There is a great article in a back issue of the CPT Assistant (May 1997) which explains all modifiers and provides an example for each as well. Below are the descriptions of modifier 80 and modifier 81.
Modifier 80-"One physician assists another physician in performing a procedure. If an assistant surgeon assists a primary surgeon and is present for the entire operation, or a substantial portion of the operation, then the assisting physician reports the same surgical procedure as the operating surgeon. The operating surgeon does not append a modifier to the procedure that he/she reports. The assistant surgeon reports the same CPT code as the operating physician, with modifier -80 appended."
Modifier 81-"At times, while a primary operating physician may plan to perform a surgical procedure alone, however, during an operation circumstances may arise that require the services of an assistant surgeon for a relatively short time. In this instance, the second surgeon provides minimal assistance, for which he/she reports the surgical procedure code with the -81 modifier appended."
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