Monday, June 18, 2018

Slim Year for ICD-10 Coding Updates

Just like the past couple of years, we've been waiting rather impatiently over the last couple of months for the release of the fiscal year (FY) 2019 ICD-10-CM and ICD-10-PCS code updates.  While the PCS code sets have been out for a month or two, the CM updates were released just last week, sans coding guidelines, which we are still eagerly awaiting.  FY 2019 codes will be implemented on October 1, 2018 (the federal fiscal year runs from October 1 through September 30).  In case you're wondering how the code changes stack up to previous years, what the process is for updating the code sets, or why they aren't released at the same time, this post is for you!

In comparison to past years, it's a slim year for code updates.  When the code sets were unfrozen for FY 2017 after ICD-10 implementation, we saw a whopping 2,710 CM and 4,330 PCS code changes.  Last year, for the FY 2018 release, there were 731 CM and 6,029 PCS code changes.  FY 2019 has a pretty sharp drop for both code sets with 473 CM and 616 PCS code changes. 

If you've been playing along at home and waiting for the code releases, perhaps you've been wondering why the CM and PCS updates are not released at the same time.  Even though both code sets are presented to the Coordination and Maintenance Committee for review and discussion before the Cooperating Parties and general public, each code set is maintained by a separate government agency. 

ICD-10-CM is maintained by the National Center of Health Statistics (NCHS), a component of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  ICD-10-PCS is maintained by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).  Twice a year (every March and April), both agencies present proposed code changes at the Coordination and Maintenance meetings in Baltimore and then each agency works to finalize the code sets. 

Over the past couple of years, we've noticed that PCS changes happen more quickly and are released earlier than their CM counterparts.  CMS presented code proposals for FY 2019 as late as the March 2018 meeting.  On the other hand, most of the code proposals that NCHS presented for CM in March were for consideration for FY 2020.

The other trend we've been noticing since converting to ICD-10 is the last thing to be released is generally the ICD-10-CM Official Guidelines for Coding and Reporting.  We are still waiting for the FY 2019 coding guidelines to be released.  It's been common for NCHS to release the code sets first and the guidelines at a different time, whereas CMS has been pretty consistent with releasing the PCS code sets along with the ICD-10-PCS Official Guidelines for Coding and Reporting.

If you read this post hoping I would give some spoiler alerts, you'll have to wait for the webinars I'm presenting in August for Haugen Consulting Group.  I hope you'll click the links to the marketplace and register for one or both (CM and PCS) updates webinars where I will outline the changes with some background information and a healthy dose of Haugen fun.  Well, fun is relative - we're still talking about coding, but who said that has to be boring!

Here are the links to help keep you updated for FY 2019!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Spotlight on Certification: Certified Interventional Radiology Cardiovascular Coder (CIRCC®)

Lately I've heard a lot of buzz about the AAPC's credential, Certified Interventional Radiology Cardiovascular Coder (CIRCC).  Interventional radiology (IR) coders are in demand because of the complexity of the field and the notoriously high error rates seen on audits. It may sound like a great credential to get, but before you make any sudden movements, here's what you need to know about the CIRCC exam.

Why this credential exists
I've been coding now for 22 years and I've seen quite a bit.  I helped train the workforce in ICD-10-CM and ICD-10-PCS. I've audited ICD-9, ICD-10, CPT and HCPCS codes.  I've read the Federal Register on DRGs and APCs.  But the hardest thing I've ever had to learn to code is IR and cardiology.  The coding rules are complicated, ever changing, and often inconsistent for different parts of the body.  Learning how to code IR and cardiology procedures by just looking at the CPT book is tough enough, but not all the rules are written there.  There are other societies that develop suggested guidelines and then there are the payer's rules and interpretations.  In a hospital setting, an understanding of IR and cardiology coding also usually requires an understanding of hospital charging and how departments are credited revenue.  This credential exists to show that you've mastered these areas of coding.  In my mind, this is the most difficult area of coding there is.

This is not an entry-level credential
I took the CIRCC exam four years ago with about 10 years of experience under my belt.  It was a tough exam.  As a matter of fact, it was the hardest multiple choice exam I've ever taken and I would put it up there with the Certified Coding Specialist (CCS) test as one of the toughest.  If you are thinking you will get the CIRCC and then land a job as an IR coder without any experience, think again.  This is the test you take after you've been coding those types of cases for a long time and feel confident in your abilities.  AAPC recommends, but does not require, at least two years of coding experience before taking the CIRCC exam.

What's on the test
The CIRCC exam is spotlighted for its focus on IR coding, but it also includes cardiology procedures.  The procedures we're talking about are surgical-type procedures done in a radiology suite or cardiac cath lab using radiological (fluoroscopic) guidance.  For IR, this can be vascular studies (angiograms) and interventions (e.g., angioplasty, stenting, thrombectomy) or nonvascular procedures (e.g., placement of biliary stents, nephrostomies, and fluoroscopically-guided biopsies).  For cardiology, this can be diagnostic cardiac catheterization, angioplasty and stenting, and cardiac electrophysiology studies and arrhythmia ablations.   If you don't know what any of that means, I don't recommend taking the test until you learn more!

What it costs
At the time of this writing, the cost to sit for the CIRCC exam is $400.  But the cost of taking the CIRCC doesn't end when you register and pass the exam.  Like other credentials, you need continuing education units (CEUs) to maintain the certification.  But unlike most other AAPC credentials, there are limited vendors from which you can get those CEUs.  Before you decide to take the test, look at the CEU requirements and visit the vendor websites (the AAPC has links) to see how much your CEUs will cost you and be very realistic about what you can afford.  If your primary job is coding these types of cases, check with your employer to see if they will reimburse you for any of the costs.  This is an expensive credential to maintain, but if it's valued by your employer, they may cover the costs.

Read all about it
I could regurgitate the contents of the AAPC's website about the CIRCC exam, but instead of doing that, I will direct you to their website with this simple instruction: Do your homework!  There is a plethora of information on the AAPC's website for this exam and it will tell you everything you need to know from the breakdown of the exam questions, approved manuals and materials (yes, you can bring anatomy cards showing selective vascular ordering), certification requirements, history of the exam, and FAQs.  If you were going to spend $400 on a new smartphone, you would probably read up on the different models before making a final decision.  Why wouldn't you also do this for a credential?  Don't take this exam until you've read all the fine print.

Preparing for the exam
Once you decide that you're ready to pull the plug and take the test, it's time to prepare.  Even if you've coded these cases for a long time, there is still preparation to be done.  Here is my list of recommendations:

  • Get the right CPT book.  The AAPC's website is very clear that they will only allow you to use the American Medical Association's (AMA) version of CPT.  If you have a CPT book from any other publisher, you cannot use it.  I recommend the AMA's Professional Edition of CPT for its color coding and pictures.  It's more expensive than the standard edition, but I think it's worth the money.
  • Mark your CPT book.  Don't waste time writing in the things you already know, but I do recommend making cross-reference notes for any codes that have a one-to-one relationship.  For example, I wrote all of the C codes for drug-eluting stent placements next to their CPT counterparts so I didn't have to open another book during the test.  Sometimes CPT includes instructional notes in the Surgical section directing you to the Radiology component code.  And sometimes it doesn't, so I wrote those in too.  Especially if you are used to using an encoder, make sure you have your book set up so you can flip to different code sections fast.
  • Get the exam prep book.  Yes, it costs more money and no, I am not being paid by the AAPC to push their products!  The exam prep book will go over what's on the test.  It will give you practice questions and show you the type of questions that will be on the exam.  The one thing I remember from the exam prep book is it said in several places that none of the questions are meant to be trick questions.  That might sound like a no-brainer, but when you really get into IR coding, you'll see why that's an important thing to remember.
  • Spend your study time on your weak areas.  Don't waste your time studying things you already know.  If there is an area that is not your strongest, make notes on those CPT sections and find tricks to help you remember.  When I took the test, I was strong in vascular IR and cardiology, but not so much on nonvascular IR, so those sections of my book had the most notes.  Remember: you can write notes in your CPT book, you just can't put any loose pieces of paper in them.  
  • Take a prep class.  If you can find a class that will cover part or all of the exam content, enroll now.  I am teaching a vascular interventional radiology class in October 2017 in Denver, which covers some of the trickiest IR coding.  I would love to see you there and chat about your CIRCC aspirations!
If you've ever considered taking the CIRCC exam, I hope you found this post useful.  Want to learn more about IR coding?  Stay tuned - more posts to come!

Thursday, May 11, 2017

What You Need to Know About Coding Using EMRs and Encoding Software

I haven't been perusing as many coding sites and Facebook pages recently as I was a couple of years ago, but I did recently come across a post that captured my attention.  Someone was asking if there was a way to get trained in a popular electronic medical record (EMR) to help them meet the requirements of a job.  It seems many employers are looking for work experience with a certain EMR before considering a person for a position.  Is this fair?  Well, it may not seem fair if you've never worked as a coder, but if you have, chances are pretty good you've had exposure to some of the major EMR software vendors.  For those of you who don't have any practical EMR experience, here's what you need to know.

Is it reasonable to require EMR experience?
First of all, if you've never coded before and your coding school didn't have a relationship with an EMR vendor allowing you to learn the system, any reasonable hiring manager is not going to expect you to have experience.  And if they aren't reasonable, then you don't want to work for them anyway (problem solved!).  If I pick up your resume and see you have taken some coding classes and have never worked in the healthcare field but are "proficient" in EMR software, I am going to have more than a few questions for you.  How did you get your EMR experience?  Which systems did you use?  What did you like or not like about it?  In other words, I won't believe you have experience with it and I will try to weed that out of you.  Or even worse, I may be inundated with resumes and feel like you're lying about something on the resume and I may not have the time or energy to do any investigating.  Your resume may be relegated to the "no" pile.

Fact: your employer will train you
Here's a fun fact.  Even if you've worked as a coder for 2 years using a certain EMR software, you will have to have training at your new facility.  You may think you know everything there is to know about a certain EMR software, but they are all customizable.  As a consultant, I've used the same EMR software at several clients and they are all a little different.  You may find documents stored in different places.  Your favorite EMR feature at Hospital A may not have been "turned on" at Hospital B.  So expect to be trained on the same software you've already been using every time you change employers.

EMRs are from Mars, encoders are from Venus
EMRs aren't the same as encoders.  Of course the EMR is where you will find the medical record documentation, but it is also where you will find financial information and abstracted data.  Encoders and computer assisted coding (CAC) software are usually separate from the EMR.  As a matter of fact, there aren't a lot of EMR vendors who are also in the business of encoder software.  That makes two different kinds of systems you need to be aware of.  But have no fear: while it's a plus if you have been trained on an encoder, you can expect your employer to train you there too.

You need to understand interfaces
Rather than obsessing over how to get trained on a particular EMR or encoder, here's something more important for you to focus on: you need to understand software interfaces.  Because your EMR and encoder are coming from two different vendors and they have to talk to each other, they rely on interfaces.  How that's set up is not important to you (although it's very important to the information technology department), but how and why you enter data the way you do is based on interfaces.  I've coded for lots of hospitals with lots of different computer systems, but in general, here's how it works:

  1. You pull up the patient in the EMR.
  2. If you work with a CAC product, you launch the CAC by clicking a button in the EMR.  This opens the CAC using an interface, so that it automatically pulls up the patient you are working on in the EMR and displays medical record documentation for coding.
  3. If you don't have a CAC, you review the medical record documentation in the EMR and then launch the encoder using a button in the EMR.
  4. Once you are in the CAC/encoder, you code the record.  This software allows you to look up codes and save them to a list.  When you're done, you click a complete button, and then you find yourself back in the EMR in the abstracting screens.
  5. If the interface is working properly, everything you entered in the CAC/encoder is shown on your abstracting screens.  This is also where you can assign surgeons and dates to procedures as well as any other abstracted data your facility chooses to collect.
  6. You send the account to billing in the EMR by indicating the account is complete.
(Most) EMRs don't have grouper software
Groupers are the magic software that calculate DRGs and APCs based on assigned codes.  Grouper logic is something that is built into CAC/encoder software, but not into EMR software.  If you ever need to make a change to codes to rebill an account, you can't just change the code in most EMRs.  It's pretty standard practice to reopen the account, relaunch the CAC/encoder, make corrections, send them back to the EMR through the interface, and then send for rebill.  This concept is something that many coders don't understand and, I would argue, this concept is more important than knowing the ins and outs of any particular EMR product as a new hire.

Knowing how to code is more important than anything
After all this, the most important thing you need to know to get a coding job is how to code.  Your employer can teach you everything I've mentioned above specific to your facility.  And they can also work with you on enhancing your coding skills.  But it's more important for you to focus on coding, coding guidelines, and a cursory background in coding reimbursement than it is for you to know an EMR inside-out.  

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The Reality of Coding from Home with Children

These days I have more going on than audits, updates, and continuing education for CPT and ICD-10 as I eagerly await the arrival of my first child.  The beauty of the internet means I can order all kinds of things for my pregnancy and the baby from the comfort of my recliner and have them delivered directly to my doorstep.  One recent package included a packet of "stuff"  - everything from a baby bottle, to gift cards for obscure things I'm pretty sure I'll never order, to coupons, to a flyer telling me I can work from home as a medical coder while I take care of my baby.

It was the last item that really jumped out at me and gave me pause.  I wasn't really surprised by the claims about making lots of money while working from home.  It wasn't the statement about the "prestige" of working for physicians.  What caught my eye were the pictures on the flyer of women sitting in front of computers with infants on their laps.  Because while I don't know what it's like to be in charge of a baby all day (yet), I do know what it's like to be a coder working from home and the job doesn't lend itself to simultaneous babysitting.

Most days I love working from home.  It's awesome on those days when you know you have to get work done but you don't really feel like taking a shower or being in public first thing in the morning. So yeah, it's great if you are not a morning person! On those days, there's nothing better than shuffling down to my office, coffee cup in hand (okay, so it's half-decaf these days), flipping the switch on my computer, and easing into my day.  Some days I am joined by my eternal lap cat, who could sit on my lap all day if I were a statue.  On some days she wants to sit on my lap while I work, which is generally only okay if I am on a conference call where I don't need to take notes.  Which is pretty much never.

Here's the big secret the flyer doesn't advertise: coding requires an immense amount of concentration and some days I can concentrate pretty well and block out the world.  Other days, I have to shut off all email, the ringer on my phone, and the radio just so I can focus on work.  On those days, I shoo the cat off my desk/lap and try to direct her to her bed in the corner.  If necessary, I can put her in the hallway and close the door.  You can't really shove your kid aside when you need to concentrate.  And you can't code effectively and efficiently with a kid on your lap.  And if you can, then your child isn't getting the attention he/she needs.

The point: coding from home is a nice perk, but it is not a substitute for child care.  Like most other new parents, I'm discovering the joys of budgeting for child care after maternity leave.  And I get it - it's expensive.  

Just in case this post hasn't quite convinced you, maybe this will.  Many remote coding contracts include a clause on child care.  You may be required to promise in writing that you will not engage in child care when you are on the clock.  So if your reason for wanting to code from home is so you can save on child care, coding isn't the job for you.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Top 10 Cringe-Worthy Things Wannabe Coders Say

My blog is over six years old!  Seriously, I just checked.  In the last six years as I've put myself out there as the Coder Coach, I've spoken either personally, over the phone, or via email to hundreds - okay, it's really probably dozens - of coders and tried to answer their questions about what it takes to be a coder.  I've been amazed at how those answers have changed since then, from the evolution of technology, which allows most coders to work remotely to finally seeing ICD-10 come to fruition. So I figure it's about time I published my top 10 list: the most cringe-worthy things people say when they tell me they want to be a coder.

Don't get me wrong.  My intent is not to put anyone off, but over the last six years, this coding thing has really caught on and I wouldn't want to steer anyone into a career that isn't right for them.  So take a moment to read through the list and decide if you're guilty of any of these. Since David Letterman's Late Show is no longer a thing, consider this my replacement Top Ten List.

And before you get upset, please read the sign: I'm not arguing, I'm just explaining why I'm right.  In other words, I'm being a coder (occupational hazard).

Number 10:Which type of coder pays the most?

Answer:  A really good one.  Focus your efforts on landing a job and then mastering it.  If you choose your work setting solely for making money, you may find yourself miserable and (maybe) sort of well off.  If you choose to follow your passion, the possibilities - and pay check - are pretty much endless.  Employers are willing to pay good money for really good coders who don't complain about how much they hate their jobs.  I don't actually do any hiring, but if I did, I would hire the hungry novice coder with a good attitude and a willingness to learn over the experienced grouchy coder who seems to hate her job.

Number 9: Should I be a hospital or physician coder?

Have you ever seen the movie City Slickers?  The answer is in that movie when Jack Palance says the meaning to life is "one thing."  Billy Crystal asks him, with great interest, what that one thing is.  The answer: that's what you've gotta figure out.  You and only you can decide which setting is right for you and there is no right or wrong answer.  I love getting an inpatient hospital chart and trying to figure out the latest surgical procedures and how to code them.  I would rather poke my eyes out with a dull pencil than assign an E/M level to a physician's chart.  I know other coders who love E/M coding.  It's like being a cat person or a dog person.  You will probably find that you like one more than the other and there is no wrong answer (unless you are not a cat person, and then we can't be friends anymore).

Number 8: No one will hire me with the coding credential I have; they all want something else

This is probably going to sting a bit, so brace yourself.  Why did you pay to get credential without first looking at local job postings and doing some research?  If you are reading this before going to school or getting certified, then do your homework before you pay any money to any educational institution.  All kinds of people will tell you anything to get your money.  Only local employers will be honest about what credentials they want.

Number 7: Where can I get free continuing education credits?

Free CEUs are out there, you just have to look for them.  Most AAPC local chapters offer free monthly educational sessions.  There are opportunities to summarize articles and get credit.  Coding Clinic offers a quarterly webinar that is free.  Other organizations offer free CEU credits.  Do an internet search and you may be surprised what you will find.  Did you do something, like attend grand rounds at a hospital, that you thought was very educational but you don't have a certificate?  Contact the certifying body and see if they will grant you CEUs for it.

Number 6: I can't afford to join AHIMA or AAPC

This one might sting too.  Find a way to make it happen.  As far as I'm concerned, when I hear this, it tells me you don't want it bad enough.  Granted, I started very young and was still living at home when I first joined AHIMA, but make no mistake, I worked hard to get where I am today. Find a way to afford that membership and show people you are serious about a coding career.  And if you have a credential through and let your membership lapse, you likely lose the credential.  You worked hard for that credential - don't let it go.

Number 5: This is my second (or third) career; I can't afford to start at the bottom

This is a great second or third career for people who discover they missed their passion until later in life.  But here's the reality: you still likely have to start at the bottom.  I've seen people find their way into coding by some very unusual means, but the ones who make it are the tenacious ones who won't take no for an answer.  Pretty much no one starts out in their dream coding job.  You will have to pay your dues.  And please don't think that means  I can't appreciate your experience in your previous profession.  There are definitely things you can bring to the table, but remember that in coding, you are a novice.  I'm a great coder, but I'm pretty sure if I decided to change careers tomorrow and become an aerospace engineer, there would be a bit of a learning curve. 

Number 4: Will you mentor me?

It's an innocent question and I'm flattered.  Really.  But I decided a long time ago that I would mentor from afar by penning this blog.  I don't have a consistent schedule to be able to spend a lot of quality one-on-one time mentoring.  But if you email me a specific question, I will do my best to answer it.  My advice is to find someone local to mentor you.  Ask them if they can meet you once a month for lunch and come prepared.  What are the questions you want answers to?  What challenges have they had in their career that they wish someone would have told them when they were getting started?  This is a great entry into your local coding network.

Number 3: I went to school for (fill in the blank) months/years and I'm certified; I'm qualified to be a coder anywhere

No.  You're really not.  I went to school too for two years and let me just tell you that even though I learned some good fundamentals, the real coding world is nothing like I thought it would be.  I learned everything I really needed to know about being a coder on the job, not in school.  I've now been coding for more than 20 years and I hold four different certifications and I have a news flash for you: I am not qualified to code anywhere.  I lack the practical experience of a physician office coder.  I find coding radiation oncology charts waaaaaayyyy outside my comfort zone.  And please don't ask me to fill out an IRF-PAI for inpatient rehabilitation.  In other words, after 20 years, I am not all that and a bag of chips, so please don't insult the world of experienced coders by thinking you have this all figured out.  I learn something new each. and. every. day.  Keep an open mind and be willing to learn - and admit when you're in over your head.  Natural curiosity and a willingness to learn is a good thing.  Acting too big for your britches is not.

Number 2: How can I get experience if no one will hire an inexperienced coder?

I would give anything if people would stop asking me this question.  Because honestly, I don't know the answer.  I don't know what your background is.  I don't know what your aptitude for coding is - and it is a skill that many people don't possess.  I don't know where you've applied or how hard you've tried to sell yourself.  And probably most importantly, I don't have a clue what it's like to try to get a job today because the atmosphere is so different from 20 years ago.  But this is what I do know.  Don't limit yourself to coding jobs.  Find a job - any job - that will require you to have coding knowledge.  When you do an online job search, search on the code sets (ICD-10 or CPT) and not the word coder.  There are so many jobs out there that revolve around coding that aren't traditional coding jobs.  Getting your foot in the door is one step closer to getting that traditional coding job - or something even better than you ever imagined.  And don't forget to network.  If you want to work with coders, surround yourself with coders.  Who you know may be your golden ticket.

And the Number 1 Cringe-Worthy Thing Wannabe Coders Say is: I want to be a coder because I want to work from home

AACK!!!!  Not a good lead in!  And if this is the first statement out of your mouth when you go into an interview, you probably won't get hired because here's a huge industry secret: hiring managers hate hearing that's why you're there.  It's like going on a first date with someone you just met and gushing about how badly you want to get married and have 6 kids. It's just not done.  If this is the real reason you want to be a coder, please re-evaluate.  Coding is a great career if you love it.  If you don't love it, you will be miserable for 8 hours every day.  And if you are miserable at home for 8 hours a day, that can be really depressing.  Also think about the child care aspect.  I often hear people say they want to work from home because they can't afford child care.  Many coding contracts require you to have child care in place.  Coding takes intense concentration and you can't babysit a kid at the same time.  Working from home is a great perk, I will admit, but it is not the reason I have the job I have.  I refer you back to Number 10 above: follow your passion.  If you're lucky, you can make some good money while you do what you love... from home... in your bathrobe.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Reflections of a Coder Coach: Ready to Get Back to Normal

A few weeks ago, it occurred to me that my job hasn't been "normal" for the last six years.  Right around this time six years ago is when I first went to AHIMA's ICD-10 Academy and earned my status as a trainer.  Creating and presenting ICD-10 training materials came soon after that and it wasn't until recently I realized that my job hasn't been normal for the last six years.  And since I've only known my husband for four years, one could argue that he's never known me when I'm normal... er.. at least when my job is normal!

As I look around the articles and social media related to coding, a lot has changed in this industry in the six or seven years that I've put myself out there as the Coder Coach.  When I first started blogging and meeting once a month with coding students and wanna-be's, there weren't a lot of people out there looking to mentor coders.  Now, my voice is one of many as people who never heard of coding before ICD-10 jump on the bandwagon to get a piece of the action.  There have been questions about certifications - which ones to get and how to make sure ICD-10 certification requirements are met.  There have been questions about how to code things we never had to think about before - initial vs. subsequent encounters for injuries and poisonings and root operations based on procedure intent.

I have to be honest and say that in my abnormal day-to-day life as a coder over the last few years, I've had trouble finding my voice and giving advice as a coding mentor.  I no longer feel qualified to tell a coder how to break into the industry because things are so different than they were 20 years ago when I got my start and coding is something that many people are now aware of - not something that people kind of fall into anymore.  Since I fill my days adding to my own intellectual bank by researching procedures and learning how to explain them - and how to code them - I wonder what it is that new coders need right now.  And for everyone who is trying to learn coding, I just want to reach out and give them all a virtual hug because this is, in my humble opinion, about the hardest time to learn this industry.

This week I am working on something I haven't done in years.  I'm reading the Final Rule for the 2016 MS-DRG changes.  That is something I used to read and summarize every year for my clients.  And even though the codes are different and there are some new sections to read in this super long file, I had a moment of realization, a sigh of relief if you will, that this... this is normal!  After we flip the switch on October 1 and everyone starts using ICD-10 (because I have pretty much zero faith in our congressmen to accomplish any earth shattering legislation in two weeks when they're so focused on Donald Trump's run for president), I'm sure there will be a few things that don't go as planned.  But for coders, it's a time for us to return to "normal."  I miss having a general confidence in assigning codes (although this has gotten better as I train more coders!).  I miss code updates!  Oh, how I miss those code updates!  We've had frozen ICD code sets for four years!  I've been following the recommendations made to the Coordination and Maintenance Committee and I can't wait to see which changes they decide to adopt on October 1, 2016.

And maybe when the dust settles a bit and we see how many people really want to stick with coding in ICD-10, I will find my voice again as the Coder Coach.  I sincerely hope so, because I miss meeting people with a passion to learn about my passion and giving them little nuggets of wisdom to help them make a difference in this industry.

Monday, March 9, 2015

So Many Books, So Little Time - Part 3

Yes, it's true.  There are so many books and so little time, I haven't even had time to blog for the last two weeks because I had my nose in two of them.  Thank God for smartphones and long waits at the car wash, or who knows how much longer it would been before I posted again!

In my first post of this series, I gave one of my favorite quotes: "ICD is from Mars, HCPCS is from Venus."  So let's move on to Venus for a bit.  Don't worry, we'll be back to Mars, but I like to talk about the present before I talk about the future (ICD-10), so let's get on with it.  I apologize for the length of this post, but I have a lot to say today!

Three Levels of HCPCS
The Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System (HCPCS) has three different levels and just to make things more interesting, Level I is not usually called HCPCS, it's called CPT.  The Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) was developed and is maintained by the American Medical Association (AMA).

By Physicians for Physicians
What makes CPT so unique is that it is the only coding system in the HIPAA-approved code sets that is developed by physicians for physicians.  The codes you see in the CPT code book are the result of various medical and surgical societies coming together with the AMA to decide which procedures deserve their very own CPT codes.  Every year at the AMA's CPT Symposium, coders from around the country gather in Chicago to listen to these physicians present the coding updates for the coming year.  It's an expensive but valuable conference that I think every coder should experience at least once.  

CPT codes are primarily used by physicians to report procedures and services performed in every possible setting where a physician - or qualified health practitioner - may see  a patient: his office, the hospital, a clinic, a nursing home, etc. But it doesn't stop there.  CPT is also used to report hospital outpatient procedures. Of course, since there are still a lot of procedures that are performed solely as inpatient, hospital coders use a small number of CPT codes in comparison to pro-fee (physician) coders. 

Three within Three
So now that we know that CPT is one of three levels of HCPCS, let's delve a little deeper into this major code set. CPT has three categories of codes and this is still a pretty new concept for me because when I was learning, there were no categories, just CPT codes. 

Category I Codes
Category I codes are the original CPT codes they're what I like to call "grown-up" CPT codes. In order to get a grown-up CPT code, a procedure has to meet some pretty stringent criteria: 

  • The procedure must have FDA approval
  • The procedure must be commonly performed by practitioners nationwide
  • The procedure must have proven efficacy
Once these criteria are met, a five-digit numeric code is assigned to the procedure and unlike ICD (different planet, remember?), these codes do not have decimal points. The codes are arranged in sections by type of procedure or service:

  • Evaluation and Management (E/M) (codes beginning with 9)
  • Anesthesia (codes beginning with 0)
  • Surgery (codes beginning with 1-6)
  • Radiology (codes beginning with 7)
  • Pathology and Laboratory
  • Medicine (the rest of the codes beginning with 9)
The Surgery codes are divided by specialty, for example, the cardiovascular codes begin with 3 and neuro codes begin with 6. After coding for a while, you should be able to look at a CPT code and have a general idea of what it is. A common newbie mistake is to look for the E/M codes in the back of the book. After all, they begin with 9!  But remember that CPT is a coding system that was developed by physicians for physicians and since physicians use E/M codes more than any others, they are in the front of the book for quick reference. 

Here are a few examples of Category I CPT codes:

  • 99283, Emergency department visit for the evaluation and management of a patient, which requires these 3 key components: An expanded problem focused history; An expanded problem focused examination; and Medical decision making of moderate complexity
  • 12002, Simple repair of superficial wounds of scalp, neck, axillae, external genitalia, trunk and/or extremities; 2.6cm to 7.5cm
  • 75625, Aortography, abdominal, by serialography, radiological supervision and interpretation 
Category II CPT Codes
Category II CPT codes are located behind the Category I CPT codes in the book. These are the only CPT codes that are optional. They are used by physicians for tracking performance measures. The purpose of these codes is to decrease administrative burden on providers while collecting information on the quality of patient care. Category II codes are five-digit alphanumeric codes that end in "F."  Here are some examples:

  • 1040F, DSM-5 criteria for major depressive disorder documented at the initial evaluation (MDD, MDD ADOL)1
  • 3775F, Adenoma(s) or other neoplasm detected during screening colonoscopy (SCADR)12
Category II CPT codes are implemented throughout the year and may be implemented before they actually appear in the CPT book.  Code updates can be accessed on the AMA's website

Category III CPT Codes
Category III CPT codes, or "baby codes," as I like to call them, are for emerging technologies that do not meet the criteria of a grown-up Category I CPT code. The Category III codes are found behind the Category II codes in the CPT book. For procedures that are not commonly performed, lack FDA-approval, or don't yet have proven efficacy, Category III codes are assigned. These are temporary codes for a period of 5 years. It has become common practice to see Category III codes reach Category I status with each annual update. For 2015, one of those procedures that was moved was transcatheter mitral valve repair with a prosthesis. The MitraClip uses this relatively new technology to treat mitral regurgitation and it received FDA approval in 2013. 

These are five-digit alphanumeric codes that end in "T." The codes are added throughout the year and may be implemented before they are published in the CPT book. Here are some examples of some Category III codes:

  • 0387T, Transcatheter insertion or replacement of permanent lead less pacemaker, ventricular
  • 0274T, Percutaneous laminotomy/laminectomy (intralaminar approach) for decompression of neural elements, (with or without ligamentous resection, discectomy, facetectomy and/or foraminotomy) any method under indirect image guidance (eg, fluoroscopic, CT), with or without the use of an endoscope, single or multiple levels, unilateral or bilateral; cervical or thoracic
Updates to Category III codes can also be found on the AMA's website throughout the year.  

Staying Updated
Back in the day, it was important just to make sure that you had the most recent year's CPT book to ensure you were using valid codes. However, with the Internet, now it's also important to monitor the CPT updates and errata on a regular basis since changes are made throughout the calendar year. I find it easiest to put a reminder on my calendar the first of each month to check the AMA's website for updates to the errata, which is a list of corrected errors in the CPT code book, as well as changes in Category III codes. Since I don't use Category II codes, I forego that update, but if you are coding them, be sure to look for those updates too. 

By the way, the errata is on the list of approved materials for the AAPC exams. The year I took the CIRCC exam (Certified Interventional Radiology and Cardiology Coder), there were a lot of errors in the electrophysiology code notes and the errata was something I really needed.  Be sure to check it out!

HCPCS codes have a concept specific to HCPCS codes only: modifiers. Think of modifiers like moons that are specific to a planet (and please forget for a moment that Venus doesn't have any moons!). Modifiers apply to HCPCS codes only, not ICD-9-CM codes. They are added to HCPCS codes to provide additional information, such as a bilateral procedure or an unusual service or to indicate that a procedure was discontinued. CPT modifiers are two numeric digits that are appended to a HCPCS code with a dash (e.g., 75710-59). 

All CPT Coders are not Created Equal
The people who assign CPT codes are just as complex as the coding system. Since hospital coders code only a subset of CPT codes, they don't have the same skill set that a pro-fee coder has. Remember that hospital inpatient coders use volume 3 of ICD-9-CM to code procedures. Hospital outpatient coders assign CPT codes for procedures that are found in the outpatient setting. So while the pro-fee coder coding for the cardiologist will code everything from a clinic visit in the physician's office to an angioplasty in the hospital cardiac cath lab to a full blown coronary bypass in the hospital's OR (all using CPT, of course), the outpatient hospital coder would only use CPT to code the angioplasty. Hospitals don't follow conventional E/M rules and coronary bypass is an inpatient procedure that gets coded using ICD-9.   In addition, many of the modifiers used by hospitals are different than those used by physicians. 

These differences are one of the reasons it's so difficult to make the crossover from hospital to pro-fee coding and vice versa. I personally hate E/M coding but I know people who love it. So if you find that one area of coding is not really your cup of tea, fear not!  You may find another area very rewarding. 

I also really can't talk about CPT without bringing up a little tiny thing from the hospital side called a charge description master (CDM), or as it's more commonly called, the charge master.  It's as masterful as it sounds: a line-item listing of everything a hospital department charges for.  Each line item has a description of the charge, charge amount, and sometimes a CPT code.  One of the most difficult transitions I see in pro-fee coders crossing over to the hospital side is not understanding that the coder doesn't code everything.  There are many codes that are assigned automatically by the charge master when a charge is applied to the bill.  This is the case when the CPT code doesn't require a lot of subjective reasoning (e.g.,  lab test or x-ray).  For those procedures and services, such as operative procedures, that require subjective reasoning, a real-live coder will assign the code.  It may sound counter intuitive, but this actually increases the amount of coding-related jobs in a hospital.  The charge master analyst requires coding knowledge as he/she works with hospital departments to set up charges, research appropriate CPT codes for the procedure or service, and determine if it will be hard coded (by the charge master) or soft coded (by a person in coding).  

CPT Made (Too?) Simple
This posting really oversimplifies the CPT code set (that's right, it gets more complex!), but it's a start if you're still finding your way in the coding field.  I have a love-hate relationship with CPT because I find it both challenging (love!) but also frustrating when I hear conflicting coding advice between CMS, the AMA, and medical/surgical societies (hate!).  If you find that you love all aspects of CPT, then you can have a very lucrative career in either the pro-fee or facility coding arenas.

Stay tuned to this series...  Next up is HCPCS Level II.