What is CPT®?

Current Procedural Terminology (CPT®) codes were developed by the American Medical Association and first published in 1966. They are a listing of standardized descriptions and five-character, alphanumeric codes that medical coders and billers use to report health care services and procedures to payers for reimbursement. The purpose of CPT® is to provide a uniform language accurately describing medical, surgical and diagnostic services. It serves as an effective means for reliable nationwide communication within the health care industry.

While the first edition contained primarily surgical procedures, with limited sections on medicine, radiology and laboratory procedures, the second edition was published in 1970 and presented an expanded system of terms and codes to designate diagnostic and therapeutic procedures in surgery, medicine and the specialties. At that time, a five-digit coding system was introduced, replacing the former four-digit classification. Another significant change was a listing of procedures relating to internal medicine.

The fourth edition, published in 1977, represented significant updates in medical terminology. A system of periodic updating was also introduced to keep pace with the rapidly changing medical environment. In 1983, CPT® was adopted as part of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). With this adoption, CMS mandated the use of Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System (HCPCS) to report services for Medicare Part B. CPT® is sometimes referred to as HCPCS Level I. In July 1987, as part of the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, CMS mandated the use of CPT® for reporting outpatient hospital surgical procedures. CPT® codes and descriptions are owned and copyrighted by the American Medical Association.

CPT® codes fall into three categories:

  • Category I CPT® codes describe a procedure or service identified with a five-digit CPT® code and descriptor nomenclature
  • Category II CPT® codes are supplemental tracking alphanumeric codes that can be used for performance measurement. The use of these codes is usually optional; the codes are not required for correct coding and may not be used as a substitute for Category I codes
  • Category III codes are temporary codes for new and emerging technology, procedures, and services. They've been created to allow data collection and assessment of new services and procedures.

Modifiers are sometimes appended to these codes to report special circumstances.

CPT® codes are owned by the American Medical Association, and CPT® is a registered trademark of the AMA.


Downloadable Files:

2014 CPT® Errata
2013 CPT® Errata
2012 CPT® Errata
2011 CPT® Errata
2010 CPT® Errata
2010 Category I Vaccine Codes
2010 Category II Codes
2010 Category III Codes
CPT® Category II Code Updates