Seven Tips for Diagnostic Radiology Coding Success

Follow AMA, CMS, ACR, individual payer rules, and these helpful tips for surefire billing.

By Terry Leone, CPC, CPC-P, CPC-I, CIRCC, and G. J. Verhovshek, MA, CPC

Diagnostic radiology encompasses a variety of services, including diagnostic radiology (plain film), diagnostic ultrasound, computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), diagnostic nuclear medicine, positron emission tomography (PET), and mammography. The following seven tips pertain to diagnostic radiology coding guidance as per American Medical Association (AMA), Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), and American College of Radiology (ACR) instructions, and are intended to help coders submit accurate claims during a time when imaging services are being avidly scrutinized by public and private payers. Remember that individual payer rules take priority when billing that payer. Ask for payer requirements in writing, and be sure that billing and coding staff have access to, and are familiar with, all payer rules.

Tip 1:
Be Sure Reports Meet Minimum Requirements

To meet ACR guidelines, all dictated radiology reports must contain:

  • Heading (study name)
  • Number of views or sequences (name of views – what was done)
  • Clinical indication (reason for exam)
  • Body of report (findings)
  • Impression or conclusion (synopsis of findings)
  • Physician signature
  • Diagnostic studies (plain films)

Tip 2:
Separate Professional and Technical Components

Most radiology procedures include both a technical component and a professional component. As a basic requirement of radiology coding, the coder must know whether to report a technical, professional, or “global” service.

The technical component (TC) of a service includes the provision of all equipment, supplies, personnel, and costs related to the performance of the exam. To report only the technical portion of a service, append modifier TC Technical component.

There is one important exception to this rule. For services performed in a hospital, it is assumed the hospital is billing for the technical component of each study so hospitals are exempt from reporting modifier TC.

The professional component of a service includes the physician work in providing a dictated report or dictated report and supervision. To report only the physician work portion of a service, append modifier 26 Professional component. When applied, modifier 26 should be placed in the first designated modifier field because it affects how the claim will be paid.

A global service occurs when the physician both bears the expense of equipment, supplies, etc., and provides supervision and/or prepares the report. Global services generally take place in an office setting, where the physician group owns the equipment and provides the dictated reports. When reporting global services, modifiers TC and 26 are not required.

For example, if the radiologist reads a two-view chest X-ray in the hospital, you would report 71020 Radiologic examination, chest, 2 views, frontal and lateral with modifier 26. If the radiologist supplies, in his own office, the equipment on which the X-ray is performed, report 71020 without modifiers.

Tip 3:
Report Only the Number of Views Documented

The number of views claimed must meet the basic requirements of the CPT® code reported. If your department or office has a list of “standard views,” or the number of views to be imaged on a patient, you cannot use it for coding purposes. The medical report must state the number of views. It is the coder’s responsibility to count the number of views and select the correct corresponding CPT® code.

For example, a knee exam may be reported using one of four CPT® codes. To report 73564 Radiologic examination, knee; 4 or more views, documentation has to substantiate four or more views. If the physician does not state “four views,” but rather documents “AP, lateral, and both obliques,” that is also acceptable documentation. If, however, the physician uses the phrase multiple views of the knee, the rules state you must report the lowest-level corresponding CPT® code for the particular study (73560 Radiologic examination, knee; 1 or 2 views).

This holds true for referring physician orders, too. If the views or the number of views are not listed in the order, the radiology office cannot impose their department standards of, for instance, four views. Instead, the radiology department or office should contact the referring physician and ask for a new order indicating the views he would like performed.

Note, however, that some diagnostic studies require specific view names. For example, if the physician dictates the number of abdomen views instead of the precise names of the views, you must report the lowest-level code (74000 Radiologic examination, abdomen; single anteroposterior view) for that service.

Tip 4: Distinguish Scout View and Contrast Studies

A scout view is a single supine view of the abdomen taken prior to gastrointestinal (GI) examinations. It may be referred to as a KUB (Kidney, Ureters, and Bladder). The physician must document that film was taken, and he must dictate any findings from the film separately.

During a single contrast study, the patient ingests a thin liquid barium sulfate contrast. A double contrast upper GI study uses a thicker (heavy density) barium sulfate and effervescent crystals taken with water. When mixed and swallowed, the patient’s stomach fills with air or gas from the crystals. The thicker barium coats the walls of the stomach so the physician can look for ulcers, etc.

Note: A cervical (neck) esophagram study is bundled to single and double upper GI studies; however, if there is documented medical necessity to warrant a separate exam, the esophagus study (74210-74230) may be reported with modifier 59 Distinct procedural service, in addition to the upper GI studies.

When reporting barium enema (colon) study, determine if the procedure used single or double contrast. Single contrast study uses a thin mixture of barium sulfate and water instilled through a tube in the patient’s rectum. When performing a double contrast barium enema, the colon first is instilled with heavy density barium and air. During the second contrast, air is pumped into the colon to coat the walls of the bowel with the barium. Whether a preliminary abdomen KUB is performed does not change the code set.

Bonus Modifier Tip: Numerous GI study code descriptors (e.g., 74328, 74329, and 74330) specify “supervision and interpretation.” These studies may be performed by a physician and interpreted by a (different) radiologist, both of which may bill the service by appending modifier 52 Reduced services to the appropriate CPT® code. The modifier tells the payer that neither billing physician solely performed/interpreted the entire study.

Tip 5:
“Complete Exam” Documentation Must Be Complete

All diagnostic ultrasound examinations require permanent image documentation. Abdomen and retroperitoneal studies have additional, strict documentation requirements to code for a complete exam.

A complete abdomen study (76700 Ultrasound, abdominal, real time with image documentation; complete) requires documentation of the liver, gall bladder, common bile ducts, pancreas, spleen, kidneys, and the upper abdominal aorta and inferior vena cava. If any one of the required anatomy is not documented, the study must be down-coded to a limited exam (76705 Ultrasound, abdominal, real time with image documentation; limited (eg, single organ, quadrant, follow-up)).

A complete retroperitoneum study (76770 Ultrasound, retroperitoneal (eg., renal, aorta, nodes), real time with image documentation; complete) consists of documentation of the kidneys, abdominal aorta, and common iliac artery origins. Alternatively, imaging of the kidneys and urinary bladder also constitute a complete retroperitoneal study when the clinical indication for the exam consists of urinary pathology.

Tip 6:
Oral/Rectal Administration Doesn’t Count as Contrast

Whether intravenous contrast was injected determines coding for CT and MRI. Only intravenous administration of contrast changes the code sets. Oral and/or rectal contrast is not billable as a “with contrast” study. To report contrast, the technique section of the dictated report must state, “with IV or intravenous contrast.”

Tip 7:
Don’t Forget Supplies

Diagnostic nuclear medicine studies and PET do not include radiopharmaceuticals. Hospitals and privately-owned nuclear medicine and PET departments/offices should report the radiopharmaceutical kit separately utilizing the correct supply code(s).

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John Verhovshek

John Verhovshek

John Verhovshek, MA, CPC, is Managing Editor at AAPC. He has covered medical coding and billing, healthcare policy, and the business of medicine since 1999. He is an alumnus of York College of Pennsylvania and Clemson University, and a member of the Asheville-Hendersonville AAPC Local Chapter.
John Verhovshek

About Has 404 Posts

John Verhovshek, MA, CPC, is Managing Editor at AAPC. He has covered medical coding and billing, healthcare policy, and the business of medicine since 1999. He is an alumnus of York College of Pennsylvania and Clemson University, and a member of the Asheville-Hendersonville AAPC Local Chapter.

One Response to “Seven Tips for Diagnostic Radiology Coding Success”

  1. Colby says:

    These are excellent guidelines for CPT assignment. Is there any chance that you could write an article that highlights code selection for ICD 10 from a report? Typically, radiology is somewhat of an interesting beast (especially when performing the professional portion) because they’re looking for a problem that may be causing symptoms but, instead, find incidental findings that would not normally rationalize the study. Sometimes they find a large problem that isn’t the cause of the initial symptoms. In these cases, it would be great to have some posted guidelines that pertain to radiology (rather than the AMA or CDC’s ICD-10 coding guidelines, which are not all-inclusive).

    Of course, this is information that can sometimes be covered by AHA’s Coding Clinic, but not many coders have unlimited funds to purchase publications such as these, assuming they know that they exist.

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