports and ICD-9 to ICD-10 crossreferencing resources.

Whether you’re a physician or a therapist, one of the most important things you can do to prepare for the transition is to learn the codes and the new coding structure?and ensure your staff does, too. Interestingly enough, the AMA found a pretty big discrepancy in how physicians feel about their coding prowess compared to how they actually perform: “One common theme from our interviews is that physicians have a false sense of belief that they have been correctly coding in ICD-9, when in fact coders report that rather than continually querying the physician, they recode on their own. Therefore, the challenges physicians will face in moving to an even greater number of codes are likely to persist and in fact be exacerbated.” Providers and coders also have a difference of opinion when it comes to their greatest ICD-10 transition concern: “…coders reported that physician-coding communication would be one of their greatest challenges; whereas physicians reported that productivity loss would [have] the greatest impact…” Both are legitimate concerns, but there’s good news for outpatient practices. According to the AMA, providers in hospital settings can expect a nearly 50% drop in productivity. Providers in ambulatory practices, on the other hand, can expect just a 10% decline (so you’ll have much more time to spend improving your provider-coding communication).

How do you feel about the upcoming ICD-10 transition? Are you ready? Are you concerned? Tell us how you’re feeling and how we can help in the comment section below.