Thoughts for Thursday

Part 2: Whose Bill Is It, Anyway?



In an attempt to understand the data presented by Bai et al regarding independent billing by NPs and PAs in the emergency department (ED), I reached out to several colleagues to get their take on the study. 1 Four of them are ED providers (2 MDs, 1 NP, 1 PA), and another is an experienced data analyst. In short, the analysis was analyzed!

Each member of my “expert panel” had similar comments and concerns, particularly regarding billing versus providing care. These are two different animals, or—as I often say—Bai and colleagues were comparing “oranges and shoes.” Several colleagues questioned the purpose of the article: What were the authors really trying to say?

Both MDs noted the absence of comments related to any consultation between the NP/PA and the ED physician during the patient encounter. They also pointed out the sheer volume of patients in EDs, resulting in the increasing popularity and utilization of NP/PAs to provide timely care to patients in need.

More than one of us initially wondered whether there could be potential “overbilling.” With the implementation of electronic health records (EHRs), the average charge per patient has increased. Maybe the EHR, now so common in EDs, more accurately captures the amount of time the provider spends caring for the patient and allows for more detailed documentation of the visit. This might result in a prima facie higher level of billing without necessarily representing the acuity of the presenting complaint.

One fact not presented in the Bai article is that, in many instances, providers (whether MDs, NPs, or PAs) do not complete the bills submitted to the insurance companies. In many EDs, medical coders extract the patient encounter data from the medical record. The reality is, the acuity of the patient is being decided by the person who is coding the visit—not the provider. And thus, it is potentially flawed thinking to rely on billing data alone to assess an increase in the acuity of patients seen by NPs and PAs in the ED.

Since we know (through data!) that there are more NPs and PAs providing care in EDs across the country, it follows logically that there will be more bills submitted in our names. This leads me to wonder: What was the motivation for Bai and colleagues to perform this study? What point are they actually trying to make?

Stay tuned ... There’s more to say next week! (In the meantime, you can share your thoughts by writing to me at

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