Advance care planning discussions: Talk is no longer cheap



Clinicians outside of the surgical specialties may consider surgeons primarily providers of technical services, but those of us who provide surgical care fully appreciate that communicating with patients and families is a large component of routine surgical practice. Typical communications in surgical practice include obtaining a history of present illness, which is a key element in the ultimate decision to offer a surgical intervention, or not; discussing the risks, benefits, and alternatives of any operation being considered; and the numerous discussions held following any surgical procedure. What many surgeons may not fully appreciate, however, is how these routine communication events can fall under the general category of advance care planning (ACP).

ACP is defined as a process in which physicians (and other health care providers) discuss a patient’s goals, values, and beliefs and determine how these inform a patient’s desire for current or future medical care. Hickman et al. (Hastings Center Report Special Report 35, no. 6 (2005):S26-S30) note that ACP should focus on defining “good” care for each patient. Furthermore, changes in a patient’s medical condition represent an opportune time to revisit a patient’s hopes and goals. Consideration of surgical intervention often represents a major change in a patient’s medical condition and therefore is an excellent opportunity to engage a patient in an ACP discussion.

Dr. Bridget Fahy

Dr. Bridget Fahy

Given that ACP discussions are likely occurring in surgical practices on a regular basis, surgeons need to be aware of a recent change in the Physician Fee Schedule that took effect Jan. 1, 2016. Effective this date, Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) codes 99497 and 99498 now allow for billing for ACP services. CPT code 99497 includes ACP “including the explanation and discussion of advance directives such as standard forms (with the completion of such forms, when performed), by the physician or other qualified health care professional; first 30 minutes, face-to-face with patient, family member(s) and/or surrogate.” CPT code 99498 is used for each additional 30 minutes spent in such face-to-face ACP counseling.

The nuts and bolts of how these ACP CPT codes work:

How many times can these code(s) be used? There are no limits on the number of times ACP can be reported for a given beneficiary in a given time period. For example, if an ACP discussion was held with a patient and/or family member and/or surrogate prior to a major elective procedure and again in the postoperative period, the above CPT codes could be used twice. In each instance, the ACP discussion must be documented, along with any relevant change in the patient’s clinical status that prompted another ACP discussion.

Can a patient or their family member/surrogate refuse ACP services? ACP services are voluntary; therefore, a patient or their family member/surrogate can refuse ACP services. These CPT codes only can be used if a patient or family member/surrogate consents for ACP services.

What must be documented in ACP services? Physicians should consult their Medicare Administrative Contractors for documentation requirements. Examples of elements to be included in the documentation are a brief description of the discussion with the patient or family/surrogate regarding the voluntary nature of ACP services, an explanation of advance directives and documentation if an advance directive is completed, who was present during the discussion, and time spent in the face-to-face encounter.

Does an advance directive have to be completed to bill the service? No. If an advance directive is completed, this should be documented (see above), but completion of the directive is not a requirement for billing the service.

Can ACP be reported in addition to an evaluation and management (E/M) service (such as an office visit)? Yes. CPT codes 99497 and 99498 may be billed on the same day or a different day as most other E/M services. They may be billed within the global surgical period.

Is a specific diagnosis required to use the ACP CPT codes? No, a specific diagnosis is not required for the ACP codes to be billed.

According to the 2016 Medicare Physician Fee Schedule, the reimbursement is $85.99 for CPT 99497 and $74.88 for CPT 99498. For comparison, the reimbursement for E/M CPT 99203 (30-minute initial evaluation) = $108.85, CPT 99204 (45-minute initial evaluation) = $166.13, and CPT 99205 (60-minute initial evaluation) = $208.38. Far more important than the financial remuneration for these discussions, however, is the critical need for surgeons to have and document their ACP discussions with their patients and/or their family member/surrogate. As surgeons, we are often called to see patients when they are facing a significant change in their health – whether that is a new diagnosis of cancer or after a traumatic injury. Understanding a patient’s values, hopes, and concerns is an essential component to ensuring that our patients receive the best care, as defined by them.

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