Hospitalist billing depends on several factors. Know your role and avoid common mistakes Patient transfers can occur for many reasons: advanced technological services required, health insurance coverage, or a change in the level of care, to name a few. Patient care that is provided in the acute-care setting does not always terminate with discharge to home. Frequently, hospitalists are involved in patient transfers to another location to receive additional services: intrafacility (a different unit or related facility within the same physical plant) or interfacility (geographically separate facilities). The hospitalist must identify his or her role in the transfer and the patient’s new environment.
Physician billing in the transferred setting depends upon several factors:1
- Shared or merged medical record;
- The attending of record in each setting;
- The requirements for care rendered by the hospitalist in each setting; and
- Service dates.
Intrafacility Initial Service
Let’s examine a common example: A hospitalist serves as the “attending of record” in an inpatient hospital where acute care is required for an 83-year-old female with hypertension and diabetes who sustained a left hip fracture. The hospitalist plans to discharge the patient to the rehabilitation unit. After transfer, the rehabilitation physician becomes the attending of record, and the hospitalist might be asked to provide ongoing care for the patient’s hypertension and diabetes.
What should the hospitalist report for the initial post-transfer service? The typical options to consider are:2
- Inpatient consultation (99251-99255);
- Initial hospital care (99221-99223); and
- Subsequent hospital care (99231-99233).
Report a consultation only if the rehab attending requests an opinion or advice for an unrelated, new condition instead of previously treated conditions, and the requesting physician’s intent is for opinion or advice on management options rather than the a priori intent for the hospitalist to assume the patient’s medical care. If these requirements are met, the hospitalist may report an inpatient consultation code (99251-99255). Alternatively, if the intent or need represents a continuity of medical care provided during the acute episode of care, report the most appropriate subsequent hospital care code (99231-99233) for the hospitalist’s initial rehab visit and all follow-up services.
Initial hospital care (99221-99223) codes can only be reported for Medicare beneficiaries in place of consultation codes (99251-99255), as Medicare ceased to reimburse consultation codes.3 Most other payors who do not recognize consultation services only allow one initial hospital care code per hospitalization, reserved for the attending of record.
Interfacility Initial Service
Hospitalist groups provide patient care and coverage in many different types of facilities. Confusion often arises when the “attending of record” during acute care and the “subacute” setting (e.g. long-term acute-care hospital) are two different hospitalists from the same group practice. The hospitalist receiving the patient in the transfer facility may decide to report subsequent hospital care (99231-99233), because the group has been providing ongoing care to this patient. In this scenario, the hospitalist group could be losing revenue if an admission service (99221-99223) was not reported.
An initial hospital care service (99221-99223) is permitted when the transfer is between:
- Different hospitals;
- Different facilities under common ownership which do not have merged records; or
- Between the acute-care hospital and a PPS (prospective payment system)-exempt unit within the same hospital when there are no merged records (e.g. Medicare Part A-covered inpatient care in psychiatric, rehabilitation, critical access, and long-term care hospitals).4
In all other transfer circumstances not meeting the elements noted above, the physician should bill only the appropriate level of subsequent hospital care (99231-99233) for the date of transfer.1 Do not equate “merged records” to commonly accessible charts via an electronic medical record system or an electronic storage system. If the medical record for the patient’s acute stay is “closed” and the patient is given a separate medical record and registration for the stay in the transferred facility, consider the transfer stay as a separate admission.
Billing Two Services on Day of Transfer
Whether the transfer is classified as intrafacility or interfacility, an individual hospitalist or two separate hospitalists from the same group practice may provide the acute-care discharge and the transfer admission. A hospital discharge day management service (99238-99239) and an initial hospital care service (99221-99223) can only be reported if they do not occur on the same day.1 Physicians in the same group practice who are in the same specialty must bill and be paid as though they were a single physician; if more than one evaluation and management (face to face) service is provided on the same day to the same patient by the same physician or more than one physician in the same specialty in the same group, only one evaluation and management service may be reported.5
CMS will allow a single hospitalist or two hospitalists from the same group practice to report a discharge day management service on the same day as an admission service. When they are billed by the same physician or group with the same date of service, contractors are instructed to pay the hospital discharge day management code (99238-99239) in addition to a nursing facility admission code (99304-99306).6
Conversely, if the patient is admitted to a hospital (99221-99223) following a nursing facility discharge (99315-99316) on the same date by the same physician/group, insurers will only reimburse the initial hospital care code. Payment for the initial hospital care service includes all work performed by the physician/group in all sites of service on that date.
Carol Pohlig is a billing and coding expert with the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, Philadelphia. She is faculty for SHM’s inpatient coding course.
References available online at the-hospitalist.org