Medical decision-making (MDM) mistakes are common. Here are the coding and documentation mistakes hospitalists make most often, along with some tips on how to avoid them.
Listing the problem without a plan. Healthcare professionals are able to infer the acuity and severity of a case without superfluous or redundant documentation, but auditors may not have this ability. Adequate documentation for every service date helps to convey patient complexity during a medical record review. Although the problem list may not change dramatically from day to day during a hospitalization, the auditor only reviews the service date in question, not the entire medical record.
Hospitalists should be sure to formulate a complete and accurate description of the patient’s condition with an analogous plan of care for each encounter. Listing problems without a corresponding plan of care does not corroborate physician management of that problem and could cause a downgrade of complexity. Listing problems with a brief, generalized comment (e.g. “DM, CKD, CHF: Continue current treatment plan”) equally diminishes the complexity and effort put forth by the physician.
Clearly document the plan. The care plan represents problems the physician personally manages, along with those that must also be considered when he or she formulates the management options, even if another physician is primarily managing the problem. For example, the hospitalist can monitor the patient’s diabetic management while the nephrologist oversees the chronic kidney disease (CKD). Since the CKD impacts the hospitalist’s diabetic care plan, the hospitalist may also receive credit for any CKD consideration if the documentation supports a hospitalist-related care plan, or comment about CKD that does not overlap or replicate the nephrologist’s plan. In other words, there must be some “value-added” input by the hospitalist.
Credit is given for the quantity of problems addressed as well as the quality. For inpatient care, an established problem is defined as one in which a care plan has been generated by the physician (or same specialty group practice member) during the current hospitalization. Established problems are less complex than new problems, for which a diagnosis, prognosis, or care plan has not been developed. Severity of the problem also influences complexity. A “worsening” problem is considered more complex than an “improving” problem, since the worsening problem likely requires revisions to the current care plan and, thus, more physician effort. Physician documentation should always:
- Identify all problems managed or addressed during each encounter;
- Identify problems as stable or progressing, when appropriate;
- Indicate differential diagnoses when the problem remains undefined;
- Indicate the management/treatment option(s) for each problem; and
- Note management options to be continued somewhere in the progress note for that encounter (e.g. medication list) when documentation indicates a continuation of current management options (e.g. “continue meds”).
Considering relevant data. “Data” is organized as pathology/laboratory testing, radiology, and medicine-based diagnostic testing that contributes to diagnosing or managing patient problems. Pertinent orders or results may appear in the medical record, but most of the background interactions and communications involving testing are undetected when reviewing the progress note. To receive credit:
- Specify tests ordered and rationale in the physician’s progress note, or make an entry that refers to another auditor-accessible location for ordered tests and studies; however, this latter option jeopardizes a medical record review due to potential lack of awareness of the need to submit this extraneous information during a payer record request or appeal.
- Document test review by including a brief entry in the progress note (e.g. “elevated glucose levels” or “CXR shows RLL infiltrates”); credit is not given for entries lacking a comment on the findings (e.g. “CXR reviewed”).
- Summarize key points when reviewing old records or obtaining history from someone other than the patient, as necessary; be sure to identify the increased efforts of reviewing the considerable number of old records by stating, “OSH (outside hospital) records reviewed and shows…” or “Records from previous hospitalization(s) reveal….”
- Indicate when images, tracings, or specimens are “personally reviewed,” or the auditor will assume the physician merely reviewed the written report; be sure to include a comment on the findings.
- Summarize any discussions of unexpected or contradictory test results with the physician performing the procedure or diagnostic study.