Many hospitalists provide palliative-care services to patients at the request of physicians within their own groups or from other specialists. Varying factors affect how hospitalists report these services—namely, the nature of the request and the type of service provided. Palliative-care programs can be quite costly as they involve several team members and a substantial amount of time delivering these services. Capturing services appropriately and obtaining reimbursement to help continue program initiatives is pertinent.
Nature of the Request
Members of a palliative-care team often are called on to provide management options to assist in reducing pain and suffering associated with both terminal and nonterminal disease, thereby improving a patient’s quality of life. When a palliative-care specialist is asked to provide an opinion or advice, the initial service could qualify as a consultation. However, all requirements must be met in order to report the service as an inpatient consultation (codes 99251-99255).
There must be a written request from a qualified healthcare provider involved in the patient’s care (e.g., a physician, resident, or nurse practitioner). In the inpatient setting, this request can be documented as a physician order or in the assessment of the requesting provider’s progress note. Standing orders for consultation are not permitted. Ideally, the requesting provider should identify the reason for a consult to support the medical necessity of the service.
Additionally, the palliative-care physician renders and documents the service, then reports findings to the requesting physician. The consultant’s required written report does not have to be sent separately to the requesting physician. Because the requesting physician and the consultant share a common medical record in an inpatient setting, the consultant’s inpatient progress note suffices the “written report” requirement.
One concern about billing consultations involves the nature of the request. If the requesting physician documents the need for an opinion or advice from the palliative-care specialist, the service can be reported as a consultation. If, however, the request states consult for “medical management” or “palliative management,” it’s less likely that payors will consider the service a consultation. In the latter situation, it appears as if the requesting physician is not seeking an opinion or advice from the consultant to incorporate into his own plan of care for the patient and would rather the consultant take over that portion of patient care.
Recently revised billing policies prevent the consultant from billing consults under these circumstances. Without a sufficient request for consultation, the palliative-care specialist can only report “subsequent” hospital care services.1 Language that better supports the consultative nature of the request is:
- Consult for an opinion or advice on palliative measures;
- Consult for evaluation of palliative options; and
- Consult palliative care for treatment options.