For all the differences highlighted in my April and May columns studying the 1995 and 1997 documentation guidelines set forth by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the American Medical Association (AMA), decision making remains consistent in both.
Physician documentation addresses the complexity of the patient’s condition in terms of the number of diagnoses and/or treatment options, the amount and/or complexity of data ordered/reviewed, and the risk of complications/morbidity/mortality. The “diagnoses” and “data” categories follow a point system (see Table 1, below) determined by local Medicare contractors, whereas the “risk” category utilizes a universal table to define medical and/or procedural risks for the patient. The final result of complexity is classified as straightforward, low, moderate, or high.
A complete and accurate description of the patient’s condition should be conveyed through the plan of care. While acuity and severity may be inferred by a physician’s colleagues from particular pieces of information included in the record (e.g., critical lab values), the importance of this information may be lost on auditors and medical record reviewers. This article will assist in explaining the categories of medical decision making, as well as provide documentation tips to best represent patient complexity.
Diagnoses, Care Options
The plan of care outlines problems the physician personally manages and those that affect their management options, even if another physician directly oversees the problem. For example, the hospitalist may primarily manage a patient’s diabetes while the nephrologist manages renal insufficiency. Since the renal insufficiency may affect the hospitalist’s plan for diabetic management, the hospitalist receives credit for the documented renal insufficiency diagnosis and hospitalist-related care plan.
Physicians should address all problems in the documentation for each encounter regardless of any changes to the treatment plan. Credit is provided for each problem that has an associated plan, even if the plan states “continue same treatment.” Additional credit is provided when the treatment to be “continued” is referenced somewhere in the progress note (e.g., in the history).
The amount of credit varies depending upon the problem type. An established problem, defined as having a care plan established by the physician or someone from the same group practice during the current hospitalization, is considered less complex than an undiagnosed new problem for which a prognosis cannot be determined. Severity of the problem affects the weight of complexity. A stable, improving problem is not as complex as a progressing problem.