All evaluation and management (E-M) service codes have a time value in conjunction with expanded problem focused history and medical complexity decision making. But occasionally providers will spend longer periods of time with patients but that extra time doesn’t justify coding to a higher level E-M code. To code a higher level E-M, not only does the time of a face-to-face encounter have to increase, but the complexity of medical decision making, problem focused history and counseling of care level must also increase.
The CPT manual shows two categories of codes that can be used as add-on codes to E-M codes when face-to-face time with a patient goes beyond the normal specified time values for each E-M code. The categories are outpatient/office for your typical clinic setting and inpatient/observation for hospital/Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF) patients.
99354 – 99355 – Outpatient/office
99356 – 99357 – Inpatient/Facility
Encounter Time –
Understanding what the CPT manual specifies as encounter time will help with knowing how to use and assign the prolonged visit codes. In an office/clinic setting, the encounter time is defined as face-to-face spent with the patient by the provider or practitioner. This time includes time spent on history review, obtaining records, performing the exam and counseling the patient. Activities performed before and after the face-to-face time are not included as part of the face-to-face time.
For example, a patient seen in a office/outpatient setting, a provider spends 15 minutes reviewing medical records and history, the spends 30 minutes face-to-face time with the patient, then spends another 20 minutes coordinating care with staff or other providers. The encounter time here is the 30 minutes that was spent face-to-face with the patient. The additional 35 minutes is not counted towards the actual encounter time.
When services are provided in an inpatient/facility setting, encounter time is defined as the time the physician/practitioner is present on the patients facility unit and at the patients bedside rendering services for that patient. This time also includes, medical record review, examining patient, encounter documentation, orders, communication with other professionals and patients family.
The additional time that must be spent with a patient in order to use the prolonged visit add on codes is 30 minutes. If a professional spends 25 additional minutes with the patient, then they cannot use the add on codes. The minimum time spent to qualify for the add on codes is 30 minutes and extends to 60 minutes. If the encounter time surpasses 75 minutes, a second add on code can be used. The encounter time for the prolonged visit codes is the same for both the outpatient/office setting and inpatient/facility setting.
Setting First Hour Add’l 30 minutes
Office/outpatient …………. 99354 ……………………. 99355
Inpatient/facility …………… 99356 ……………………. 99357
The encounter time does not have to be continuous. Blocks of time can be added together to account for the total encounter time. For example, a physician or practitioner spends time with a patient, goes to see another patient, then returns to the first patient, those separate times with the first patient can be added together for the total encounter time. However this time does not include staff time. Time is only counted by the physician/practitioners face-to-face time with the patient.
The prolonged visit add on codes are to be used in addition to the traditional E-M codes. The E-M codes are still the primary codes used for exams. So an example of the prolonged visit codes in conjunction with the E-M codes would work like this,
A provider sees an established patient in an office setting and determines the exam uses low medical decision making complexity and a problem focused history which supports a E-M code of 99213. A encounter lasts a total of 55 minutes and is not dominated by counseling or coordination of care. The CPT manual specifies encounter time of 15 minutes for a 99213, so the encounter has gone 40 minutes longer than the specified 15 minutes for the 99213. So the physician can add on the prolonged visit code of 99354 to be billed with the 99213. The same example can be used with the inpatient/facility setting using the corresponding E-M facility codes.
The prolonged service codes can be used in conjunction with all the typical E-M codes. The times will just need to be adjusted to qualify for the add on. So for a 99214, the CPT manual specifies 25 minutes for encounter time. So the total time will have to reach 55 minutes to use the add on codes.
Patients medical records must indicate the duration of the prolonged service. It must also show that the physician/practitioner personally provided the time specified in the code definition. The medical record should also show the total encounter time of the visit. Total time can represent the total face-to-face time in minutes, or the start and stop time of the visit. It should also be notated as to why the encounter was prolonged.
Prolonged services can provide providers with additional reimbursement for lengthy encounters but should be documented appropriately to show total time and reasoning for the prolonged service so as to withstand audit or review.