Proactive strategies can smooth out reimbursement problems
by Carol Pohlig, BSN, RN, CPC, ACS
As physicians take on more extensive roles outside of patient care (e.g., administrative, academic, and billing compliance), involvement in the revenue cycle might diminish or even fail to commence. It is crucial for physicians to keep abreast of revenue cycle issues, but more often than not, they go unnoticed until a physician’s bottom line is affected.
The risk of inappropriately billed claims and corresponding reimbursement is increased until the problem is identified and resolved. In an effort to prevent this from occurring, physicians should get involved with or oversee their billing service or staff. Some of the revenue cycle essentials that require physician attention are:1
One of the most common billing-related physician complaints involves the lack of feedback. Most physicians want to receive information regarding their quarterly billings: the volume and frequency of specific reported services, and corresponding payments or denials. Physicians prefer to know how they rank as individuals and as a group. Although they might not be experts in coding and documentation, this information offers physicians a feeling of security, as it permits them to identify typical billing patterns or highlight outlier patterns.
Establish communication with the manager/coder/biller to better assist with feedback. Appoint a physician leader to spearhead this effort; ensure feedback is provided quarterly, at a minimum. If the coders/billers feel that they have an approachable contact, they’re more likely to offer feedback before formal reports are generated. A quick resolution of potential problems lessens the financial burden on the HM group, as well as the resource-intensive education process that ensues.
Physicians should be notified whenever coding changes take place. Discrepancies occur when the physician employs coders to select the service or diagnosis codes, and the selected codes differ from the physician-intended codes. Discrepancies also occur when billers change the original physician-selected codes to codes that are considered covered or medically necessary by the pay0r. Physicians need to instruct coders to only report codes that are supported by the documentation.
Physicians must be aware that delegating any portion of the billing to an employee or a billing company does not alleviate physicians’ personal responsibility for erroneously submitted claims or receipt of overpayments. Physicians should regularly review information submitted by the designated employee or billing service to ensure consistency with their own records, and also keep complete administrative records for the claims a billing service files on their behalf.1 Physicians also should meet with staff to resolve discrepancies and reinforce the billing education process. If biller/coder performance becomes a recurring problem, the physician should question the competency of the employee or company with whom the billing is entrusted.
Physicians do not necessarily recognize the need for involvement in the accounts receivable (A/R) component of the revenue cycle. Physicians should be aware of denials, and the reasons for the denials. Some services are denied because of issues that can be easily corrected (e.g., truncated diagnoses, two physicians of the same specialty billing on the same date, missing modifiers). These denial types might require physician assistance in changing the codes originally submitted. If the denied services can be corrected with the appropriate information and resubmitted electronically, payment might be recovered quickly. Other types of denials require submission of the documentation to support the service billed.
Billers should know the difference between the types of denials and the required action for each denial type. Physicians should feel confident that such denials will be handled in the correct manner. Be mindful of billing staff that accepts denials and surrenders the reimbursement efforts without hesitation. As a physician, do not default to the idea that “no news is good news.” Do not assume the billing manager (physician employee or outsourced firm) will let the group know if there is a problem. Develop a standard that requires monthly feedback of denials.
Only a short window of time exists for the appeals process to occur. Do not lose the potential to recover monies because the information was not provided to the physician in a timely manner. TH
Carol Pohlig is a billing and coding expert with the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center in Philadelphia. She is also on the faculty of SHM’s inpatient coding course.
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