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  • Writer's pictureSarah Schafer, MD

The new ICD-10 codes: a low-key way to educate clinicians

Updated: Nov 6, 2021

The ICD-10 codes are used for medical billing. They also provide data for tracking health care statistics, such as the number of people diagnosed with a disease. The old ICD-10 codes used the term "sicca syndrome" for Sjogren's. Sjogren's should never be equated with "sicca syndrome" because this reinforces the incorrect, but common, view that Sjogren's is mostly a sicca (dryness) disease. The evidence is clear: Sjogren's is a common, serious, multisystem disease.

Thanks to the relentless work of the Sjogren's Foundation, as of October 2021, the ICD-10 codes have been upgraded to better reflect the systemic nature of the disease.

Learn an easy, low-key way to educate clinicians about the systemic nature of Sjogren's

I recommend sharing this Sjogren's Quarterly article about the new ICD-10 codes with your rheumatologist and other clinicians. Whether you communicate by email or in person, it is good to point out that the new billing codes reflect a wide variety of Sjogren's manifestations, rather than calling it "sicca syndrome".

For in-person visits, I suggest highlighting these two paragraphs from the Sjogren's Quarterly article: “The current code uses “Sicca syndrome” and “Sjögren’s” synonymously. While at one point this may have been a prevailing thought, we know that using these terms interchangeably is inaccurate for a variety of reasons.

Sicca is a symptom and not a disease, while Sjögren’s is a distinct systemic autoimmune, rheumatic disease that can affect multiple organs and body systems. Dryness certainly occurs in Sjögren’s, but dryness alone does not represent the disease and the many other symptoms involved. Furthermore, sicca includes many non-Sjögren’s patients who may have dryness symptoms for numerous reasons, including radiation for head and neck cancers, graft-versus-host disease and as a side effect of certain medications."

What if your clinician says, "I don't do my own billing"?

In this situation, billing staff must interpret the clinician's notes in order to assign the proper ICD-10 code. Clinicians need to know about this change so that their documentation corresponds to the new billing codes. If they seem dismissive, you might say, "these are big changes, you might want to take a look".

The ICD-10 article is a new core clinician education handout.

This article can always be found in the Printable Handouts for Clinicians page, under the Resources tab. This page is now more user-friendly- please take a look!

A special shout out to Kathy Hammitt and Dr. Alan Baer who were key to making this happen.

~ Sarah Schafer, MD and Sjogren's patient

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