Specialty News & Articles

Medical Coders – Nationwide Changes

By: Sterling Medical Staff

Big changes are underway in the realm of medical coding, as the upcoming industry shift to a new set of codes promises more demand for medical coders than ever before.

On October 1, 2014 the United States is unilaterally switching from the old ICD-9 system of coding to the newer and more advanced ICD-10 system. ICD stands for International Classification of Disease, and volumes of ICD codes are developed and published by the United Nations-sponsored World Health Organization.   ICD-10 is the tenth edition of classification codes released by the WHO, replacing ICD-9 which has been used in the United States since the 70’s.

ICD-10, which was endorsed by the WHO in 1990 and adopted by most countries following its update in 1994, offers many advantages over ICD-9. ICD-9 codes are strictly numeric, consisting of 3-5 digits and allowing for a maximum of 17,000 codes. Not only have many coding chapters reached their limit of possible codes, but many of the codes themselves have become obsolete as diagnostic and procedural practices have developed over the years. In contrast, ICD-10 codes are in line with current medical standards and consist of 3-7 alphanumeric characters, allowing for 155,000 different codes.

So what does this mean for medical coders? For one, the nationwide change to ICD-10 requires a workforce that is familiar with the new codes. As ICD-9 codes will remain the standard until the October 1 deadline, many currently-employed coders may find themselves at a disadvantage if they haven’t yet familiarized themselves with the new codes. Experts anticipate that many companies will need to hire additional coders when the change comes in order to test internal systems and keep things running with minor slowdown1.

Many organizations, such as the American Healthcare Documentation Professionals Group, offer training programs for ICD-10. In order to work coders must pass a Certified Coding Associate exam, which is administered by the American Health Info Management Association2. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates the job growth rate for medical coders at 22%, making it one of today’s fastest growing fields, and expects over 41,100 new positions by 20223.

While the switch from ICD-9 to ICD-10 will require a lot of work on behalf of hospitals, clinics, insurance companies, billing companies and more, it also promises a larger workforce more prepared for the future of medicine.


  1. http://www.govhealthit.com/news/during-icd-10-transition-dual-coding-will-take-toll
  2. http://www.prweb.com/releases/2014/01/prweb11460420.htm
  3. http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/medical-records-and-health-information-technicians.htm
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