Radiology Billing Mistakes

A radiology practice that performs interventional procedures will want to be up to date on the use of documentation and coding techniques for Evaluation and Management (E&M) services.  These CPT® codes in the 99xxx range are less commonly utilized in radiology practices.  Identifying circumstances where E&M services are billable, and then properly documenting and coding for them, will require a collaborative effort between the interventional radiologist (IR) and the coding team. Proper documentation is critical to achieving appropriate reimbursement. If the proper terminology is no used or important descriptors are omitted from the radiology report, the physician may not get paid for the services he or she performed.


Consultations vs. Office Visits


A patient’s visit with the IR prior to a procedure can variously be considered a consultation, an office visit, or a component part of the procedure depending on the circumstances.  A “consultation” is defined as a service that:

– Requires an opinion or advice regarding the evaluation and management of a specific problem, and

– Is requested by another physician or other appropriate source.


The consultant’s opinion and any services that are ordered or performed must be documented in the patient’s medical record and communicated by written report to the requesting physician.   A consultation initiated by a patient or family member, but not requested by a physician, is not reported using consultation codes but rather will be reported using the office visit codes.


Consultation codes normally carry a higher reimbursement than office visit codes for the same level of service.  However, note that Medicare will not allow the use of consultation codes, so for Medicare patients the regular Office Visit codes will be used in all cases for either a new or established patient.  A “new patient” is one who did not receive any professional services from the IR or another IR physician who belongs to the same group practice within the previous three years.


Not Documenting the Actual # and Specific Views in a Study


A knee exam has four different CPT codes based on the number and type of views — and if you aren’t documenting the precise number and/or specific views, you have to code to the lowest level. It’s not enough for your office to have a list of standard views for each exam, the imaging report must specify what was done so that the coder can choose the proper codes. “Four views of the knee” is acceptable language in the medical report, but it’s even better if the radiologist can give details, such as “AP, lateral, and both obliques” to support the CPT code. Remember, the key is number of views and not the number of films.


Determine if the service is separately billable


The initial visit might also be considered by Medicare to be a component part of the surgical procedure.  The rules that define payment for E&M services use a concept called the Global Period (GP).  The global period begins on the day of the procedure (or on the preceding day in the case of a 90-day GP) and, depending on the CPT code for the procedure, could run for 0, 10 or 90 days.  Generally, E&M visits for the purpose of deciding whether or not to perform a procedure are billable and payable if they occur outside of the GP.  During the GP, all services related to the procedure are included as a component part of the surgical package, and therefore are not separately reimbursable.  However, for a procedure with a 90-day GP, considered to be a “major surgery”, an E&M service performed on the same day or preceding day for the purpose of deciding whether to perform the procedure may be separately reported and payable with the addition of Modifier -57.

Radiopharmaceuticals are not included in diagnostic nuclear medicine and PET scans and can be billed separately by hospitals and private imaging facilities. Type and amount of radiopharmaceuticals must be clearly documented in the technique portion of the study before the supply codes can be added.


The global period rules also preclude reimbursement for any follow-up visits that take place subsequent to the procedure but within the GP.  These should be reported to Medicare with the modifier ‘GP’ to indicate that they took place but are not to be reimbursed.


In the IR clinic, having the initial patient consultation with the physician at a time distinctly separate from the procedure itself will allow the billing of E&M codes in addition to the coding for the procedure.  Otherwise, a consultation on the same day as the procedure or on the day preceding the procedure will usually not be separately billable.


Determine the Level of Service


E & M services are comprised of seven components that go into determining the level of billing (Level 1 through Level 5).  It is imperative that the documentation in the medical record contains all of the components used to support the level of billing.  The determinant components include:


  • History (Key Component)
  • Examination (Key Component)
  • Medical Decision Making (Key Component)
  • Counseling
  • Coordination of Care
  • Nature of Presenting Problem
  • Time


For example, if a radiologist sees a patient at the request of the patient’s physician, for the purpose of providing a consultation to that physician concerning the patient’s suitability to undergo a therapeutic interventional procedure, an E&M service described by CPT code 99241 (or 99201 for Medicare) should document the following:


  • the physician referral for the consultation
  • a problem-focused history
  • a problem-focused examination, and
  • straightforward medical decision making.


The ACR notes “for E&M service provided that consist predominantly of time spent in counseling (more than 50 percent), the three-key-component requirement is waived in favor of the amount of time spent in the counseling encounter.”


Incompletely Documenting and Coding Contrast Studies


CT scans and MRIs are only considered contrast studies if the contrast is administered intravenously; oral and rectal contrast doesn’t count as a contrast study. Beyond that, make sure the documentation accurately reflects whether the study was performed without IV contrast, with IV contrast, or without followed by with contrast. Keep an eye on coding parentheticals to look for additional coding opportunities on contrast studies.


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