Coding & Documentation


Fam Pract Manag. 2008 Jun;15(6):35.

Diagnosis code order


Does the order in which diagnoses are listed on the claim matter? Must the order on the encounter form match the order on the claim?


Yes, the order does matter. The physician should list on the encounter form the diagnosis (ICD-9) code that is associated with the main reason for the visit. This is the primary diagnosis, and in most cases it should be listed first on the claim form, followed by codes that describe any coexisting conditions that affect patient care, treatment or management. Each diagnosis code should be linked to the service (CPT) code to which it relates; this helps to establish medical necessity. Any changes to codes or to the order in which they are listed on the claim should be approved by the physician. In some cases, the ICD-9 guidelines may require that certain codes be reordered. For example, the physician may list an ulcer of the ankle first, followed by a related condition such as diabetes. However, because ICD-9 instructs to “Code, if applicable, any causal condition first,” the code for diabetes with other specified manifestations, 250.8X, might need to be listed first, followed by 707.13 for the ulcer.

When a review of systems isn't possible


When you cannot obtain a review of systems (ROS) from a patient due to his or her condition, how do you determine the level of the history?


The Documentation Guidelines for Evaluation and Management Services addresses this by indicating that if the physician is unable to obtain a history from the patient or other source, the record should describe the patient's condition or other circumstance which precludes obtaining a history. You should document why the ROS was not possible and obtain a history of the present illness and a past, family and social history from the family, caregiver or past medical records as appropriate.

New patient definition


Can an established patient who acquires new insurance be considered a new patient?


No. Insurance status is not a factor in the CPT definition of a new patient, which is the definition that most payers use. According to CPT, a new patient is “one who has not received any professional services from the physician, or another physician of the same specialty who belongs to the same group practice, within the past three years.” To learn more about new versus established patients, see “Understanding When to Use the New Patient E/M Codes,” FPM, September 2003.

Critical care and site of service


Does the patient have to be in the emergency department or hospital for the physician to report critical care services?


No. Though usually provided in an emergency department or other hospital setting, critical care services are not limited by site of service. However, both the illness or injury and the treatment delivered must meet the requirements defined in CPT. The introductory text to codes 99291 and 99292 in the CPT manual includes information you may find helpful. Note that a critical care service of less than 30 minutes total duration should be reported with another appropriate evaluation and management (E/M) code.

About the Author

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Cindy Hughes is the AAFP's coding and compliance specialist and is a contributing editor to Family Practice Management....

Author disclosure: nothing to disclose. These answers were reviewed by the FPM Coding & Documentation Review Panel, which includes Robert H. Bosl, MD, FAAFP; Marie Felger, CPC, CCS-P; Thomas A. Felger, MD, DABFP, CMCM; David Filipi, MD, MBA, and the Coding and Compliance Department of Physicians Clinic; Emily Hill, PA-C; Kent Moore; Joy Newby, LPN, CPC; P. Lynn Sallings, CPC; and Susan Welsh, CPC, MHA.

Editor's note: While this department attempts to provide accurate information and useful advice, third-party payers may not accept the coding and documentation recommended. You should refer to the current CPT and ICD-9 manuals and the Documentation Guidelines for Evaluation and Management Services for the most detailed and up-to-date information.


Copyright © 2008 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
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