Surgery Coding for Beginners

By Erica Schwalm

 

 

Before you begin to code surgeries, you must first thoroughly understand the global surgical package concept, use of modifiers, and correct coding policies. 

 

What is this global surgical package?  There are multiple necessary services rendered by a surgeon when performing a procedure.   These services form a “surgical package”.   For example, if a surgeon needs to remove a gallbladder, he or she would have to perform multiple services to accomplish this: prepping the patient for surgery, making an abdominal incision, and repairing the surgical wound to name a few.  When an insurance company pays for the surgery, the payment is made for the entire “package” of services rather than for each individual service provided.   When you submit code 47600 for the gallbladder removal, you should not also submit codes for the laparotomy or the wound repair because the payment you will receive already includes payment for these services. 

 

Look at it this way:  When you go the bakery to buy a cake, you are not charged separately for the sugar or the eggs needed to make that cake.  The price you pay for that cake includes all the ingredients.     

 

What is included in the global surgical package?

**Notice some differences between CPT and CMS guidelines!!**

 

Per CPT:

·        The operation itself and intraoperative care

·        Local anesthesia

·        One related E/M service subsequent to the decision for surgery. 

·        Writing orders

·        Routine supplies (provided by the surgeon’s office)

·        Evaluation of the patient in the postanesthesia recovery area

·        Typical postoperative follow-up care – including usual complications - for a designated number of days (global days) depending on the global period assigned to the CPT code. 

 

Per CMS:  

·        The operation itself and intraoperative care

·        Local and regional anesthesia

·        One related E/M service subsequent to the decision for surgery.

·        Writing orders

·        All supplies (provided by the surgeon’s office)

·        Evaluation of the patient in the postanesthesia recovery area

·        All related postoperative follow-up care – including complications that do not require a return to the operating room - for a designated number of days depending on the global period assigned to the CPT code. 

 

 

What are global days? 

The period of time following each surgery that is included in the surgical package is established by the payor.  This is referred to as the global surgery period or global days. 

 

Many payors follow CMS (Medicare) guidelines for determining the number of global days.  The global period is usually 90 days for major procedures and 0 or 10 days for minor procedures. 

 

To determine the number of global days a particular procedure has (according to CMS), refer to the National Physician Fee Schedule Relative Value File, which can be downloaded for free at http://new.cms.hhs.gov/PhysicianFeeSched/PFSRVF/list.asp#TopOfPage. (also see my article Using the National Physician Fee Schedule Relative Value File)

 

What if the patient returns for services during the global period?

First you must determine how many global days were associated with the procedure and what kind of insurance they have.  (Remember, not all insurances follow the CMS guidelines.  You should query each payor).  Once you do this and determine the global concept does apply you can proceed as stated below.  (If the concept does not apply, then you would bill any services performed as usual.)   

 

·        If a patient returns to the surgeon’s office for a routine postoperative follow-up visit, including minor, expected/usual complications, you can not bill for this service.  It is included in the payment received for the surgery.  You may track the service using code 99024.  This also applies to routine follow-up visits in the hospital. 

 

·        If a patient returns for an office or hospital visit due to unusual or unexpected complications directly related to the procedure:

-         For payors that follow CMS guidelines: You cannot bill separately because all related postoperative follow-up care – including complications that do not require a return to the operating room are included. 

-         For all others:  You should bill the office visit with a –24 modifier (unrelated E/M service during post-op period).  

 

·        If a patient returns for a minor procedure in the office due to minor complications:

-         For payors that follow CMS guidelines: You cannot bill separately because all related postoperative follow-up care – including complications that do not require a return to the operating room are included. 

-         For all others: You should bill the procedure with a –79 Modifier (unrelated E/M service during post-op period)

 

·        If a patients returns to the office or hospital for an unrelated E/M service:

-         Bill the visit with modifier –24 (E/M service unrelated to the original procedure)

 

·        If a patient returns to the office or the operating room for an unrelated procedure:

-         Bill the procedure with a –79 modifier (unrelated procedure during the post-op period)

-         A new post-op period begins when using –79 modifier

 

·        If a patient is returned to the operating room for a related procedure: 

-         Bill the surgery with a –78 modifier (Return to operating room for a related procedure).  A new post-op period does not begin. 

 

·        If a patient returns to office or operating room for a staged procedure (planned) or a procedure that is more extensive than the original procedure:

-         Bill the surgery with a –58 modifier (staged or related procedure).

-          A new post-op period begins when using –58 modifier.

 

You should review the Surgery Guidelines in your CPT manual to fully understand the CPT definition of the Surgical Package. 

 

See also the following helpful links to understand CMS’s guidelines:

 

* CMS’s Global Surgery Guidelines

http://new.cms.hhs.gov/manuals/downloads/clm104c12.pdf

 

* NHIC’s General Surgery Billing Guide

http://www.medicarenhic.com/providers/pubs/surgerygd_may05.pdf

 

* Modifiers 58, 78 and 79

 http://www.medicarenhic.com/providers/billing/surgerymod_0704.htm

 

* Billing Tips to Avoid Global Surgery Denials http://www.medicarenhic.com/providers/billing/globalsurgtips_0605.htm

 

National Correct Coding Initiative (NCCI) Edits & Correct Coding Policy Manual:

CMS publishes the NCCI edits and the National Correct Coding Policy Manual, which can be downloaded for free at http://www.cms.hhs.gov/physicians/cciedits/. 

 

You should fully understand both of these resources when coding surgical procedures.

 

Below are just some of the common policies found in the National Correct Coding Policy Manual that you should be aware of.   I highly recommend that every coder read the entire manual. 

 

·        Coding based on standards of medical practice.  Any activities that are integral to a procedure are considered to be included in each surgical code.  Some examples of services that are integral to all codes are:

-         Cleansing, shaving, and prepping of skin

-         Draping, prepping and positioning of the patient

-         Insertion of IV access for medication

-         Anesthesia administered by the physician performing the procedure

-         Surgical approach including:  identification of anatomical landmarks, incision & evaluation/exploration of surgical field, simple debridement of traumatized tissue, lysis of simple adhesions and isolation of structures that are limiting access to the surgical field.  

-         Wound irrigation and surgical cultures

-         Insertion and removal of drains, suction devices, dressings and pumps into same site

-         Surgical closure

 

Generally, if a service is necessary to successfully accomplish a procedure and failure to perform it would compromise the success of the procedure, it is considered to be an integral part – bundled – and should not be billed separately. 

 

EXAMPLE: 

**Lysis of adhesions and exploratory laparotomy reported with colon resection or other abdominal procedure.   These procedures represent gaining access to the organ system of interest and are NOT separately reported. 

 

** However, lysis of adhesions that are extensive (more than an hour) would be considered unusual and modifier –22 can be used on the colon resection or other abdominal procedure code.  Per the NHIC Part B Resource (March 2005, pg 120) – “lysis of adhesions that requires greater than one hour would be considered outside the range for expected difficulty”.

 

Generally, when a lesser service is followed by a more extensive service on the same anatomic location, only the more extensive service is reported.  EXAMPLE: A lesion is biopsied and then destroyed - bill only for the destruction because it is more extensive.

 

·        Endoscopic procedures:

 

-         Surgical endoscopies always include diagnostic endoscopy.  (e.g.  pt goes in for a screening colonoscopy – 45378, but ends up having a polyp removed.  Only the code for the surgical procedure would be coded – 45385)

 

-         “Scout” endoscopies performed prior to an open procedure to establish the location or extent of a lesion, or evaluation for anatomic assess represent a part of assessment of the surgical field.  This is necessary to accomplish the overall procedure and is not billed separately.                           

 

HOWEVER, if the intent was a diagnostic endoscopy for the purpose of an initial diagnosis and the decision to perform a procedure was made based on the endoscopy, it may be appropriate to report the diagnostic endoscopy separately and bill the open surgical procedure with a –58 modifier. 

 

EXAMPLES: 

1.  A patient, who has already been diagnosed with lung disease, comes in for a lobectomy.  Prior to opening the patient, the surgeon performs a bronchoscopy to evaluate the extent of the lesion.  It would not be appropriate to bill the diagnostic bronchoscopy, as it is part of the assessment of the surgical field. 

 

2.  A different patient with an abnormal chest x-ray, who has not had a definite diagnosis made, is scheduled for a diagnostic bronchoscopy.  During the bronchoscopy, the surgeon discovers that the patient has extensive lung cancer and decides the patient needs surgery right away.  The surgeon gets consent from the patient and proceeds at that point with an open lobectomy.  In this case it would be appropriate to bill the bronchoscopy separately, as it was not performed as part of the open procedure but a separate and distinct procedure. 

 

-         Endoscopic procedures converted to open procedures.  When an endoscopic procedure is attempted but fails and another surgical procedure is necessary, code only the successful procedure.  For example, if laparoscopic cholecystectomy is attempted and fails and an open cholecystectomy is performed, code only the open cholecystectomy.  In some cases, if the surgery was extensive, it may be appropriate to append modifier –22 (unusual procedural services).

 

Abdominal Procedures:

·        Appendectomies are commonly performed incidentally during many abdominal procedures.  The appendectomy is only reported separately if it is medically necessary.

·        Hernia repairs are reported only if it is medically necessary at a different incisional site.  If, in the course of an open abdominal procedure, a hernia is repaired “on the way” to the organ system of interest, it is considered incidental and not billed separately. 

·        When a recurrent hernia requires repair, the appropriate recurrent hernia repair code is reported. 

 

Remember, these are just some of the guidelines in the National Correct Coding Policy Manual.  There are many, many more guidelines.  The manual should be reviewed!  In addition, there are many other resources that will be utilized when surgery coding. 

 

Tips for coding from the operative report:

 

1.                  Copy the op note so you can write all over it.

 

2.                  As you read it, cross off any non-coding information. (Re-read it multiple times if necessary!!!)

 

3.                  Identify what was done and the approach used (e.g. was it open or laparoscopic?).

 

4.                  Use dictionary and anatomy books for unfamiliar terms.

 

5.                  Code everything.  Write all codes down on op note. 

 

6.                  If you can’t decide between a couple of codes, use the Coder’s Desk Reference and compare the description to the op note.  (This is a book that explains procedures in layman’s terms.  I highly recommend that every coder have one of these.  It is published by Ingenix at can be purchased at http://www.codingandreimbursement.net/store.php).

 

7.                  Get help from fellow coders and the surgeon if necessary. 

 

8.                  Check the NCCI edits and the National Correct Coding Policy Manual for bundling issues and cross off any codes that can’t be billed separately. 

 

9.                  Review the patient’s record for insurance information – beware of any carrier-specific guidelines, Medicare NCDs and LCDs - and to see if the patient is in a global period from a previous surgery.  

 

10.              Check for possible modifier use.

 

11.               If there are multiple procedures, list first the code with the highest RVU. 

 

12.              ICD-9 code the surgery and be sure to link diagnoses if more than one procedure. 

 

13.              Take your time!!!!  You will get faster the more you do it.  Being a surgical coder takes a lot of practice.