Hospitalists often are tasked with coordinating and overseeing patient care throughout a hospitalization. Depending on the care model and the availability of varying specialists, a patient could see several specialists throughout the stay, and even during a single day. A recurring issue for many hospitalists is justifying the medical necessity of their services, because payers do not want to reimburse overlapping care (i.e., multiple providers caring for the same patient problem) when more than one physician provides care on the same service date.
Payers often consider two key principles before reimbursing multiple visits on the same date:1
- Does the patient’s condition warrant the services of more than one physician?
- Are the individual services provided by each physician reasonable and necessary?
Consider the following example: A 65-year-old female patient is admitted with a hip fracture (820.8) after slipping on the ice outside her home. The patient also has hypertension (401.1) and type II diabetes (250.00). The surgeon manages the patient’s peri-operative course for the fracture, while the hospitalist manages the patient’s medical issues.
Payers must be sure that the services of one physician do not duplicate those provided by another.1 For the above scenario, it is imperative that the hospitalist understand which services are considered the surgeon’s responsibility. The global surgical package includes payment for the surgical procedure and the completion of its corresponding facility-required paperwork (e.g. pre-operative history and physical exam, operative consent forms, pre-operative orders), in addition to the following services:2
- Pre-operative visits after making the decision for surgery beginning one day prior to surgery;
- All additional post-operative medical or surgical services provided by the surgeon related to complications but not requiring additional trips to the operating room;
- Post-operative visits by the surgeon related to recovery from surgery, including but not limited to dressing changes, local incisional care, removal of cutaneous sutures and staples, line removals, changes and removal of tracheostomy tubes, and discharge services; and
- Post-operative pain management provided by the surgeon.
Another physician who performs any component of the global package will not receive separate payment unless the surgeon is willing to forego a portion of the payment. For example, a hospitalist admits a patient who has no other identifiable medical conditions aside from the problem prompting surgery. The hospitalist’s role may be dictated by facility policy—quality of care or risk reduction, for example—and administrative requirements (history and physical exam, discharge services, coordination of care) rather than what a payer would perceive as necessary “medical” management. Similarly, if the hospitalist’s post-op care is limited to ordering routine post-op labs or maintaining appropriate pain management, the hospitalist’s service will likely be denied as incidental to the surgical package.
Remember, if the hospitalist’s claim is submitted and paid, it doesn’t mean that the payer won’t retract the payment upon review if an erroneous payment is suspected. A payer review may be triggered when the diagnosis listed on the hospitalist’s claim matches the diagnosis listed on the surgeon’s claim (e.g. 820.8). If too many claims are considered “not medically necessary” due to overlapping care, hospitalists may need to negotiate other terms of payment with the facility to recoup unpaid time and effort when involved in this type of care.
When more than one medical condition exists and several physicians participate in the patient’s care, medical necessity is easily established for each physician. Each physician manages the condition related to his/her expertise. In the above example, the surgeon cares for the patient’s fracture, while the hospitalist oversees diabetes and hypertension management. Service distinction is crucial during the claim submission process. The hospitalist should report a subsequent hospital care code (99231-99233) with a primary diagnosis corresponding to his/her specialty-related care (i.e., 9923x with 250.00, 401.1).3