The current Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) coding guidelines date back to 1995. For the last 25 years, providers have been frustrated by the complexity of documentation requirements and “documenting for the sake of documenting.”
As part of the Final Rule in 2019, CMS proposed to simplify guidelines moving forward. In response, the American Medical Association (AMA) asked for opportunity to address the guidelines at a provider level with the goal to:
The new coding guidelines will go into effect on January 1 and will affect the way providers document. It’s important to understand what to expect, so we’ve put together this brief overview of what is changing. Read the full AMA guidelines here.
The biggest change providers will see with the new guidelines is that E/M documentation will focus on medical decision making (MDM) or time. Starting January 1, history and exam elements should only be captured when clinically appropriate. Providers can use whichever method—MDM or time—that is most beneficial for each visit.
The AMA spent a lot of time putting together the new guidelines from the doctor’s perspective, using the table of risk but simplifying to match what is actually done in an office setting. In order to define items that had previously been in a gray area, the AMA wanted to assure the new guidelines:
While similar, this is not the MDM calculation we have today. All code descriptors state a “medically appropriate” history and/or examination and MDM. The amount of history and exam performed and documented is now up to the provider and will not be a consideration in code selection. Code selection will now reflect true practice activities and be simplified to match what is done in an office setting.
The level of MDM is based on two out of three elements:
While tracking time is not often used in the urgent care setting, it’s important to understand how to use time to code a visit. With the new rules, total time is considered face-to-face and non-face-to-face on the date of the encounter by the “reporting” practitioner. To document, state the total time spent that day and summarize the services performed.
It’s important to note that the criteria for time:
Disclaimer: The discussions and materials, regarding the history, application, future use and expected evolution of evaluation and management codes (“e/m codes” or “e/m coding”) set forth in this resource are statements of opinion and/or projections based upon experience, research and information available as of the date of the publication. Nothing contained herein shall be interpreted as legal advice nor any guarantee of results.
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