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From Michael Jackson to the Kardashians

When I think of 1983, what usually comes to mind is Michael Jackson’s hit single “Billie Jean” and Fraggle Rock. But little did you know, 1983 was also the year the World Health Organization (WHO) first began work on ICD-10.

The next milestone? 1992. Yes, the year of some of the worst fashion faux-pas in history – and the year that Troll dolls became the big gifting fad – was also the year that ICD-10 was finalized.

Twenty-three years later, Michael Jackson (RIP) and Troll dolls are left far behind, supplanted by the Kardashians and Snapchat. After a few false starts, the United States is finally ready to go live.

At the heart of the transition are, of course, the physicians, coders, documentation specialists, and administrators who have to manage the overhaul. But really, the onus is on health IT companies to get it right. And once the actual software updates are in place, the next step is smart communications.

Customer communications are a given at this point, and any health IT company that hasn’t already been educating and guiding its customers in the conversion process should (and probably will) be out of business. One step up is communicating to the industry at large; we’ve helped a number of our clients establish themselves as thought leaders through byline articles, social content, and earned media placements.

But as we get ready for the big switch, the news hook of “getting ready for ICD-10” is obviously dead. Further, the storyline of “here’s how easy ICD-10 was for us” is stale at best. It’s time to get creative: I see the upcoming communications opportunities falling into two key buckets.

  1. Humor. Let’s laugh about this, OK? Companies who embrace humor in their communications are dominating the airwaves, and will continue to do so. A perfect example is our client athenahealth’s recent ICD-10 cartoons, which have been a hit across media. How can your company have some fun with the insanity that is ICD-10?
  2. Data. The time for clear processes and implementation paths are over; we’re ready to learn how this whole thing is shaking out. Companies who can push out real-time data after the switch will attract the attention of media and prospects alike. For example, which payers are doing well (or poorly)? Where issues are arising in payment?

The timing is perfect for savvy communicators to take control of the ICD-10 dialogue, and that will be even truer after October 1. I’ll always miss Michael Jackson, but it’s about time for ICD-10.

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