Medical Coding As A Modern Necessity

Medical Coding As A Modern Necessity

Nitin Chhoda provides reasons why medical coding is necessary and the role it has in a private practice setting.  By defining what medical coding is and what codes are involved, it helps simplify the process for practice owners and staff.

medical codingWhat is medical coding?

Medical coding is an important step between the treatment of a patient and medical billing for the procedures, tests, and services. Clinicians will talk to patients, administer or order tests, and write down notes about each visit.

Those notes may describe what the patient needed, and in turn a medical coding staff member will translate each billable item into the assigned medical code.

Every doctor, medical clinic, and hospital must record a patient visit and include any procedures and tests performed. No matter whether the patient, their health insurance company, or another party is paying the bill, medical coding will take place to document how the bill should be drawn up.

What are the codes that are used?

There are a few kinds of necessary codes that medical coding staff members handle. The first is ICD-9 codes, or the International Classification of Diseases codes.

The number 9 refers to the version of this form of classification, and in 2013 a new version will be introduced, ICD-10.  CPT codes, or current procedural terminology codes provide a list of alphanumeric codes used by medical coding professionals in the United States.

HCPCS codes, or Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System codes, are used for Medicare and other insurance programs. All codes were developed in an attempt to streamline and standardize the way medical procedures and tests are described and billed.

Why is this necessary?

The most interesting thing about medical coding is that it comes from an interest in standardization. The fact is that most medical procedures can be described in a single way – medical tests and processes have been developed over time, and while that development continues, clinicians are taught a right way to do things fairly consistently.

modern medical codingMedical coding allows a medical facility to bill for anything using a standardized system.

If one hospital performs a surgery and describes it differently from another hospital, even though the procedure is essentially the same, a health insurance company is going to have a hard time determining whether or not they truly are the same procedure.

Rather than spending the time guessing about the appropriate amount that should be billed, medical coding allows everyone to agree in advance that a certain code can be billed at a certain rate.

Does that really work?

The sad thing is that this attempt at a system works in some ways and fails in other ways. The first problem is that health insurance companies change their billing requirements constantly.

Even if a certain medical code is used for a certain test, the billable amount for that test may have changed. Laws attempt to keep things flexible and reasonable, but everyone is still trying not to spend any more money than they absolutely have to.

On the other hand, medical coding has made it possible for trends in diseases and public health and safety problems to be tracked at local and national and even international levels. This kind of information and the data collected through medical coding can help to improve medical care.

Medical Coding Latest Trends

Medical Coding Latest Trends

Medical coding is a complicated task, and requires constant updating. NItin Chhoda shares the main tasks of a medical coder and the importance of using certified people.

medical coding trendsBecause medical coding is such an important task, many clinics assign a medical coder to do the job. Sometimes the medical coder and the medical biller are the same person, especially in a smaller clinic.

But medical coding is a complex task that requires a detail oriented approach and specific knowledge. Some of the most recent trends in medical coding have shown an increase in the demand for certified medical coders.

Updates to Codes

A certified medical coder for physical therapy billing is required to spend a certain amount of time studying medical coding before they become certified.

You don’t have to have a degree or certification to work as a medical coder, but you do have to understand medical terminology and have a good education in physiology and anatomy.

Reading what a clinician has written and assigning the appropriate medical codes would be hard if you don’t know what the clinician is talking about.

But another advantage of hiring a certified medical coder is that they will be required to take continuing education courses and re-certify regularly. That means that when changes are being made to medical coding websites, the medical coding staff member will be updated through courses.

One very important change that is coming soon is the switch from ICD-9 codes to ICD-10 codes, which will occur in October of 2013. An additional 100,000 codes will be introduced into the system, and the ICD-9 codes only number about 13,600 codes. This change is going to affect every single health care provider in the country.

Education and Job Outlookmedical coding latest trends

As a result of the need for skilled medical coding professionals, the job of a medical coder is looking pretty steady for the next decade and beyond.

Competitive certification programs are popping up all across the country. For people looking for a steady and well-paid job, medical coding is a good option these days.

There have been a few recent trends in medical coding education. Most significantly, more and more medical clinics want to hire certified medical coders rather than someone they will have to train themselves.

A skilled and experienced coder will be able to handle the job efficiently and they will be learning how to deal with changes and updates as part of their re-certification courses. With this kind of confidence-inducing education, certified medical coders are a well-respected part of successful medical practices.

Paperwork vs. Electronic Medical Records

Another big adjustment that is rapidly changing the way medical coding is done is the introduction of electronic medical records. For some coders, this sounds like the best idea yet. EMR systems might make their jobs faster and more efficient, allowing for coding and billing to occur side-by-side within the computer program.

Some medical coding professionals are not so enthusiastic. They see plenty of potential for problems with security and privacy. But as electronic systems evolve and the need for better electronic security arises, it seems that security companies are developing the proper privacy measures to accommodate a paper-free medical coding environment.

Medical Billing Basics

Medical Billing Basics

The basics of medical billing and its role in the physical therapy business are shared by the licensed physical therapist, Nitin Chhoda. He emphasizes the difference between medical billing and regular businesse billing.

medical billing basicsClosely followed by the process of medical coding is the medical billing step. These two important parts of any practice are closely related and intertwined.

They work together like the contract administrator and the biller who must base billing on the details of the contract.

In small practices, the medical coding staff member is the same person as the medical biller. It is likely that this trend will continue as medical coding and medical billing systems become more efficient and more integrated.

What is medical billing and why is it different from other forms of billing?

The primary difference between medical billing and any other billing is that medical billing requires an incredible amount of attention to detail and specific codes for each procedure. Naturally, there are other billing processes that are similar, but medical billing seems to be one of the most complex of them all.

Medical billing is what health care providers and health insurance companies go through to get medical expenses paid to the health care provider. The first step is the visit of a patient to the health care provider. The clinician will attempt to diagnose the problem the patient is having in an attempt to classify the exchange for the health insurance company.

Medical Coding and Billing

The billable services are then coded by the medical coding staff member and those codes are used for medical billing to the health insurance company. The rates for services are pre-set by the insurance company and the clinic, which is why clinics only take certain types of health insurance.

They have to negotiate prices with each company they work with. If there are any mistakes in the medical billing service and process, the insurance company will reject or deny the claim.

A rejected claim is a bill that has some clerical, invalid codes, or any other minor detail that can be a cause for rejection. Rejected claims must be researched by the medical biller and re-submitted correctly.

medical billing basicsDenied claims have been processed but the insurance company has deemed them unpayable. A denied claim can be re-submitted or appealed if the medical biller believed the denial was unfounded.

Medical Billers and EMR

Medical billers have to deal with about a 50% rejection and denial rate. There are so many opportunities to make mistakes and insurers are much quicker to deny or reject a claim than they are to pay one.

The back and forth can be frustrating and exhausting. But more importantly, this paperwork headache is incredibly time consuming. Medical billing has turned into a very inefficient process and medical billers can start to feel that they are wasting incredible amounts of time just because of a tiny mistake. Medical billing can be a tough job.

Electronic medical records are attempting to streamline the process, however, and the job of the medical biller may get easier in the very near future. Many EMR systems are actively marketed as easy-to-use for medical billing. They can decrease the occurrence of mistakes and speed up the corrections process.

Medical Billing And Coding In-House

Medical Billing And Coding In-House

Whether your medical billing and coding should be in-housed or outsourced, there are certain things that are worth considering.  Nitin Chhoda shares the advantages of an in-house medical billing and coding for a small or new private practice.

medical billing and coding in-houseOne of the biggest considerations for many practices is whether or not to conduct the medical billing and coding in-house or to outsource the work.

The question tends to focus on costs, which makes sense.

If your practice can save money by hiring a company to handle the medical billing and coding for you, why hire someone in-house?

But of course, calculating how you are best served is not all that simple. The determination often depends on the size of the office, how many claims need to be filed per day, how many clinicians work at the practice, and the costs of related hardware and software.

And of course, does in-house medical billing and coding improve the rate at which your claims are accepted and paid, or will outsourcing improve collection rates?

Benefits of In-House Billers

The most obvious decision will have to do with the amount of billing that your in-house billers and coders can handle.

In a very small practice, where the receptionist can handle scheduling, medical coding, and medical billing without being overwhelmed, hiring out medical billing and coding is probably unnecessary. And there are a few benefits to having the medical billing and coding professional right there in the office with clinicians.

When you can talk to your medical billing and coding staff member directly, all the details can be accessed at any time about any claim. One downside of an off-site service is that you have less control over and less access to your billing history.

Some services will provide reporting as a scheduled service or on demand. But timing will still be hampered by the fact that the medical billing and coding staff handling your practice probably has a number of practices to worry about. The process becomes less personal.

medical billing and coding needsAnother benefit of in-house medical billing and coding is that the information only has to be communicated once.

In other words, in many ways an outsourced system will require that someone put in a decent amount of work to get the billing accomplished.

In the most efficient scenario, you could simply scan relevant documents and hope they understand what is written.

But outsourcing will not mean that all aspect of medical billing and coding will be handled elsewhere. Someone still needs to be available for communication and transfer of information.

Size Matters When it Comes to Price

As you can imagine, the larger a practice gets, the more efficient an in-house biller can be. If you have a very small office, hiring one or two staff members just to handle medical billing and coding careers will be very expensive. In a private practice, there is a fine line to be drawn between having one staff member to handle everything administrative, and having too much work for a single staff member to handle.

When staff members with lots of responsibilities get overwhelmed, all tasks begin to suffer. And when medical billing and coding suffers, the entire practice is put in jeopardy.

Insurance Eligibility Determination

Insurance Eligibility Determination

Nitin Chhoda shares why verifying insurance eligibility should happen before and not after treating patients.

insurance eligibility determinationThe biggest challenges for medical coders and billers come from health insurance companies and its insurance eligibility.

With such high rates of rejection and denial of claims, the medical biller or coder, or physical therapy billing staff can be responsible for significant losses and a reduction in efficiency that can be damaging to the practice.

Claims submission rules change from company to company, not to mention for federal, state, and local programs. To reduce rejections and denials, take these steps to make sure you determine insurance eligibility.

Determining insurance eligibility should be done at the very beginning of any patient induction process. Ideally, before the patient even shows up for their appointment, so that you and the patient will already know what is covered and what is not.

Goals to Focus On

Remember that the purpose of checking for insurance eligibility will help you stay focused. Your goals should be to minimize claim denials and re-submittals, as well as eliminate any unpaid balances that patients owe. If you can keep those goals in mind, you will have an easier time controlling the aspects of the process that you can control.

Change Workflows

Another key thing to remember when it comes to insurance eligibility verification is that your patients likely have no idea what their insurance plan covers and does not cover. Many practices institute a pre-screening process to get some basic information from the client and learn what their expectations are before they have any bills to pay.

Pre-screening for insurance eligibility may be hard to get used to at first, because it will require that the medical biller actively spends time finding out information. That time will be hard to find for most medical billers.

On the other hand, consider the amount of time that you spend dealing with rejections, denials, and re-submittals of forms. How much is it hurting the practice to carry a large balance in accounts receivable?

And wouldn’t it be more time and cost effective if you got that part of determining insurance eligibility out of the way from the beginning? The answer to that last question is a definite yes! So consider starting with a workflow that adds a bit of time at the beginning but cuts a lot of time on the other end of the billing and insurance eligibility process.

Communication is Keyinsurance eligibility requirements

It may be difficult at first, but you will get used to talking to clients regularly about their insurance status. New patients will be easy.

If you use the approach that you are trying to help them, they should be amenable to giving you answers where they can.

Let them know that you understand how complicated it is, but that it will be easier for them and for you if you both figure it out now.

But it’s not only new patients you need to worry about. Patients whose coverage changes or who you haven’t seen in a while will also need verification of insurance eligibility.

If you can make some small changes, you can figure out just how much a patient will owe even before you file any claims. Ideally, you can even ask patients about their insurance eligibility and have them pay their portion up-front, entirely eliminating unpaid balances from accounts receivable.

Claims Submission Made Easy

Claims Submission Made Easy

Timely claim submission is an important role of medical billing staff. Nitin Chhoda discusses why regularly submitting accurate claims are vital and should be the first priority of any billing staff.

claims submission goalsPerhaps because claims submission will take up the largest proportion of a medical billers time, claims submission is also one of the most frustrating parts of the job.

Getting rejected or denied 50% of the time can start to wear on a medical biller pretty quickly.

And yet, that is a normal rate of rejection. So how can you make the job of medical biller easier? It turns out that a few simple steps can change not only the way you feel about claims submission, but you may be able to improve results, too.

Priority #1

The importance of timely and accurate medicare claims submission cannot be undervalued. For anyone in the medical coding or billing fields, the job of ensuring that the practice is paid for service and in a timely manner should be the first priority.

Not surprisingly, most physical therapy documentation staff members responsible for this important job are likely to rush through it and do the billing only when they feel they have time. This is the opposite from the best way to get good results.

By recognizing that billing should be your first priority, you can lower the amount of pressure on yourself. In fact, you should be able to feel good about every time that you sit down to handle claims submissions.

The best way to re-prioritize claims submission is to dedicate a certain amount of time every day or every week to just submitting claims. When you’re handling claims submission, that should be the only thing you worry about.

claim submission processAccuracy Checks

The worst time to re-check your work is right after you’ve completed it. In some practices, accuracy is checked because two or more people are responsible for medical coding and medical billing.

But in a small practice, that may not be the case. Consider checking accuracy in specifically allotted times, too. For example, let’s say you process claims every day.

Dedicate a couple of hours in the morning to organizing and preparing your claims and then the first thing after lunch go back and check and then handle any claims submissions. If you prefer to submit claims once a week, you can prepare claims during the week and file them for review and claims submission at the end of the week.

Insurance Eligibility Checks Before Claims Submission

Another key to increasing efficiency and success, and making claims submission less of a burden is to do your insurance eligibility checks in advance. Find out what the patient’s plan actually covers and ask them to pay the balance up front.

Changing outcomes from claims submissions may require that you change the way the medical biller does their job. This can be a hard adjustment to make, especially for an established biller with a workflow they are used to.

But improving the rate of accepted submissions is critical to the success of any practice. The more you prepare and schedule claims submission, the better the process will feel and the more successful you will be.

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