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What Is the Difference Between the Alpha & Tabular Index & How Are They Used?

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Medical professionals use the International Classification of Diseases, or ICD, to report diagnoses of diseases and medical conditions of the patients they treat. The system, currently on its 10th version, associates an alpha-numeric code for each disease and condition. This allows a doctor in Tokyo to understand the medical history of a patient from Berlin and assists in compiling worldwide health statistics. The ICD uses both alphabetical and tabular indexes to sort the data.

Alphabetical Index

The alphabetical index lists diseases and conditions by name. Start here to look up a broad diagnosis, such as diabetes mellitus. Numbers by the name will refer you to the location in the tabular index for more information. Using the alphabetical index, you can more quickly zero in on the section of the ICD-10 you need.

Tabular Index

The tabular index is organized in chapters based on the body’s systems. All gastrointestinal diseases are grouped together, as are all musculo-skeletal conditions and so on. The tabular index breaks broad disease categories into smaller classifications, with a specific code for each. You’ll use these specific codes when filing insurance claims, public health reports and even when completing death certificates. A wrong code or one that is not specific can result in denial of an insurance claim or failure of the insurance company to authorize follow-up treatment for the patient.


Cynthia Myers is the author of numerous novels and her nonfiction work has appeared in publications ranging from "Historic Traveler" to "Texas Highways" to "Medical Practice Management." She has a degree in economics from Sam Houston State University.

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