In this article, Nitin Chhoda describes the role of a medical billing company and how it can help a private practice.
There are some important points to consider when deciding about the company you want to work with, whether to outsource and hire a medical billing company, or train in-house personnel.
Selecting a medical billing company is a major decision and one that must be considered carefully.
Some practitioners choose to handle their billing needs on-site through their EMR, while others simply turn that aspect of their business over to a company that specializes in billing, coding, recovery and collections.
Therapists that choose that path should approach the process in much the same way they would to hire an accountant or financial planner.
The Role of Medical Billing
Medical billing is a highly specialized field and clinic owners should seek a medical billing company that employs certified medical billers that have the education and training to understand the more than 120,000 new codes involved when ICD-10 is implemented.
Insurance companies have a wide variety of requirements and restrictions, and the firm’s medical billers should have a working knowledge of them all. Clinicians should also seek a medical billing company that treats their money as if it was their own and has a proven history.
Don’t be afraid to ask for references and proof of recovery percentages, along with the average turnaround time on reimbursements and their annual write-off rates. The medical billing firm must meet and maintain HIPAA standards, work to recover the maximum amount of revenue for the clinic, and provide regular reports on the financial state of the practice.
For many physical therapists, outsourcing their medical billing needs represents considerable savings for the practice. In-house medical billing may require hiring additional staff to handle the complicated and time-intensive process competently and efficiently.
It can also require significant upgrades to the practice’s current hardware and software systems. Smaller practices may benefit most from outsourcing their billing department and it may present the most cost effective solution.The 21st century practice doesn’t rely on paper records and neither should the clinic’s medical billing company.
Medical Billing Companies
Today’s billing companies offer a variety of services that includes many of the capabilities available with an EMR, encompassing patient scheduling, client reminders, verification of insurance coverage and a 24/7 call center. They also provide therapists with information to track demographic groups, cancellations, referrals, no shows and new patients.
Billing, coding and collections are processes that continue to become more complex.
Hiring a medical billing company relieves therapists of a time consuming task, while providing clinicians with additional time to focus on patients and their care and an improved cash flow for the clinic.
Billing firms have the financial resources to hire the most experienced and knowledgeable staff, and purchase the sophisticated software and hardware systems.
A facet of the medical billing company that many therapists overlook is the quality of the customer care that’s provided. The medical billing company will often be required to deal directly with the clinic’s clients and will represent the “face” of the practice.
Customer Service Standards
It’s imperative that the medical billing company adhere to the highest customer service standards and represent the clinic appropriately.
Ultimately, practice owners must decide if the cost of outsourcing their billing and collection needs outweighs the expenditures of maintaining an in-house billing department. Therapists with an in-house system should examine their practice to ascertain the efficiency of the clinic’s system. If costs are high and collections are low, hiring a medical billing company may be in the practice’s best interests.
The big day for the ICD-10 transition is just around the corner. Practices should have been using their time to train, install hardware and test their software for compatibility with other entities with which they communicate. However, despite the best laid plans and intentions, clinicians may not be as ready as they think. Software systems are a prime consideration and there are steps that practitioners can take to ensure they’re ready when Oct. 1, 2014 arrives.
There are dozens of EMRs available. They have multiple features, but clinicians are often required to pay extra for access to updates and other items that should be included automatically. Practitioners will want to ensure they have an EMR capable of handling the new codes and that they have the latest version available installed.
EMRs must have sufficient security measures for HIPAA compliance to safeguard patient information. Consult with vendors to verify that the EMR is HIPAA compliant, code upgrades are covered in any contracts, and if training will be included.
A crosswalk offers a means of translating ICD-9 codes to the new ICD-10 version. It’s essential that any software include those crosswalks for translation, especially in the early months of the transition. If the EMR doesn’t support crosswalks, clinicians may need to invest in a program to assist with coding tasks.
General Equivalence Mapping isn’t designed for long-term use, but it does provide a valuable resource. It’s a tool that can be used to assist in locating the correct code options and help staff become more fluent and comfortable with the new code selections.
Until everyone in the practice is familiar with the new coding system, a side-by-side coding feature will prove very helpful. It will reduce staff frustration and help everyone rest easy knowing they’ve entered the correct diagnosis codes.
A system that allows clinicians and staff to incorporate the new coding into their everyday duties will help everyone become familiar with the new codes before the deadline. They can also begin using the new codes prior to the implementation date with entities that are ready.
It’s critical that in-house or contracted billing services are prepared for ICD-10. They must be compliant with the new HIPAA transaction standards for transmitting data electronically. Be prepared for a reduction in productivity, even with superior billers and coders.
Testing should include the ability to submit claims and insurance eligibility. The only way to ensure if a practice’s software is ready for the ICD-10 transition is to conduct exhaustive testing in those areas – then test some more. If any glitches or issues do exist, the more the system is used the more likely they will be to become apparent. It’s also important that inter-office systems can communicate with each other.
The software that transmitted a claim perfectly today has the potential not to work smoothly tomorrow. Continued testing is the only way to ensure that problems are identified and addressed prior to the deadline. If for some reason an issue can’t be fixed by implementation day, be sure to have a contingency plan. Relationships with new vendors may have to be established, so be prepared.
Significant coding changes will take place with implementation, but if the practice’s software can’t communicate successfully with insurance companies and clearinghouses to submit claims, they’re of no use and will cost clinics dearly in revenues. Implementation is more than just a coding change. It affects every department. Ensuring the clinic’s software is working correctly will make the transition easier while maintaining revenue levels.
Almost everyone in the medical profession anticipate a loss of income with the implementation of ICD-10. However, some healthcare management and technology firms have postulated that the switch to ICD-10 will present practitioners with opportunities to increase revenues, as it will be easier to document co-morbidities. They also note that the key to increased revenues depends on greater documentation accuracy, one of the stated goals of ICD-implementation.
One of the areas that will be most impacted by the switch to ICD-10 will be the billing department. The ability of billing and coding staff to keep up with the increased coding requirements will have a direct impact on the continued flow of revenues to practices. Staff will need sufficient training in the new codes and even then, it may be necessary to engage additional personnel to address back logs.
After the deadline, any claims that aren’t submitted using ICD-10 will automatically be denied. Coding and billing staff will need the highest level of training available. People learn by doing and whenever possible, it’s a good idea to start using dual coding.
Practitioners that have their billing done by a professional agency will need to consult with the company to ensure the firm is prepared and revenues won’t be disrupted. Part of biller/coder readiness is ensuring that they and the software used is compliant with the strict HIPAA standards governing the electronic transmission of patient data.
Billers and coders may also need a refresher course in anatomy and physiology. The increased specificity of ICD-10 will require more in-depth coding. Billers/coders will find themselves using more specific terms than they’re normally accustomed. Next to the clinician, billers/coders are the most important link in the revenue chain. They must be ready for the transition or revenues will falter.,
Some interruption in the revenue flow will be inevitable. By its very composition, the new alpha-numeric coding system requires billers/coders to switch between a numeric pad and a keyboard, which will result in a slowing of coding claims. Super bills may no longer be a feasible option, requiring billers and coders to learn new forms and formats.
There are bound to be claims that are rejected in error due to the new coding. Claims will require resubmission and coders/billers will find themselves investing a significant amount of time communicating with clearinghouses and payers to determine why claims were denied. No matter how well trained the biller/coder is, those type of instances will slow down the submission and collection management process.
Errors in documentation and rejected claims will result in many patients receiving bills they don’t deserve. While it doesn’t directly affect billers/coders, it will have an impact on practices. Clinicians will see an increase in calls from panicked patients, requiring time and a cool head to explain and sooth clients.
Clinicians must adhere to coding guidelines if billers are to submit accurate claims. Practitioners can’t code for a suspected or probable diagnosis; items that would appear in notes must now be coded; coding should be done at the highest level possible; and a focus should be on medical necessity.
Clinicians and billers/coders have always had a partnership in terms of revenues and that relationship will be even more important as ICD-10 goes into effect. The billing department should be encouraged to seek verification and understanding of any item for which they’re unsure and clinicians should make time for this.
No one can hide from ICD-10. How each team member responds to its challenges will define the ultimate success of the practice and revenue flow.
Patients can be struck by numerous objects leading to pain, disability, physical therapy, and perhaps embarrassment, if the new ICD-10 codes an accurate indicator. Some of the codes seem nonsensical or unlikely. The fact that the codes exist amply demonstrate that these incidences have occurred – and multiple times in some cases.
There’s an extensive array of items that can be thrown, tossed and dropped that will cause injury. Most will lead to a visit to the ER or the physical therapist. Clinicians will definitely want to be ready for patients who have been hit by rowdy wildlife, from dive bombing macaws (W61.12XA) to head butting cows (W55.22XA) who may object to being milked.
If Grandma gets hit by a reindeer, code it as a V06.00xA, but for individuals who get thrown from a sleigh pulled by reindeer, that’s a code V80.929A. People interacting with churlish chickens with a propensity for throwing themselves at bipeds will code as a W6a.32XA. The codes make no differentiation between rubber chickens and real chickens, but there are codes for multiple encounters.
Land animals aren’t the exclusive cause of injuries. For the luckless patients who experience injury at the fins of water-dwelling creatures, it may feel like a script for a disaster movie. Clinicians will find coding options for clients with first and subsequent encounters with outraged orcas (W56.22xA), those who have been exposed to turtles (W59.29) and not-so-playful dolphins (W56.02XA).
Some individuals are just unable to multi-task while doing even the simplest things. Distracted talking and texting has led to multiple mishaps that practitioners will be coding for and may lead to some strange encounters with payers. There’s a code for people running into a lamppost (subsequent encounter, W22.02XD) and when walking the family canine (W54.1XXA).
Mankind is adept at conceiving new ways of having fun and doing it in the most dangerous venues possible. Bungee jumping (Y93.34), parasailing (Y93.19) and even playing a percussion instrument (Y93.32) or Y93.J4 for lips stuck to an instrument, can lead to unwanted conclusions. A friendly game of ultimate Frisbee (Y93.74) is cited as the reason for pulled muscles, broken bones and even whiplash.
Even fun with imaginary and inanimate creatures can be hazardous. Individuals who sustain an injury by running through a snowman, (thereby committing snowman homicide or possibly a hit and run) will code as Y02.8xxA. For those who are confused about where to put the carrot during a snowman build and insert it in their own ear, use code T16.2xxA. On the dark side, those bitten by a vampire (superficial bite of other specified part of neck, initial encounter), that’s a code S10.87xA.
When hair causes constriction (initial encounter) clinicians will turn to code W49.01XA and E928.4 for an external hair constriction. For a non-scarring hair loss, there’s code L65.9. There’s no telling when a bad hair day will result in serious injury.
Even the very air is fraught with potential danger. For clients who discover they have an air leak, use code J93.82. Patients may be injured through falling spacecraft (V95.49XA). When clients displace their balloon, code it as a T82.523S, but for victims of a falling alligator, that’s code W5803XA.
ICD-10 codes reflect real incidents and complaints, but the ways in which they’re worded often make them fodder for fun. The primary points clinicians need to remember is that they need to code to the highest level possible and as accurately as possible – even if it results in long conversations with payers who have disbelieving minds. Perhaps they could code for a therapeutic massage.
ICD-10 implementation means changes at all levels. One of the first responsibilities for managers will be to analyze the practice environment and personnel to determine specific needs to bring the practice into compliance and readiness for implementation. The entire process will require many managers to assume duties with which they’re unfamiliar or require them to step out of their comfort zone.
Managers will take on the role of overseeing and coordinating the implementation of ICD-10 and that will include contacting vendors, payers, clearinghouses and billing professionals. Contracts will all need to be evaluated, revised, updated and receive final approval before the official implementation date. New policies for employees will need to be revised, distributed and a signed copy returned.
Budgetary concerns will occupy a large part in managers’ responsibilities. Operating funds must be set aside to account for the inevitable reimbursement delays to come. There will be numerous software and hardware updates, purchases and IT considerations. Testing is a crucial part of preparation to ensure that the practice can communicate appropriately with others in the system. It’s a process that will take time and will rely on the readiness of other entities.
The transition to ICD-10 will require training and education for all staff members and sufficient money will need to be appropriated. Implementation will affect staff members in different ways. Managers will be responsible for determining the level of education each individual requires, ensure staff participation and that they’re fluent upon completion. Managers will want to explore various instruction methods, from online options to on-site instruction. Not all staff will need the same level of training.
The workflow in practices and the billing department will experience delays. These should be expected. Staff training and system testing will require a significant amount of time, resulting in a loss of productivity prior to implementation. It may be necessary to hire extra staff in various departments to alleviate back-up and loss of productivity. Additional personnel may be required for up to six months following implementation.
Significant risk accompanies ICD-10 implementation. HIPAA compliance for securely transmitting medical information is critical. Sufficient safeguards must be in place. Part of the implementation process involves how information will be stored and manipulated by those within the practice and entities with which the practice works.
The additional documentation and coding required by ICD-10 places much more patient information at risk and security measures must be addressed.Risk management also extends to potential loss in revenues after the conversion. The best laid plans may encounter snags and delays. A contingency plan to handle any problems will be essential.
The implementation of the new coding system is a major undertaking at all levels of the practice. It will require new methods, practices and policies. Medical practice managers will be extremely busy ensuring that staff receives training, the revenue flow experiences minimal disruptions, and the practice is in compliance for the ICD-10 conversion. During the transition, managers should take care not forget to obtain the ICD-10 training they need.
The rules of coding for ICD-10 have been established in cooperation by the American Hospital Association (AHA), the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA), the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). It’s a standard to which all clinicians must adhere.
Reviewing The Basics
ICD-10 encompasses 21 chapters and expanded code options that have been reorganized and expanded. Injuries are described by site first and then by type. They include laterality, greater specificity and combination codes.
ICD-10 codes are now identified with an alpha-numerical system that can include up to seven characters and the first will always be a letter. The letters I and O are not used, as they can easily be confused with the numbers 1 and 0. Letters aren’t case sensitive.
The first three identifiers represent the category, the next three describe the anatomical location and severity, and the last is an extension that identifies if it as the first or subsequent encounter, or the result of a previous injury or disease. X is used as a placeholder in some codes.
Injuries are grouped by body part rather than injuries. Clinicians will focus on documenting the current complaint of the client. Never assume that “standard” treatment has been provided or code on a suspected diagnosis. Payers just want the facts of what’s readily observable.
Practitioners will need to document variables that were not required under ICD-10. Clinicians will need to include data on all external causes that led up to the actual injury, the exact location of the injury, and the patient’s actions at the time of the injury.
Documentation will also require information about the environment in which the injury took place, and any measures the patient has taken to alleviate the problem. Additional data must be included on any complications, the results of tests and exams, and very detailed data on the treatment plan.
The conventions for ICD-10 have an alphabetic index of terms and codes that may apply. It’s broken down into four parts: Index of Diseases and Injury, Index of External Causes of Injury, Table of Neoplasms, and Table of Drugs and Chemicals. ICD-10 also has a tabular list that divides codes into different chapters that’s based on condition or body system.
ICD-10 coding conventions dictate that clinicians record the underlying or casual condition first. This should be followed by the condition displayed. Up to 12 diagnosis codes can be included for accurate representation of all conditions related to the patient’s visit.
A new coding convention for ICD-10 provides laterality in reporting. Clinicians now have designations for right, left, bilateral and unspecified. Coding can then be specified for the type of injury, disease or condition, along with an even more finely detailed description of the affected area.
Medication conventions have also been expanded. An example of this is drug under-dosing, a concept that doesn’t exist in ICD-9 but can be coded for under ICD-10. Many of the new codes reflect changes in terminology and technology. Some codes have been updated, while other terms have been eliminated or disassociated from specific conditions.
Even punctuation is addressed in the conventions. Specific guidelines have been established for the use of parentheses to designate supplementary words and terms that should be documented, but won’t change the diagnosis. Clinicians can differentiate between signs, symptoms and unspecified codes.
While ICD-10 codes are extensive and comprehensive, the good news for practitioners is that they generally won’t have to contend with the entire complement of code options, only those that affect their specialties. For instance, physical therapists and dermatologists won’t be coding for the same types of disease or injuries.