There are five ‘phases’ in the life cycle of a medical bill: Pre-appointment; Point of care; Claim submission; Insurance payment or denial; and Patient payment. This post will overview each of these phases, and could even be considered to be a “101-level” course on Revenue Cycle Management.
With high deductible health plans on the rise, the recent explosion of telehealth appointments due to COVID-19, and many other factors in play, it’s more important than ever for everyone to understand the life cycle of a medical bill, and how the process works. The healthcare revenue cycle is relevant not only to those who work in healthcare, but to the patient, too.
The revenue cycle is the series of processes around healthcare payments—from the time a patient makes an appointment to the time a provider is paid—and everything in between. One way to think of it is in terms of the life cycle of a medical bill. Although there are many ways this process can play out, this post will lay out a common example below:
For most general care, the first stage of the revenue cycle begins when a patient contacts a provider to set up their appointment. Generally this is when relevant patient information will begin to be collected for the eventual bill, referred to on the financial side of healthcare as a claim.
At this point a provider will determine whether the appointment and procedure will need prior authorization from an insurance company (referred to as the payer). Also, the electronic health record (EHR) used to help generate the claim is created, and will begin to accumulate further detail as the provider sends an eligibility inquiry to check into the patient’s insurance coverage.
2. Point of care
The next step in the process begins when the patient arrives for their appointment. This could include when a patient arrives for an initial consultation, an outpatient procedure, or for a follow-up exam. This could also include a Telehealth appointment.
At any of these events, the provider may charge an up-front cost. One example of this is a co-pay, which is the set amount patients pay after their deductible (if they are insured), however, there are other kinds of payments that fall into this category, too.
3. Claim submission
After the point of care, the provider completes and submits a claim with the appropriate codes to the payer. In order to accomplish that, billing staff must collect all necessary documentation and attach it to the claim. After submitting the claim to the payer, the provider’s team will monitor whether a claim has been been accepted, rejected, or denied.
[ Note: Medical coding refers to the clerical process of translating steps in the patient experience with reference numbers. The codes are normally based on medical documentation, such as a doctor’s notes or laboratory results. These explain to a payer how a patient was diagnosed and treated, and why. This information helps the payer decide how much of an encounter is covered under any given insurance plan, and therefore how much the payer will pay. ]
4. Insurance payment or denial
Once the payer receives the claim, they ensure it contains complete information and agrees with provider and patient records. If there is an error, the claim will be rejected outright and the provider will have to submit a corrected claim.
The payer then begins the review process, referred to as adjudication. Payers evaluate claims for accurate coding and documentation, medical necessity, appropriate authorization, and more. Through this process, the payer decides their financial obligation. Any factor could cause the payer to deny the claim.
If the claim is approved, the payer submits payment to the provider with information explaining details of their decision. If the claim is denied, the provider will need to determine if the original needs to be corrected, or if it makes more sense to appeal the payer’s decision.
Following adjudication, the payer will send an explanation of benefits (EOB) to the patient. This EOB will provide a breakdown of how the patient’s coverage matched up to the charges attached to their care. It is not a billing statement, but it does show what the provider charged the payer, what portion insurance covers, and how much the patient is responsible for.
5. Patient payment
The next phase occurs when the provider sends the patient a statement for their portion of financial responsibility. This stage occurs once the provider and payer have agreed on the details of the claim, what has been paid, and what is still owed.
The last step occurs when a patient pays the balance that they owe the provider for their care. Depending on the amount, the patient may be able pay it all at once, or they might need to work with the provider on a payment plan.
The above example represents one way the lie cycle of a medical bill can play out. Some of the ‘phases’ are often repeated. Because of the complexity of healthcare payments and the parties involved, there is not always a ‘straight line’ from patient care to complete payment. That’s why we call it the revenue cycle, and there are companies that provide systems for its management.
One of EZClaim’s partners, Waystar, aims to simplify and unify healthcare payments. Their technology automates many parts of the billing process laid out above, so it takes less time and energy for providers and their teams, and is more transparent for patients (Click here to learn more about how Waystar automates manual tasks and streamlines workflows.) When the revenue cycle is operating at its most efficient, providers can focus their resources on improving patient care—and that’s a better way forward for everyone!
For more information of how Waystar works together with EZClaim, click here.
[ Article and image provided by Waystar ]
EZClaim is a medical billing and scheduling software company that provides a best-in-class product, with correspondingly exceptional service and support, and can help improve medical billing revenues. To learn more, visit their website, e-mail them at email@example.com, or call a representative today at 877.650.0904.
To adjust to the ‘new normal’, here are some of the latest best practices for medical offices to implement.
In the current state of the world, filled with struggles brought on by COVID-19, many providers and practices are attempting to weave new procedures and workflows into their daily activities—to adjust to the ‘new normal’. This includes implementing virtual visits, exploring automation and paperless options, streamlining eligibility verifications, and strategizing on denials management.
An EZClaim partner, TriZetto Provider Solutions, has provided information about the latest best practices for medical offices. Their in-house experts offer some creative ways of how your practice can become more efficient and navigate through the pandemic with the following articles:
• Eligibility Woes: The Impact of COVID-19 on Insurance Coverage
• Adapting denials management to protect and retain revenue
• Healthcare Huddle: How to Manage Telemedicine & New Challenges during the New Normal
EZClaim’s medical billing software can ensure that you are equipped with the right solutions to manage costs and maximize revenue flow. Want to learn more? Well, visit their website, e-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call a representative today at 877.650.0904.
Today’s healthcare landscape faces truly unprecedented challenges, which means it’s more important to get the most out of your analytics to develop more informed, strategic decisions. There’s a deep well of data that each revenue cycle feeds into, which if properly analyzed, can help organizations operate at their most efficient and effective. Here are the four stages of data analytics workflows that are key to developing those actionable insights: A “Trigger,” or the point in your revenue cycle that sets up the call for deeper analysis; “Interpretation” of data to determine root causes and identify appropriate next steps; “Intervention” to improve specific metrics; and “Tracking” of said metrics to chart success in achieving desired outcomes.
So, let’s examine what a successful version of each stage looks like:
The trigger occurs when you notice something that needs further investigation. With the right analytics tool you can easily access all of your key performance indicators, financial goals and more, providing the visibility you need into your rev cycle. When something looks amiss or needs improving, you can drill down to the level that shows what’s really going on.
Even a wealth of data amounts to nothing without an efficient way to process and communicate key takeaways. You’ll need to equip your team with access to concise reports, smart visualizations and relevant historical data in order to get them to the insights that drive action.
Now is the time to take action. Intervention is ultimately tied directly to your ability to drill down into the data underlying problematic areas of your revenue cycle and clearly communicate takeaways with your team. Success at this stage depends on designing a plan based on your best understanding of underlying issues and the most effective way to address them.
Your intervention plan is built on KPIs that naturally intertwine with the way you measure success across your revenue cycle. With proper implementation and tracking, running with the analytics cycle can become a simple addition to your everyday workflow. More than delivering on your initial goals, the true power of analytics is the ability to deliver repeat value on your initial investment.
A strong analytics solution does more than deliver a more fully developed picture of your revenue cycle performance. It provides actionable business intelligence, cuts down on time between analysis and action, and lessens the strain on your IT department.
Waystar is a ‘partner’ of EZClaim, and provides analytics for a practice using their medical billing software. For more details about EZClaim’s products and services, visit their website: https://ezclaim.com/
To learn more about how Waystar can help you harness the power of your data, call their main office at 844-4WAYSTAR, or call sales at 844-6WAYSTAR.
[ Contributed by Waystar ]
EZClaim is always looking for ways to help our medical billing clients improve. In an effort to further that mission, this month we are kicking off the first in a series called, “What’s Current in Coding.” In this series, we will highlight coding topics, events, webinars, and more, all with the aim of keeping you current in medical billing and coding.
This month our focus came from two articles on coding sourced from the AMBA Newsletter that we feel are hot topics of the industry: “Coding for Group Visits” and the “Telehealth Coding Guide.”
Below you will find full articles and source links.
ARTICLE 1: “Coding for Group Visits”
Many physicians are interested in providing group medical visits. Whether the drop-in group medical appointment (DIGMA), chronic care health clinic (CCHC) or other model is delivered, the coding and billing of these services raise questions about codes and payment policies.
While past instruction on coding for group visits often indicated that physicians should report code 99499 for unlisted evaluation and management services, using this code requires that documentation is sent with the claim to identify the service(s) provided and leaves valuing of the service in the hands of the payer.
No official payment or coding rules have been published by Medicare. However, the question of “the most appropriate CPT code to submit when billing for a documented face-to-face evaluation and management (E/M) service performed in the course of a shared medical appointment, the context of which is educational”, was sent to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) with a request for an official response. The request further clarified, “In other words, is Medicare payment for CPT code 99213, or other similar evaluation and management codes, dependent upon the service being provided in a private exam room or can these codes be billed if the identical service is provided in front of other patients in the course of a shared medical appointment?”
The response from CMS was, “…under existing CPT codes and Medicare rules, a physician could furnish a medically necessary face-to-face E/M visit (CPT code 99213 or similar code depending on level of complexity) to a patient that is observed by other patients. From a payment perspective, there is no prohibition on group members observing while a physician provides a service to another beneficiary.” The letter went on to state that any activities of the group (including group counseling activities) should not impact the level of code reported for the individual patient.
Some private payers have instructed physicians to bill an office visit (99201-99215) based on the entire group visit. For compliance purposes, we recommend that you ask for these instructions in writing and keep them on file as you would any other advice from a payer.
Where each individual patient is provided a medically necessary, one-on-one encounter, in addition to the time in the group discussions, there should be no problem in billing for the visit based solely on the documented services provided in a direct one-on-one encounter.
If your group visits include the services of nutritionists or a behavioral health specialist, contact payers to determine if that portion of the group visit can be directly billed by the non-physician provider. This typically would include codes for medical nutrition therapy (97804) or health and behavior intervention (96153).
Other codes that may be applicable are the codes for education and training for patient self-management involving a standardized curriculum (98961-98962). Neither these codes nor medical nutrition or behavioral health therapy are billed by physicians. Physicians must use evaluation and management codes to report these services.
Code 99078 describes physician educational services in a group. Again, it is necessary to contact the payer to verify that coverage of this service is a payable benefit.
As with many services, coding for group visits requires that billing and coding staff do preliminary work with payers to identify desired coding applications.
ARTICLE 2: “Telehealth Coding Guide”
There’s nothing more frustrating than rendering a service and not being paid. Nuanced coding rules are difficult to understand, and physicians aren’t taught this information in medical school.
Still, health care is a business. As business owners, physicians need to know how they’re paid, including what codes to use, what modifiers to append, and what details to document. Brushing up on common coding mistakes helps avoid costly recoupments and denials. We’ve asked several coding experts to provide their best advice on how physicians can maintain compliance and collect all of the revenue to which they’re entitled.
In part 1 of our two-part coding guide, we focused on coding for Telehealth and other forms of remote patient care — important codes for physician practices’ short-term survival as the U.S. continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic.
In times of social distancing, telephone services have become a practical way to improve patient access and prevent the spread of COVID-19. Telephone services are ideal for straightforward problems (e.g., simple rash, asymptomatic cough, medication refills) that require a minimum of five minutes of medical discussion, says Toni Elhoms, CCS, CPC, chief executive officer of Alpha Coding Experts, LLC, in Orlando, Florida. Consider the following codes that Medicare accepts during the current public health emergency (PHE). Commercial payers may accept these codes, as well. Note that once the PHE has concluded, Medicare may only accept G2012 (virtual check-in) for telephone services.
Elhoms provides these tips to ensure compliance:
- Document verbal consent, including patient acknowledgment and acceptance of any copayments or coinsurance amounts due.
- Only count time spent on the phone engaging in medical discussion with the patient or caregiver. Do not report these codes for conversations lasting less than five minutes.
- Clearly document what was discussed, as well as the outcome of the conversation (e.g., medications prescribed, referrals to specialists, additional steps for the patient to take).
- Don’t report these codes when the telephone service ends with a decision to see the patient in 24 hours or the next available appointment.
- Don’t report these codes when the telephone service relates to a related E/M service performed within the previous seven days or within the postoperative period of a previously completed procedure.
- Only provide 99441-99443 and 98966-98968 for established patients. During the PHE, Medicare permits providers to bill G2012 for new and established patients.
‘The best way to operationalize these codes is to set up an edit in the practice management system that pends claims for a manual review to determine whether and which services are ultimately billable, Elhoms says.
In the last few months, providers have adopted Telehealth to improve patient access and generate revenue during COVID-19. Among the services physicians can render via Telehealth to patients with Medicare during the current PHE are Medicare annual wellness visits, new and established patient office visits, prolonged services, smoking, and tobacco cessation counseling, annual depression and alcohol screenings, advanced care planning, and more. Medicare covers more than 200 services via Telehealth, many of which were added for temporary coverage during the current PHE. Commercial payer coverage of these services may vary, and it’s best to check with individual payers, Elhoms says.
Elhoms provides these tips for billing Telehealth services:
- Pay attention to audio-only vs. audio-visual requirements. Medicare requires the use of audio-visual technology for certain Telehealth services and permits audio-only for others. Commercial payers also may have specific requirements. For example, physicians can render a Telehealth visit for advanced care planning using audio-only, but they must use audio-visual technology for a new patient telehealth office visit.
- Don’t render Medicare’s Initial Preventive Physical Exam via Telehealth. Medicare does not permit it.
- Document verbal consent for Telehealth, including patient acceptance of any copayments or coinsurance amounts due.
- Use place of service (POS) code 11 and modifier -95 when billing Medicare. Note that commercial payers may require a different POS code (e.g., POS 2 or POS “other”) and modifier.
- Document, document, document. Physicians need to prove they met all of the code requirements even when rendering the service via Telehealth, Elhoms says. “Don’t pull in a problem list if you didn’t treat or manage all of those problems,” she adds. “Physicians need to link the diagnosis with the assessment and treatment plan. That’s imperative.” One caveat is that during the current PHE, physicians can bill 99201-99215 rendered via Telehealth based on time or medical decision-making. “The total time in direct medical discussion with the patient is going to be critical,” Elhoms says.
“The best advice I can give anyone doing Telehealth right now is to watch the CMS [Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services] and commercial payer websites pretty much on a daily basis,” says Rhonda Buckholtz, CPC, CPMA, owner of Coding and Reimbursement Experts in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. “The coding of services changes constantly, and practices really need to be careful.”
Online digital E/M services
Though online digital E/M services are relatively new, they also can help practices increase patient access during COVID-19. Here’s how it works: An established patient initiates a conversation through a HIPAA-compliant secure platform (e.g., electronic health record portals, secure email, secure texting). A physician or other qualified health care professional reviews the query, as well as any pertinent data and records. Then they develop a management plan and subsequently communicate that plan to the patient or their caregiver through online, telephone, email or other digitally supported communication.
Elhoms provides these tips to maintain compliance:
- Use these codes when physicians or other qualified health care professionals make a clinical decision that would otherwise occur during an office visit. Do not use them for scheduling appointments or nonevaluative communication of test results.
- Use these codes only for established patients.
- Do not use these codes for fewer than five minutes of E/M services.
- Document verbal consent, including patient acknowledgment and acceptance of any copayments or coinsurance amounts due.
- Do not report these codes when the online digital E/M service ends with a decision to see the patient in 24 hours or the next available urgent visit appointment.
- Do not report these codes when the online digital E/M service relates to a related E/M service performed within the previous seven days or within the postoperative period of a previously completed procedure.
Promoting these services is often the biggest barrier, says Elhoms, who suggests putting up signs letting patients know they can access their provider electronically for non-urgent medical issues.
Remote patient monitoring
Remote patient monitoring (RPM) is a relatively easy way for physicians to keep tabs on patients without requiring them to come into the office. Medicare covers RPM for patients with one or more acute or chronic conditions, and commercial payer coverage may vary. During the PHE, physicians can initiate RPM on new and established patients. Normally, Medicare permits it only for established patients.
RPM consists of two forms: monitoring data through either a non-manual or manual data transfer, says Jim Collins, CPC, CCC, a consultant at CardiologyCoder.com, Inc. in Saratoga Springs, New York.
For example, physicians can remotely monitor a patient’s pulse oximetry, weight, blood pressure or respiratory flow rate using a device that transmits daily recordings or programmed alerts. Physicians can purchase them directly from manufacturers or patients can purchase the devices themselves. Collins says patients should look for Bluetooth-enabled devices or ones that include a built-in Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) transmitter. The former requires an Internet connection, and the latter automatically transmits data to an internet cloud service through an encrypted bandwidth. Physicians can bill for the initial setup, cost of the device itself (when applicable), and data monitoring.
Another example is the self-measured blood pressure monitoring. When patients supply their own blood pressure device that a physician calibrates, physicians may be able to bill for patient education, device calibration, reviewing the data that the patient provides and communicating a treatment plan to the patient or caregiver.
“Monitoring physiologic data on a regular basis substantially reduces hospitalizations, trips to the emergency room and exacerbations of chronic conditions,” says Collins. “It can also be a huge chunk of revenue.”
Collins provides these tips for compliant RPM billing:
- Document patient consent. Patients must opt-in for these services.
- Document total time spent rendering these services to support time-based requirements.
- Know when these codes are appropriate. It’s unclear whether Medicare will pay physicians for monitoring physiologic data derived from internal devices (devices placed within the patient’s body) or data derived from wearable fitness devices.
- Only bill 99457 when the provider renders at least 20 minutes of live, interactive communication with the patient or caregiver. “It’s not going to be medically necessary to spend 20 minutes every month on every patient,” Collins says. “Patients could go for several months without physicians needing to do anything for them.”
“What’s Current in Coding?” is brought to you by EZClaim, a medical billing solution. To find out if it may work for you, either schedule a one-on-one consultation with their sales team, or download a FREE TRIAL to check it out the software yourself. For additional information right now, view their web site, send an e-mail to email@example.com, or contact the sales team at 877.650.0904.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Telehealth adoption has exploded, and there are six revenue cycle metrics to track.
Many patients are prohibited or reluctant to venture out for on-site care. The combination of relaxed regulations and expanded payment parity for appointments has made virtual meetings easier and more attractive for providers, who are turning to these technologies to stay engaged with patients—and maintain cashflow. Dr. Robert McLean, a former president of the American College of Physicians, recently said, “this crisis has forced us to change how we deliver health care more in 20 days than we had in 20 years.”
A new industry report predicts that the number of Telehealth visits in the US will surpass one billion by the end of the year, and speculates that nearly half of those visits will be related to COVID-19. At Waystar, we have been closely monitoring claim trends and are seeing this growth firsthand. In fact, the volume of Telehealth claims on the Waystar platform has grown by more than 100 times since mid-March. On two particular days in late April, they accounted for more than 15% of our total daily claim volume. Before COVID-19, they would have accounted for less than one percent!
For many providers, this shift will require new revenue cycle strategies to meet growing patient demand without overwhelming clinicians and administrative teams—or already strained operating budgets. It’s important to remember this is still very much an evolving care delivery model with the opportunity for errors on the part of both payers, providers, and administrative staff. For this reason, revenue cycle professionals should diligently monitor claims to ensure proper adjudication, identify learning opportunities, and uncover areas for operational improvement.
Below, we’ve listed six core Telehealth-related metrics you should regularly track to ensure billing accuracy, maximize payer reimbursement and reduce claim rejections and denials. For more on how to best navigate the evolving telemedicine landscape, check out our resource hub here.
To report on Telehealth-related claims, you’ll first need to identify and isolate claims containing Telehealth procedure codes. See CMS’ Telehealth code list to identify the specific procedure codes and modifiers that apply to your organization.
1. Payer Telehealth claim rejections by volume and/or billed amount
2. Payer Telehealth claim denials by volume and/or billed amount
If your Telehealth claims are being denied or rejected, do you know which specific payers are doing so at the highest rate? Drill down to discover the specific reason codes payers are attaching to rejections and denials so you can better understand payer-specific rules and avoid these oversights in the future. In some cases, you may identify trends that warrant a call to the payer to correct.
3. Telehealth claim volume by provider
Review this claim volume by individual provider. If you notice providers within your organization generating a much lower volume of Telehealth claims than peers, perhaps they could benefit from additional training on Telehealth technology and use cases.
Ensuring Billing Accuracy:
4. Telehealth claim rejections by biller/team
5. Telehealth claim denials by biller/team
Are certain billing personnel or teams producing higher denial or rejection rates than others? Keep a close eye on these trends and remember most of this is new for everyone. If some team members are seeing more rejections or denials than they should, it could be a great opportunity to hold trainings and collaborate on strategies for success.
6. Telehealth claim volume by procedure code
Which Telehealth codes are you using? Each code reimburses at a different rate, so choosing the wrong ones could leave money on the table. Be sure to read up on CMS’ requirements (check out their fact sheet and code list) to ensure you’re choosing the appropriate code(s) on each Telehealth claim.
You have all the data you need to drive informed decision making and improve financial performance—you just need the right analytics tool in your corner. Our new Waystar Analytics solution offers a pre-built Telehealth dashboard that can help you easily interpret, share all the metrics above, and track these revenue cycle metrics. Click here to learn more about Waystar Analytics and how it can deliver the insights you need during this time of transition.
[ By Waystar ]