Six big changes coming for office-visit coding


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Physicians will soon start having an easier time – and perhaps get paid more money – when they code for evaluation and management (E/M) services, thanks to the American Medical Association.

The first major changes to the definitions for E/M services will be in effect as of Jan. 1, 2021, with all payers expected to adopt these new guidelines. In particular, the AMA has revised the definitions for E/M codes 99202-99215 in the Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) 2021 codebook. The existing guidelines were developed in 1995 and 1997 and remain in effect for all other E/M services determined by history, exam, and medical decision-making (MDM).

What do the new changes mean to you? In 2021, for new and established office and other outpatient services reported with codes 99202-99215, a clinician may select the code on the basis of time or MDM.

There are three elements in MDM, and two of three are required. These elements are the number and complexity of problems addressed, amount and/or complexity of data to be reviewed and analyzed, and risk of complications and/or morbidity or mortality of patient management.

Make sure you familiarize yourself with these six big changes. It may take a bit of time to integrate these new processes into your daily routine, but wrapping your head around them as soon as possible can help boost your bottom line:

1. History and exam don’t count toward level of service

Physicians, advanced practice registered nurses, and physician assistants won’t use history or exam to select what level of code to bill for office visits 99202-99215, as they did in the past. They need only document a medically appropriate history and exam. The history may be obtained by staff members and reviewed by the billing practitioner.

While specific history and exam requirements disappear for office visit codes, they remain for all other types of visits, selected on the basis of history, exam, and MDM, such as hospital services, nursing facility services, and home and domiciliary care. So, say goodbye to “all other systems reviewed and negative” in office notes, but keep it handy for those other E/M codes.

2. All time spent caring for the patient on a particular day counts

This includes all time spent on the day of service, including preparing to see the patient, seeing the patient, phone calls or other work done after the visit (if not billed with a care management or other CPT code), and documenting in the medical record. The AMA developed new guidelines for using time for office and other outpatient services. For codes 99202-99215, count all of the face-to-face and non–face-to-face time spent by the billing clinician on the day of the visit. Counseling does not need to be more than 50% of the total time.

Do not include any staff time or time spent on any days before or after the visit. This allows clinicians to capture the work when a significant amount of it takes place before or after the visit with the patient, and to bill for it on the day of the visit.


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