Although medical needs can be quantified, there are often other, nonmedical factors that put patients at risk and influence when and whether a patient is admitted. Physicians routinely weigh these factors on behalf of their patients.
“Risk isn’t necessarily implied by just a dangerous blood value,” Dr. Flansbaum says. “If something is not right in the transition zone or in the community, I think those [factors] need to be taken into account.”
Physicians are being given “a lot of latitude” in CMS’ new rule, he notes.
In recent clarification, CMS highlighted exceptions to the rule. If “unforeseen circumstances” shorten the anticipated stay of someone initially deemed inpatient—transfer to another hospital, death, or clinical improvement in fewer than two midnights, for example—CMS can advise auditors to approve the inpatient claim.
Additionally, CMS will maintain a list of services considered “inpatient only,” regardless of stay duration.
But creating a list of every medically necessary service is an “administrative black hole,” says Dr. Flansbaum, though he believes that with enough time and clarity, compliance with the two-midnight rule is possible.
Kelly April Tyrrell is a freelance writer in Wilmington, Del.