Coding

A Potpourri of Things to Do Correctly

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Practice Points

  • A biopsy is not separately reportable when another procedure was done at the same site on the same day (eg, shave, excision, destruction).
  • Use site-specific biopsy codes when their localization is more precise than the general skin biopsy.
  • A simple nail clipping for culture or periodic acid-Schiff stain is not a nail biopsy and should not be separately reported from the evaluation and management component of the visit.


 

When you pick up the Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) manual and read it, you may wonder what certain terms mean and how they may be looked at by payers and auditors. As your eyes glaze over from reading mind-numbing descriptions, a few points should be obvious, but conversations with friends, colleagues, and US Office of Inspector General and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services forensic investigators have convinced me that it is time for a refresher.

Excisions

For excisions (11400–11646), size is easy to determine. You measure the longest diameter of the lesion and the smallest margin required based on your judgment. The sum of the diameter and twice the margin is your lesion size. For benign lesions, the margin can be as small as 0 to 1 mm. For malignancies, it might be 5 to 9 mm for a melanoma in situ, 1 cm or more for an invasive melanoma with similar margins for squamous cell carcinoma, and somewhat less than 1 cm for basal cell carcinomas and more than 1 cm for Merkel cell carcinomas or spindle cell neoplasms. Unlike the shave removal codes (11300–11313), which do not involve subcutaneous tissue, an excision is at least full thickness through the dermis, which means a clever auditor would expect to see at least some fat on sections in most cases. Assuming you are through to fat, you may or may not close the wound. If you close the wound in a nonlayered manner, the repair is included and is not separately reportable. If you need to perform an intermediate layered closure (12031–12057) to get optimal function and cosmesis, the repair is separately reportable, as is a complex repair (13100–13163), which often includes wide undermining and other factors that differentiate it from an intermediate repair. If a more demanding repair is needed, you might use an adjacent tissue transfer (14000–14061), but the excision is included and not separately reportable. Skin grafts, most commonly split-thickness grafts, do not include the excision, which can be reported separately; direct closure of the graft donor site also is included.

There are times when you may delay a repair for medical reasons, which you would document in the medical record, but if you systematically delay a repair overnight to avoid the multiple procedure payment reduction, you may become “a person of interest,” which is a bad thing.

The shave removal codes (11300–11313) do not require repair and hemostasis is included. The size of the lesion determines the size of the lesion reported, and margins are not included. Hemostasis is included in the value of the CPT code and is not separately reportable.

It is not uncommon for a patient, usually one well known to you, to present with another skin cancer that has classic clinical findings. You review options with your patient and proceed to take one of the following approaches.

Option 1: You can tangentially remove or curette the tumor bulk and send the specimen for pathology review. At the same time, you curette and cauterize the base. In this case, you should hold your bill and await pathology. If the lesion is malignant, you would report the appropriate malignant destruction code (17260–17286) only. If it is benign, you would report a biopsy based on site or a benign destruction (17110) if for some reason the destruction was medically necessary. If it is an actinic keratosis, you could report either a biopsy or a premalignant destruction (17000).

Option 2: You perform a full-thickness excision of the lesion with a margin to remove it and send the specimen for pathology review. You should hold your bill and await pathology. If the lesion is malignant, you would report the appropriate malignant excision (11600–11646) and repair as discussed above. If it is benign, you would report the appropriate benign excision (11400–11446) and repair as discussed above.

If a shave, excision, or destruction is performed, a biopsy of the tissue should never be reported separately simply because the tissue may be sent to the laboratory. In other words, a biopsy is not separately reportable when another procedure was done at the same site on the same day.

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