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Will digital diagnostic coding improve patient safety?

Readers might assume that digitized medical records could positively impact patient safety. On an individual level, digital records might improve accessibility and readability among all members on a patient’s care team. On a systemic level, digital records that include treatment outcomes might also serve as an indicator of a hospital’s safety record. At a minimum, the transparency might provide for greater accountability in the event of medical negligence or doctor mistake.

However, a new report says there may be a complication in the goal of assessing hospital safety. Specifically, the diagnostic codes under the international disease classification system, or ICD-10 codes, may not match the previous ICD-9 codes. According to one commentator, more coding options in the ICD-10 system may allow a hospital or medical facility to appear safer than its record really proves it to be.

There are resources that attempt to track hospital safety. Websites like hospitalcompare.gov or the rankings compiled by publications like U.S. News and World Reports are accessible by consumers -- and potential patients. 

Yet as an attorney that focuses on medical malpractice knows, proving causation and/or identifying the responsible parties behind a patient injury are common obstacles in hospital negligence claims. In addition, special rules might apply to HMOs in California, such as Kaiser. If an incident of alleged medical negligence occurred in a military or VA hospital, additional prohibitions or restrictions against filing medical malpractice claims may also apply. All of these examples illustrate the need for an experienced attorney to advocate on an injured patient’s behalf. An attorney can look for discrepancies in a patient’s medical record, compare it to other classification systems, consult with medical experts, and prepare the strongest possible case for trial. 

Source: Claims Journal, "New ICD-10 Coding System May Cloud Hospital Safety Audits," Sept. 15, 2014

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