On 18 June 2018, 18 years after the launch of ICD-10, WHO released a version of ICD-11 to allow Member States time to plan implementation. This is anticipating the presentation of ICD-11 to the World Health Assembly in 2019 for adoption by countries. Over a decade in the making, this version is a vast improvement on ICD-10.

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First, it has been updated for the 21st century and reflects critical advances in science and medicine. Second,  it can now be well integrated with electronic health applications and information systems. This new version is fully electronic, significantly easier to implement which will lead to fewer mistakes, allows more detail to be recorded, all of which will make the tool much more accessible, particularly for low-resource settings.

What shelf life will ICD-11 have?

The reason for revising the code every decade or so is this: countries can apply to develop their own adaptations. They are not allowed to change the basic code, but they can add detail – essentially producing more granular versions tailored to their health systems and circumstances.

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Countries that create bespoke versions can then sell those to other countries, training them in its use. Practitioners of specialities such as dermatology or mental health may want to produce their own adaptations too. As WHO tweaks the ICD through the years to take into account new understandings of medicine, countries are expected to follow suit. Many do not, however.

Every year, WHO takes slightly incompatible data from countries and makes them comparable. Over the years though, version control slips too far and several slightly varying versions appear all over the world. Thus, a new version becomes necessary to reset the system.

ICD-11, however, has been produced electronically and therefore should act more as a living document to which everyone has access. Its agility should ensure considerable longevity.

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