The amount and complexity of medical knowledge we need to keep up with is changing and growing at a remarkable rate. I was trained in an era in which it was taken as a given that congestive heart failure patients should not receive beta-blockers; now it is a big mistake if we don’t prescribe them in most cases. But even before starting medical school, most of us realize that things will change a lot, and many of us see that as a good thing. It keeps our work interesting. Just recently, our hospital had a guest speaker who talked about potential medical applications of nanotechnology. It was way over my head, but it sounded pretty cool.
While I was prepared for ongoing changes in medical knowledge, I failed to anticipate how quickly the business of medicine would change during my career. I think the need to keep up with ever-increasing financial and regulatory issues siphons a lot of time and energy that could be used to keep up with the medical knowledge base. I wasn’t prepared for this when I started my career.
Because it is the start of a new year, I thought I would highlight one issue related to CPT coding: Medicare stopped recognizing consult codes as of Jan. 1 (see “Consultation Elimination,” p. 31).
What It Means for Hospitalists
The good news is that we can just use initial hospital visit codes, inpatient or observation, for all new visits. For example, it won’t matter anymore whether I’m admitting and serving as attending for a patient, or whether a surgeon admitted the patient and asked me to consult for preoperative medical evaluation (“clearance”). I should use the same CPT code in either situation, simply appending a modifier if I’m the admitting physician. And for billing purposes, we won’t have to worry about documenting which doctor requested that we see the patient, though it is a good idea to document it as part of the clinical record anyway.
But it gets a little more complicated. The codes aren’t going away or being removed from the CPT “bible” published by the American Medical Association (AMA). Instead, Medicare simply won’t recognize them anymore. Other payors probably will follow suit within a few months, but that isn’t certain. So it is possible that when asked by a surgeon to provide a preoperative evaluation, you will need to bill an initial hospital (or office or nursing facility) care visit if the patient is on Medicare but bill a consult code if the patient has other insurance. You should check with your billers to ensure you’re doing this correctly.