Gastroenterology billing and coding: Just the basics


Understanding the business side of medicine helps physicians run a successful practice. However, the business side of medicine is not part of the normal curriculum in training and fellowship programs. Physicians come out of training with the knowledge to treat patients but with little or no knowledge of how to get reimbursed for their services. Gastroenterologists provide both medical and surgical services.

Ms. Kathleen Mueller

Listed below are some of the basic principles for both documentation and reimbursement policies. All reimbursement is based upon Relative Value Units (RVUs) assigned to every service provided. The services are based upon three factors: physician work value, malpractice cost, and practice expense. Those factors added together and multiplied by a conversion factor assigned by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) creates the national physician fee schedule. Each Medicare carrier has localities, and there is another percentage that is multiplied based upon geographic location, which will finalize the approved amount for each service. Your Medicare carrier has the actual approved amounts available on their websites with an effective date of Jan. 1. Commercial payers most commonly base contracts on the Medicare Fee Schedule, but each practice and payer relationship is different. For a better understanding, please contact your practice manager for more specific information based on your payer contracts.

Medical necessity is the key to success. If medical necessity is not demonstrated, payers can deny a claim, deny authorization for a lab test and/or diagnostic study, or recoup previously paid claims. Medicare and commercial payers will often have local coverage determinations (LCDs) for procedures and testing that include indications and restrictions along with approved diagnosis codes. Listed below are the four primary services that GI providers perform and provide interpretation for:

1. Evaluation and management (E&M) services: There are three criteria that have to be met to support any initial visit with patients: the history obtained, the examination performed, and the development of the treatment plan. There are five levels of service for office visits and three levels for inpatient visits, respectively. The levels are chosen based on the decision-making element of the visit, provided the documentation requirements are met for the level chosen. This is often not an easy selection unless the providers are educated on the E&M criteria. Auditors often see that visits are chosen by “guessing” the level, which leads to choosing either a lower or higher level of service than what was actually provided. Some providers have been instructed that E&M services are not that important since procedures are the major source of revenue for the practice. However, GI practices are visit-driven practices, and the initial visits are often worth more RVUs than some procedures. The E&M visit is truly vital and often the backbone for the medical necessity of any additional procedures and diagnostic services required in order for successful treatment of the patient.

2. Endoscopy and procedural billing: Here, medical necessity must be documented in order to submit charges for what was done. Gastroenterologists will often use multiple techniques when treating different areas within the gastrointestinal tract. Documentation has to include the location of lesions/abnormalities, method of treatment/removal, and the reason(s)/indication(s) for those procedures. There may be different instruments used in the colon (for example, snare in the sigmoid colon or biopsy forceps in the transverse colon). These may be separately reported with an appropriate modifier to indicate that these services were performed to different lesions/abnormalities. However, in order to bill for each of the procedures, all of this has to be documented in the endoscopy report. The physician is responsible for accurate and specific documentation and bringing charges back to the billing staff for claim submission. For a successful practice, a team approach is vital. Physicians and coding staff need to have an open line of communication to make sure that everything is submitted appropriately according to payer policies. Billing staff need to communicate any significant changes to the physicians/providers as these changes occur. Ignorance of payer policy is not considered an appropriate excuse when a payer investigates a claim and potential recoupment of moneys paid.


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