Tracking the rise of high-intensity billing in emergency care

 The December issue of Health Affairs included an intriguing study that sought to explain the recent trend toward more high-intensity billing in emergency departments (EDs). Using ED visit data for “treat-and-release” visits (i.e. ED patients who were not admitted to the hospital), the study found that visits deemed high-intensity, as defined by certain high-complexity or critical care billing codes, rose from around 5 percent of visits in 2006 to 19 percent in 2019.

The authors conclude that while about half of this increase can be explained by changes in patient case mix and available care services that were visible in claims data, the other half is due to the adoption of sophisticated revenue cycle management programs, and industry-wide changes to billing practices that include upcoding. 

The Gist: At first blush, an increase in high-intensity ED billing may not be a bad thing, if it means that greater numbers of people with low-acuity needs are going to urgent care centers, and avoiding EDs for needs that can be managed elsewhere. But the study finds that treat-and-release rates are going up for high-intensity patients. 

Though the authors list many potential reasons for this—including the changed role of the ED as a diagnostic referral center used by primary care physicians for quick workups of complex patients, the growing number of multimorbid seniors, and value-based care’s pressure to reduce hospital admission rates in favor of more resource-intensive ED visits—we have a strong suspicion that good old-fashioned upcoding also plays a role, especially as the percentage of emergency medicine practices managed by private equity companies increased from four percent to over eleven percent across the same time period as the study. 

Five components of an intelligent middle revenue cycle

What is revenue cycle management (RCM)? - Definition from

Keys to achieving revenue integrity and compliance across your organization

It’s old news: Revenue cycle complexity continues to increase, exacerbating existing challenges. And as we tackle those, new ones arise to take their place.

Ever-changing regulations are a given, but adopting value-based reimbursement (VBR) models currently poses a major challenge. New payment models complicating revenue cycle activity become more difficult with additional quality reporting and other requirements. Add in the operational realities of siloed workflows, data proliferation, and disparate systems, and it’s clear why efficient collaboration can seem nearly impossible.  Intelligent middle revenue cycle operations that manage to these challenges are vital to achieving revenue integrity and financial stability.


Use the right solutions at the right time

Today’s environment requires sharpening the way you ensure revenue integrity. Providers need an easy, seamless way to manage middle revenue cycle operations, and there are several effective strategies to accomplish that. Of course, it’s important to recognize and make use of your EMR system’s capabilities. It’s also essential to leverage complementary technologies with specific core competencies that will improve revenue cycle performance. For example, a solution that continuously monitors records in real time enables timely auditing, coding adjustments and case completion to reduce billing turnaround and reimbursement delays.


Take a smart approach to enabling technology

Augmenting your core systems with complementary technologies or capabilities on a single, integrated platform makes it much easier to support internal collaboration between different departments or teams. An integrated platform also enables you to seamlessly deploy additional capabilities onto that platform, ensuring speed to value. Instead of using multiple disparate tools, a shared platform enables interdepartmental communication and helps minimize inefficiency.  A smart technology platform that crosses departmental siloes and brings transparency across teams is critical. Platforms that leverage clinically aware artificial intelligence and other automation enable staff to proactively focus on the areas where their expertise has the most impact. In addition, when leveraging an integrated platform, one expert team’s work will not get cancelled out by another team’s contributions.

Regardless of which core system you use, integrating technology with targeted competencies and connectivity adds value to the EMR. It can provide a depth of specialized expertise that drives better documentation, coding and real time audit interaction — keys to a high-performing revenue cycle.


Prioritize comprehensive, correct documentation and coding

Unfortunately, it seems the battle against claim denials is here to stay. You can’t overlook the importance of front-end data validation to eliminate rework and inefficiency. However, the ability to ensure complete and accurate clinical documentation for every case will significantly impact revenue capture and reduce the inefficiency of denials and rework.

Broaden the scope of your CDI program with technology that uses clinical intelligence to drive concurrent documentation review for all payers. Getting it right up front contributes to better coding, accurate reimbursement, and appropriate quality measures, all of which are vital to success under VBR.


Increase collaboration with payers

As long as payers and providers continue working at odds, the costly onslaught of denials will persist. In a perfect world, both sides would join forces to find mutually beneficial solutions for claim errors, denials and payment delays. Imagine the savings in administrative inefficiency alone. However, we’re not in that world yet. Therefore, it’s important to make a proactive effort to understand the specifics of each payer’s contract and adjust your internal processes and technology rules accordingly. As operating margins get smaller, organizations have no choice but to increase efficiency and accuracy, and working together with payers can contribute significantly to that goal.


Consolidate, collaborate, communicate

Industry pressures to improve performance are unrelenting, especially around smart solutions, innovation, and increasing both efficiency and the bottom line. Organizations are expected to improve these areas while, at the same time, enabling patient-centric operations. One way to achieve this is to leverage innovative, integrated tools to augment core systems and promote partnership, communication and efficiency across multiple related disciplines.

Consider clinical documentation, coding and auditing. Numerous departments need pieces of that information for different reasons, including utilization review, medical necessity determinations, chart audits and quality monitoring, in addition to bill preparation. A single repository containing up-to-date data in a real-time view driven by supporting workflow, rules and alerts provides consistent and reliable information when and where it’s needed.

As patient care becomes more complex, so does the middle revenue cycle. Seek solutions that will simplify and manage the complexity in an administratively efficient way. Consider your prospective vendor’s core competencies when evaluating solutions and look for integration and intelligent automation that will add the most value to your organization.






Aetna draws criticism for automatic down-codes for office visits

Image result for health insurance downcoding

Providers are concerned a new national policy from Aetna involving evaluation and management services will result in inappropriate down-codes.

Under the policy, Aetna will automatically down-code claims submitted for office visits or certain modifiers when the the insurer finds an “apparent overcode rate of 50 percent or higher.” The policy concerns office visits with the 99000 series of evaluation and management codes and the 92000 series of ophthalmologic examination codes, as well as modifiers 25 and 59, the American Optometric Association said in an advocacy post.

AOA said Aetna didn’t explain how an overcoding determination is made under the insurer’s algorithm, whether with or without medical record reviews.

“The AOA believes it is inappropriate to downcode such claims without first reviewing actual medical records and questions whether it complies with HIPAA; a variety of state laws related to fair, accurate and timely processing of claims; and Aetna’s contracts with patients and physicians alike,” the association said on its advocacy page.

Physicians can appeal down-coded claims through Aetna’s internal process.

In a statement to Becker’s Hospital Review, Aetna explained why it implemented the policy:

“We periodically review our claims data for correct coding and to implement programs that support nationally recognized and accepted coding policies and practices. Through a recent review, we identified healthcare providers across several specialties who are significant outliers with respect to coding practices. While we recognize that healthcare providers undoubtedly may have complex medical cases that are unique to their practice, this result is much higher than the average for physicians across most specialties.

“For this small, targeted group of healthcare providers, we will review their claims against [American Medical Association] and CMS coding guidelines. Based on that review, we may potentially adjust their payments if the information on the claim is not supported by the level of service documented in the medical record.”