A Primer on Coding and Documentation for Telemedicine

Under the best of circumstances, coding and documenting medical visits and procedures for Medicare and private payers can be a headache. Now, with the pandemic-related increased use of electronic communication between physicians and patients—including video, telephone, and portal-based email—things have gotten even more challenging. Thankfully, in a recent fast-tracked JBJS article, Hinckley et al. offer some valuable assistance with how to code and document telemedicine and other electronic interactions with patients.

The authors summarize the electronic-communication guidelines from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) for documenting these visits and for selecting the appropriate CPT codes and modifiers as of April 20, 2020. They emphasize that private payers may not follow CMS guidelines, so “continued attention to CMS, CPT, and private payer websites is necessary.”

Hinckley et al. also emphasize that CPT codes now distinguish between telemedicine (video) visits, email visits, and telephone services. One of the most useful tools the authors offer appears in an Appendix, where 4 sample grids for musculoskeletal documentation and coding are provided.

It might be wise to familiarize yourself and/or your office staff with these new policies, procedures, and codes, because, as the authors conclude, whatever “new normal” eventually emerges, electronic communication with patients “will likely become a more prominent aspect of our clinical presence and platforms.”

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