After 25 years, the American Medical Association (AMA) Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) office and outpatient evaluation and management (E/M) codes received a major overhaul. These changes, which went into effect Jan. 1, will help reduce administrative burden on providers and roll back some of the rigid requirements for E/M coding by simplifying the code selection criteria, making them more clinically relevant and intuitive.
The code changes will only affect CPT codes 99201–99215. Some of the key changes include:
- Elimination of history and physical examination as elements for code selection
- Allowing providers to choose level of service based on medical decision making (MDM) or time
- Modifications to the MDM criteria
- Deletion of CPT code 99201
- Adding guidelines for split/shared visits
- Changes for billing prolonged service codes
History, Exam Required But Not Scored
The approved revisions to 99202–99215 require that a medically appropriate history and examination be performed; beyond this requirement, the history and exam do not affect coding. Instead, the E/M service level is chosen either by the level of MDM performed or by the total time spent performing the service on the day of the encounter.
Coding tip: According to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), medical necessity is still the overarching criterion in selecting a level of service. This means the history and exam still affect the E/M visit even though they are not used in the calculation of the overall level of services.
Deletion of CPT 99201 (new patient, level 1)
Based on billing data, CPT code 99201 is rarely reported by almost all specialties for a level 1 new patient; therefore deleting it will have a relatively minimal impact on practices. CPT code 99211 (established patient, level 1) will remain as a reportable service.
Criteria for Code Selection in 2021
In 2021 and beyond, E/M code selection will be based on either 1) the level of MDM; or 2) the time performing the service on the day of the encounter. For step-by-step guidelines on code selection by MDM or time, click on the links below:
- 2021 Code Selection Based on Medical Decision Making
- Selection of an E/M level Based on Time in 2021
Definition of Time
The definition of time associated with the office and outpatient E/M CPT codes 99202–99215 has been revised from the typical face-to-face time to “total” time spent on the day of the encounter. Total time spent on the day of the encounter now includes non-face-to-face time as well, such as the time a provider spends reviewing diagnostic results after the patient goes home. The total time corresponding to CPT codes 99202–99215 has been defined at specific intervals. For example, to report code 99215, 40–54 minutes of total time must be spent on the date of the encounter.
|Prior to Jan. 1, 2021
|Effective Jan. 1, 2021 (and beyond)
|Time may only be used/selected if 50% of the encounter is spent on counseling and/or coordination of care.
|Time can be used to select an E/M code whether or not counseling and/or coordination of care dominates the visit.
|Time is based on only face-to-face activities on the date of service.
|Time includes both face-to-face and non-face-to-face activities on the date of service.
|Time criteria is based on a typical time for the level of service.
|Time is based on defined intervals of time.
Activities that Count Toward Time
- Preparing to see the patient (e.g., review of tests)
- Obtaining and/or reviewing separately obtained history
- Ordering medications, tests, procedures
- Referring and communicating with other healthcare professionals
- Documenting clinical information in the electronic or other health record
- Independently interpreting results (not separately reported) and communicating results to the patient/family/caregiver
- Care coordination
|2021 Time Intervals: CPT Codes 99202–99215
Medical Decision-Making Elements
The medical decision-making elements associated with CPT codes 99202–99215 consist of three components:
- Number and complexity of problems addressed;
- Amount and complexity of data to be reviewed and analyzed; and
- Risk of complications and/or morbidity or mortality of patient management.
To select a level of E/M service, two of the three elements must be met or exceeded. The new medical decision-making Table 2 further outlines the criteria for the E/M code level selection.