Practice Economics

Revenue Essentials


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

  • Periodic reports of claims billed on the physician’s behalf and data regarding payments;
  • Changes in procedure codes, diagnosis codes, or other information furnished by the physician without the physician’s knowledge and consent; and
  • Information received from Medicare and other payors.


Q: Should a hospitalist be concerned if the payer determines that they are an outlier of reported physician services?

A: There are several ways a payer can notify a physician that they are an outlier of reported physician services. The first notification could be a simple form letter that summarizes the aberrant billing pattern when compared to physicians of the same specialty. A copy of the associated billing/coding guidelines (e.g., Documentation Guidelines for Evaluation and Management Services) typically is included as a physician reminder. If the outlier pattern continues, the payor can request a sample of submitted physician claims for review. This request can occur before or after payment is received. Post-payment requests might result in refunds, whereas pre-payment requests might result in denied or reduced payments. Physicians whose documentation supports the reported services need not be concerned of the notifications and subsequent requests for documentation. Physicians whose documentation does not support the reported services should seek billing education to improve their coding/billing accuracy.—CP


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.

Discrepancy Notation

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.

Accounts Receivable

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.


  1. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Protecting Your Practice. CMS Web site. Available at: Accessed Aug. 2, 2009.
  2. Office of Inspector General. Work Plan Health Care Financing Administration Projects Fiscal Year 1999. Physicians: Billing Service Companies. Available at: Accessed Aug. 2, 2009.
  3. Office of Inspector General. OIG Compliance Program Guidance for Third-Party Medical Billing Companies in Federal Register, December 1998, Vol. 63; pages 70138-70152. Available at: Accessed Aug. 2, 2009.

Physician Alert

Billing services can be an asset to physicians who have limited resources or support in claim submission. It is important for physicians to be aware of the focus that billing companies have received from the government. The Office of Inspector General (OIG) has been monitoring these companies, even adding “Billing Services” to its review list in the late 1990s.

OIG reviews attempt to determine whether Medicare claims prepared and submitted by billing service companies are properly coded in accordance with the physician services provided to beneficiaries, and the agreements between providers and billing service companies meet Medicare criteria.2 Previous investigations resulted in compliance plans for billing companies in an effort to prevent upcoding or unbundling procedure codes to maximize Medicare payments to physicians, particularly for companies who were paid a percentage of recovered monies. Some of the risk areas that have been identified are:3

  • Billing for undocumented items or services;
  • Unbundling;
  • Upcoding;
  • Inappropriate balance billing;
  • Inadequate resolution of overpayments;
  • Lack of integrity in computer systems;
  • Billing for discharge in lieu of transfer;
  • Failure to properly use modifiers;
  • Billing company incentives that violate the anti-kickback statute or other similar federal or state statute or regulation;
  • Joint ventures;
  • Routine waiver of copayments and billing third-party insurance only; and
  • Discounts, professional courtesy.


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