Radiology is a central component of modern healthcare, and with technological advances like electronic health records and improved digital solutions, medical imaging figures to grow in importance and access. Moving forward, ensuring that radiology practices are in step with improvements across the board will be crucial to ensuring that medical images are well integrated and fully accessible to a care provider’s entire network.

In that line of thinking, the adoption of the World Health Organization’s ICD-10 standards and accepted diagnostic codes have had a strong impact on the efficiency of healthcare service. In the U.S., these measures are governed by the National Center for Health Statistics, and ICD-10 has improved radiology capabilities as well.

ICD-10 updates
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the 10th edition of the ICD standards specifically includes provisions for ambulatory and managed care, and also provides a better, more detailed means of digitally describing a patient’s distinct condition.

“ICD-10 standards will improve radiologists’ ability to coordinate care.”

The Radiology Business Management Association found that ICD-10 specifically benefits imaging practices because so much of the work done by radiologists involves patient referral and partnering with healthcare centers. For that reason, sharing the most detailed patient demographics as concisely as possible is extremely important. The RBMA report found that many common patient codes have been redefined and improved under ICD-10, which gives physicians a better understanding of their patients’ needs. For that reason, adopting ICD-10 standards will improve radiologists’ ability to coordinate care.

For example, RBMA stated that 5 percent of patients suffered from abdominal pain, which under the ICD-9 guidelines would be coded as one generalized ailment. Under the latest ICD-10 standards, abdominal pain has been split into three specific codes: upper abdominal pain, pelvic and perennial pain and lower abdominal pain. This gives referring physicians more specificity in their patient assessments.

While some codes used to describe a patient’s condition have changed only slightly in this latest iteration of ICD standards, there are other areas that are vastly improved. Under ICD-9, anything that could be described as “Pain in limb” was coded as 729.5, without any further detail being conveyed, regardless of the fact that 7 percent of patients suffered from some variation of “Pain in limb.” Under the newest ICD-10 provisions, there are 30 different ways a physician can code a patient’s condition that would previously have been described solely as “Pain in limb”. According to the RBMA report, a referring doctor can now more accurately describe a patient’s ailment, anything from M79.601, or “Pain in right arm”, to M79.675, or “Pain in left toe(s)”.

In the world of connectivity, this type of concise specificity is crucial because it allows doctors to communicate patient information more directly. At the same time, these measures enforce the interoperability of patient records between care providers by using a universal system of coding. Doctors are not the only benefactors of these updated standards. ICD-10 regulations are also helpful because they create a common protocol for accountants, physicians and IT professionals, which can lead to improved patient experiences, according to the RBMA report.

Radiology efforts will benefit from ICD-10 mandates.Radiology efforts will benefit from ICD-10 mandates.

Interoperability is key
Although ICD-10 will improve the capabilities of radiologists and technician, imaging technologies and interoperability measures are still in need of improvement. Digitally sharing and accessing medical images is critical in ensuring radiology care is maximized, but according to Healthcare IT News, some hospitals are overlooking the benefits of full interoperability. Integrating radiology with electronic health record systems and other hospital departments is crucial for making sure patient’s receive the best possible care. Regardless, some care centers are still lagging.

Cloud-based image storage is rapidly replacing the archaic need for physicians and technicians to produce thousands of physical patient records in the form of CDs. Likewise, digital images can be shared instantly to other care providers within a hospital’s network or beyond, depending on the situation. According to Health IT News, care providers are still not achieving full interoperability of medical images, even as software and radiology technologies continue to improve amid lowered prices.

The benefits of a fully interoperable imaging platform are clear, and the consequences of healthcare providers waiting to implement improved connectivity measures grow more serious. Care centers that can better process and share patients’ medical images have reduced costs and improved patient outcomes. Therefore, having the most modern, well-integrated radiology software is important not only for treating patients, it is also a key goal for care centers trying to stay competitive.

Complying with the latest ICD-10 mandates is important for avoiding penalties or fees, reported Healthcare IT News, but these new standards are also crucial for improving connectivity within and between healthcare networks. Increased interoperability is critical for generating better patient outcomes, and ICD-10 coding provisions help minimize errors and cost for care providers as well. Regardless, software and technology updates can be expensive and take time, which means care providers need to make sure they are partnering with the best health IT professionals.