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ICD-10 Codes for Outcomes Influenced by Climate Change?

A recent opinion article published by three physicians in MEDPAGE Today recommends such diagnosis codes are needed to quantify the health consequences of climate change.  AHIMA concurs, suggesting Climate Change related diagnosis codes could expose the effects that our changing climate is having on human health and in turn lead to directing health policy decisions and care related resource allocations.

 

Dr. Stefan Wheat of the University of Washington, Dr. Chethan Sarabu of Stanford University, and Zerina Lokmic-Tomkins of Monash University affirm the World Health Organization presently only considers four health effects of climate change while ongoing WHO research looks at potential future impacts.  This leaves a knowledge gap on effects of today that could assist in developing optimal interventions.


Potential health issues driven by climate change are enormous. According to WHO’s Climate Change and Health webpage, “Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000

additional deaths per year.”  Given this significant scope, it’s concerning to learn that globally, only 0.5% to 5% of climate adaptation funding is specifically directed towards the health sector, with none of the 203 projects funded by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Adaptation since 2015 being dedicated towards health adaptation concerns.


The explanation for this discrepancy is fourfold. First, WHO statistics account for only four health impacts related to climate change — malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea, and heat stress. Second, the “250,000 additional deaths per year” estimate is widely considered to be a conservative estimate.  Third, the original estimate is now nearly a decade old and likely out of date. And finally, that substantial forthcoming impact is a projection for the future and does not consider Climate Change related negative impact to health concerns that have already been caused.


So, what if anything, can (or should) today’s healthcare professionals do in response to all this?  Not much, yet, other than recognize this initiative is actively being worked on and most certainly will result in Climate Change related ICD-10 codes being added at a later date.  Some experts predict additional statistics needs to be gathered, in parallel to Social Determinants of Health data, to establish categories of Climate Change influenced diagnoses that will eventually evolve into specific codes.


If there is anything certain, once the new codes are added, there will be a notable learning curve for providers to accurately document the Climate Change conditions in their reports so corresponding codes can be properly applied.  Dual path focused educational content for providers and coders will be created to embed the new terminology into the vocabulary of clinical reports, so they are properly documented for code justification.


Of course, the AQuity Solutions Coding team will monitor this issue closely in preparation for any SDOH-type statistics capture and/or proposed ICD-10 code definitions and associated documentation requirements.  As always, we stand committed to keeping our team members and clients up to date on evolving industry developments.

Cindy Nicholas, VP Coding Solutions

Cindy is a global healthcare leader with more than 35 years of experience in all aspects of revenue cycle management, patient experience and health information management. Specializing in medical coding, workflow design, quality improvement and healthcare compliance, her ability to develop and lead high performing teams is echoed in her passion for delivering top quality service and impactful results. A credentialed member of AHIMA, Cindy also holds certifications from both the Healthcare Compliance Association (HCCA) and National Association of Healthcare Quality (NAHQ).

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