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In the exam room, the distinction between one type of visit and another isn't always clear. It's important to know when — and how — you can bill for both.

Fam Pract Manag. 2022;29(1):15-20

This content conforms to AAFP criteria for CME.

Author disclosures: no relevant financial relationships.

In family medicine, it's common for a medical problem to crop up during a routine preventive visit, or for a preventive service to crop up during a problem-oriented visit. For example, let's say you're finishing up a Medicare annual wellness visit when the patient lifts his shirt and says, “Oh yeah, I'd also like you to look at this rash,” which results in a prescription. Or, at a follow-up visit for a patient's chronic condition, you notice he is overdue for a flu shot and colorectal screening, so you perform a preventive visit too.

From a coding perspective, there is a bright line between a preventive medicine visit and a problem-oriented visit. One is for promoting health and wellness, and the other is for addressing an acute or chronic medical problem. But in the exam room, the distinction isn't always clear. The question for family physicians is this: When does the work in the exam room warrant billing for two distinct services?

The answer lies in knowing the requirements for various preventive medicine and Medicare wellness visits, knowing when you've done enough beyond those requirements to also bill for a separate E/M service, and knowing how to document and code it all. The good news is the 2021 E/M coding changes made it easier than it used to be.


  • When physicians and other clinicians address a medical problem during a preventive or wellness visit, they can often bill for both services.

  • Knowing the core components of preventive or wellness visits can help physicians recognize when they have done enough work beyond those requirements to bill for a separate evaluation and management service.

  • Because preventive and wellness visits come with no cost sharing, it's best practice to explain to patients that a separate service performed during the same visit may result in a charge to them.


Preventive medicine visits (CPT codes 99381-99397) are for patients covered by commercial insurance, Medicaid plans, and some Medicare Advantage plans. Patients value these visits because they are not subject to co-pays and deductibles. After age two, one preventive visit is covered annually.

According to CPT, preventive medicine visits are “comprehensive preventive medicine evaluation and management services of an individual including an age and gender appropriate history, examination, counseling/anticipatory guidance/risk factor reduction interventions, and the ordering of laboratory/diagnostic procedures.”

Codes 99381-99387 are for new patients and 99391-99397 are for established patients. Both are further broken down by age group. The extent of the exam, the content of the counseling and anticipatory guidance, and the recommended screenings and immunizations vary depending on the patient's age and gender. “Comprehensive” in the CPT definition is not synonymous with the comprehensive exam required in other E/M services. This is a common misconception among physicians and patients alike.

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