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Exploration of ICD-9-CM coding of chronic disease within the Elixhauser Comorbidity Measure in patients with chronic heart failure.

Garvin JH, Redd A, Bolton D, Graham P, Roche D, Groeneveld P, Leecaster M, Shen S, Weiner MG. Exploration of ICD-9-CM coding of chronic disease within the Elixhauser Comorbidity Measure in patients with chronic heart failure. Perspectives in health information management / AHIMA, American Health Information Management Association. 2013 Oct 1; 10:1b.

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INTRODUCTION: International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision, Clinical Modification (ICD-9-CM) codes capture comorbidities that can be used to risk adjust nonrandom patient groups. We explored the accuracy of capturing comorbidities associated with one risk adjustment method, the Elixhauser Comorbidity Measure (ECM), in patients with chronic heart failure (CHF) at one Veterans Affairs (VA) medical center. We explored potential reasons for the differences found between the original codes assigned and conditions found through retrospective review. METHODS: This descriptive, retrospective study used a cohort of patients discharged with a principal diagnosis coded as CHF from one VA medical center in 2003. One admission per patient was used in the study; with multiple admissions, only the first admission was analyzed. We compared the assignment of original codes assigned to conditions found in a retrospective, manual review of the medical record conducted by an investigator with coding expertise as well as by physicians. Members of the team experienced with assigning ICD-9-CM codes and VA coding processes developed themes related to systemic reasons why chronic conditions were not coded in VA records using applied thematic techniques. RESULTS: In the 181-patient cohort, 388 comorbid conditions were identified; 305 of these were chronic conditions, originally coded at the time of discharge with an average of 1.7 comorbidities related to the ECM per patient. The review by an investigator with coding expertise revealed a total of 937 comorbidities resulting in 618 chronic comorbid conditions with an average of 3.4 per patient; physician review found 872 total comorbidities with 562 chronic conditions (average 3.1 per patient). The agreement between the original and the retrospective coding review was 88 percent. The kappa statistic for the original and the retrospective coding review was 0.375 with a 95 percent confidence interval (CI) of 0.352 to 0.398. The kappa statistic for the retrospective coding review and physician review was 0.849 (CI, 0.823-0.875). The kappa statistic for the original coding and the physician review was 0.340 (CI, 0.316-0.364). Several systemic factors were identified, including familiarity with inpatient VA and non-VA guidelines, the quality of documentation, and operational requirements to complete the coding process within short time frames and to identify the reasons for movement within a given facility. CONCLUSION: Comorbidities within the ECM representing chronic conditions were significantly underrepresented in the original code assignment. Contributing factors potentially include prioritization of codes related to acute conditions over chronic conditions; coders' professional training, educational level, and experience; and the limited number of codes allowed in initial coding software. This study highlights the need to evaluate systemic causes of underrepresentation of chronic conditions to improve the accuracy of risk adjustment used for health services research, resource allocation, and performance measurement.

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