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December 31, 2013

Date-based deadline looms once again

Y2khqTomorrow and Thursday, we'll be taking a few days away from our 3000 reports to celebrate the New Year. We'll return with a story on Jan. 3. But 14 years ago tonight, your world was waiting for a new year of calamity. Developers, managers, even executives had spent years planning, coding, even setting aside operations while waiting for Y2K to occur. For many HP 3000 owners, the start of our current century mandated the biggest project they'd ever accomplished: preparing an entrenched set of programs to handle formats for new dates.

For one part of the classic 3000 community, it will be happening all over again. The only break these managers of healthcare billing systems will get is a one-year reprieve. And 90 days of that is already gone.

The healthcare industry is expanding its ICD diagnostic codes in the US, a government mandate that has nothing to do with the Affordable Care Act. More than 48,000 distinct codes will be required in order to be paid by the Medicare and Medicaid systems. One story from the New York Times said that getting injured by a killer whale could be one of the thousands of new codes, a part of the fine-tuning to move from ICD-9 to ICD-10.

Virtually the entire health care system — Medicare, Medicaid, private insurers, hospitals, doctors and various middlemen — will switch to a new set of computerized codes used for determining what ailments patients have and how much they and their insurers should pay for a specific treatment.

Some doctors and health care information technology specialists fear major disruptions to health care delivery if the new coding system — also heavily computer-reliant — isn’t put in place properly. They are pushing for a delay of the scheduled start date of Oct. 1, 2014 — or at least more testing beforehand. "If you don’t code properly, you don’t get paid,” said Dr. W. Jeff Terry, a urologist in Mobile, Ala., who is one of those who thinks staffs and computer systems, particularly in small medical practices, will not be ready in time. “It’s going to put a lot of doctors out of business."

ICD-10 has already had a one-year extension for its deadline. It was supposed to be supported by Oct. 1 of this year. HP 3000 managers didn't have that kind of deadline-extending option as 1999 ran out. But they've had postponing options for their migration projects, and they've used them. Migrations off MPE are probably the only thing that could outstrip the resource levels needed to succeed at Y2K.

The Y2K story was a success story, perhaps the most shining moment of the HP 3000's history aside from going from 16-bit to 32-bit with PA-RISC without rewriting applications. Y2K was feared, misunderstood, and exploited by competitors who'd already engineered four-digit dates. Windows comes to mind; MPE was among a wave of computers that had suffered from comparisons to those low-priced alternatives. But the independent software vendors created tool after tool to help MPE/iX make it to 2000. And COBOL programmers, who'd become specters in the years since their software went to work, found themselves back in demand and in the spotlight.

The HP 3000 and its community had been serving crucial industries such as healthcare for more than two decades by the time Y2K arrived on the horizon. Established, older systems needed new hope and some re-engineering. Experts who still work on HP 3000s brought in-house and off-the-shelf software into the future. We asked some what they'd be doing at midnight of Dec. 31, 1999. Most had plans to stay close to the phone.

It’s entertaining, in a horror-flick kind of way, to consider that Y2K is an Extinction Level Event. But it’s a lot more likely to be like a snow day at school, maybe a snow week. I haven’t talked to a programmer yet who plans to fly over the New Year. Lots of them plan to be working, though. While a few programmers are stockpiling canned goods, buying armored Hum-Vees and digging shelters, most of them have been digging into programs to get things fixed. Technical experts with a respect for society aren’t worried about the end of this year. They won’t predict what will happen, but only that we’ll survive. The safest prediction? Some great prices on canned goods and used survival gear by the end of January.

As you're toasting 2014 tonight, and saying goodbye to 2013, take a moment to recall how collective work and respect for mature skills made January 1, 2000 a safe morning for information technology -- and the world which relied upon it. Some of the 3000's migrated healthcare information customers will be facing a similar deadline, based on a date. Amisys/3000 became Amisys Open while the vendor moved off 3000s. Now the customers are hoping ICD will have the same kind of ending as Y2K.

04:07 PM in History, Migration | Permalink

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