By its nature, the health care profession is full of people who have pursued detailed knowledge and expertise. Doctors and physicians spend years—sometimes decades—fine-tuning their skills that they apply either in a surgical or clinical setting. Nurses, who may walk the floors of a hospital or tend to patients in an office, are required to have hands-on training to enable better care. There are practicums and thick books, specialization and fellowships, schools and training hospitals, continuing education and new technologies.
All of this is for good reason: Health care can be complicated. Individual patients may have detailed histories that health care professionals must quickly absorb and evaluate. Wrong choices by a health care provider or scattered information from a patient can exacerbate a condition, leading to further illness or even death. It’s a weighty matter to consider for everyone who cares for patients.
So how then does the health care industry convey necessary simplicity—helping doctors recognize commonality in a condition, helping nurses to provide treatment no matter where they went to school or what state they practice in? How can health care offer more deliberate ways to diagnose conditions and eliminate misunderstandings when it comes to injury?
The answer might not come as a surprise to many people: codes and abbreviations. Shorthand such as this is everywhere, in every part of our world, and for health care, codes and abbreviations present a level of standardization that’s not always possible. That’s because each individual patient comes to each individual doctor with a different background and health history; no two are the same, and one condition may influence another. But a code that’s shared from one health care professional to another can at least offer a baseline for assessment and treatment that would otherwise be absent.
In health care, there’s a code for these codes: ICD-10, short for International Classification of Diseases, Revision 10. They’re a combination of both characters and numbers and are continually revised as needed. The previous set—referred to as the ICD-9—was updated October 1, 2015. Those codes travel with a patient, from assessment and diagnosis to treatment and beyond, even working their way into crucial billing functions of the hospital or clinic. They’re a way to record common symptoms and complaints. They offer a baseline to revisiting how treatment worked with outcomes. And they’re essential to hospital administration to understanding large chunks of data for patient treatment and accounting functions.
But for all their seriousness, these codes also are an interesting insight into the variety and range of conditions that health care professionals encounter—whether once in their careers or more frequently. Because of the system in place, a code must match an injury, no matter how obscure or unfathomable. Take an encounter with a sea lion: There’s a code for that. There’s a code to help health care professionals track an insect bite on the right little finger, as well as one for injury that results in the unfortunate intersection of wind and brass instruments. If your water skis catch on fire, no worries: There’s a code for that, too. And if your enthusiasm for opera results in an injury, you too will find a code to match.
Take a humorous turn down the road of medical coding in this infographic courtesy of Quill, which details a few favorite incidents and their corresponding ICD-10 codes.
Graphic Courtesy of Quill