Hi, everyone. Happy New Year and welcome to 2020 and to the first episode of To the Point for the American Acupuncture Council. I welcome you in, and I want to make sure we have a clear vision for the year. Of course, I’m going to probably overuse the 2020 reference, but nonetheless, let’s make this a good year and let’s make sure we’re understanding what’s going on [inaudible 00:01:16] make sure our practices are doing okay and better, but also how do we make sure we’re dealing with when someone says, “Are your services medically necessary?” How do we determine that? What does an insurance look for? What does it really mean? I think ultimately we know what it means in the sense that we have to show the patient is better, but ultimately what does an insurance company want? So let’s really focus on that today.
So let’s go to the slides. Take a look here, and I start off with insurance medical necessity for acupuncture. And this is really based upon an insurance company. Whether we agree, disagree for the most part doesn’t matter because it’s what the insurance companies say. So here are the medical necessity factors as per insurance, and this is specifically through Cigna, though you’ll see this is a repeat with almost every insurance. It says “Medically necessary services must be delivered toward defined, reasonable, and evidence-based goals.” In other words, they want to see that we’re going towards something that we can have an expectation of reaching a specific goal.
“Decisions must be based on patient presentation, including diagnosis, severity, and documented clinical findings.” So if you think of it, diagnosis and severity are only a part. The clinical findings help determine the severity and the diagnosis. So what I will say is it’s always ultimately best to have something that you can quantify clinical findings to show the patient is better.
One of those clinical findings could be a pain scale, but that’s not as accurate because I’m sure you’ve noticed, some people will tell you their pain is a nine, but yet clearly it’s not a nine based on their function. So I want to focus a little bit more than that. It goes on to say, “Continuation of treatment is contingent upon progression towards defined treatment goals and evidenced by specific significant objective functional improvements.” And I think it’s interesting to note here it doesn’t really focus as much on pain as we might think, but more about functional change or outcome assessments. And the reason why I think is that’s something we can measure. A pain scale, though it’s something that gives us a feeling of where the patient is at, it’s subjective. We want to try to focus more on objective factors, so outcome assessment scales and range of motion certainly will do that.
In addition, realize that certain conditions could be severe enough, maybe they’re going to be co-managed. By example, the company Evercore, which manages a lot of the Anthem policies, now covers things like mental disorders, post-traumatic stress disorders, anxiety, but you probably won’t be treating that just by yourself, but part of a co-treating. So, in those instances, making sure if you’re getting a diagnosis of say post-traumatic stress disorder, you’re not making it alone but co-managing along with another healthcare professional.
But it says, “Medically necessary services, including monitoring of outcomes and progress with a change in treatment or withdrawal of treatment if the patient is not improving or regressing.” So the idea is that the patient should get better with care, and if we withdraw care, they’re not getting any better or worse, clearly it shows the care as not medically necessary.
So that all sounds well and good, but really what are they looking for? They’re looking for the patient to have a treatment plan individualized. Now, obviously there’s going to be a lot of similarities with similar conditions, but it should correlate with the clinical findings. The more severe condition, the longer the plan may be, the more intense the care. Think of someone with simple back pain. They just woke up with a little back pain. It’s not going to require as much care as someone with say cervical disc degeneration. That’s chronic. So realize that some of those goals are going to be based on some of those factors as well and how much.
So ultimately, those should be this. Treatment is expected to result in significant therapeutic improvement over a clearly defined period of time. So, when you’re making a treatment plan, please make a plan. Tell me how many visits you’re expecting to see this patient. For instance, you might say, “I want to see them two times a week for four weeks,” meaning a total of eight visits. But then what are the expectations of that? Make sure you’re defining what do you expect to see? Do you expect 100% improvement or maybe a 50%? And that’s kind of where you want to go with it. Don’t have expectations that always says, “I expect the patient to be pain-free within X number of visits.” But you should see a clearly defined improvement.
So, by example, maybe after three to six visits, a 25 to 50% improvement in the pain, as well as a 25 to 50% improvement in function. The difficulty is the pain scale is easy, but how do we define function? And that’s what I really want to emphasize, what insurances will look for.
So, when planning, they say they want therapeutic goals that are functionally oriented, realistic, measurable, and evidence-based. So my takeaway here is to make sure that, when we’re writing a treatment plan, don’t simply focus on the patient having a decrease in pain. That’s certainly fine, but it’s not enough because they want something that they can measure, and it’s evidence-based. And again, the pain scale is too subjective to really accomplish that.
There should also be kind of a proposed release date or end time. That doesn’t mean that’s going to be the absolute. If I say I’m going to treat someone two times a week for four weeks, certainly, hopefully I’ll get them well sooner than four weeks or at least by four, but that’s not carved in stone. Realize potentially, after four weeks, the patient may have improved 75% but may still have a little bit more. The point here is have at least something that kind of gives an approximation.
What insurances are leery of is when someone says, “Well, I don’t know, I’m just going to treat until they get better.” There should be something that kind of gives you some type of feeling towards what are your expectations, and a lot of that is just based on your good old experience as a practitioner. What has been your practical experience for when patients have similar conditions how long it takes to respond? And, of course, there’s always all types of complicating factors.
So here’s what we need to do. In fact, this is what is directly stated in the Cigna guideline for medical necessity. It says, “Functional Outcome Measures, when used, demonstrates Minimal Clinically Important Differences from the baseline results through periodic reassessments.” So, in other words, what an outcome assessment does, it’s an easy way of measuring function. It’s not so much how much does the pain hurt, but how does the pain affect you doing certain tasks, maybe getting in and out of bed, sitting for long periods, doing your work, doing home chores, and those are things that we can certainly measure and manage.
And then it says, of course, “Documentation substantiates the practitioner’s diagnosis and treatment.” That’s kind of a given. Certainly what we’re going to be treating with the exam should demonstrate that. What I’m going to emphasize to you today is start implementing something beginning this year where every patient that you’re going to treat with insurance and going to treat for any extended period of time, you want to begin using outcome measures, and these are things like [inaudible 00:07:40], neck disabilities, which frankly are a little complicated for most patients. But nonetheless, you want to have some type of instrument to help you do that because here’s what they want is demonstration of progress towards an active home care, meaning the patient gets to a point where they can help themselves at home. Maybe you’re going to start with back pain and then eventually get to where they’re going to do more stretching, yoga, Tai Chi, so they can really kind of deal with it on their own, or they really maximize it.
Ultimately, they want to make sure that, if you’re going to continue care, maximum therapeutic benefit has not been reached. How can we measure that maximum therapeutic benefit has not been reached without an outcome assessment? Think of it much like a person on a diet. If you put someone on a diet, the only way to show that they’re losing weight is to measure that, and you want to measure it in a way that is quantified. So clearly, the simplest thing for weight loss would be putting someone on a scale, and that scale will say they weigh 150 pounds, and as they lose weight, they obviously will lose weight, 150 to 145.
The key is it has to be significant. We can’t certainly say the patient weighed 150 pounds, and now they weigh 149 and eight ounces. That’s really not going to be a significant amount. So we want to have something a little bit more than just that, but something that we can measure.
So here’s another example. Now, I just gave you what was Cigna’s. This is the one from the company Evercore. So, if any of you deal with a lot of the Anthem Blue Crosses, and I’ll let you know also United Healthcare and Optum Health use this company. And here’s what they say for when it comes to functional assessment. And it says, “Documentation of a patient’s level of function is an important aspect of patient care. The documentation is required in order to establish the medical necessity of ongoing acupuncture treatment.” And they go on to state, “The patient’s specific functional scale is a patient-reported outcome assessment that is easy and appropriate for acupuncturists to use. This so-called PSFS has been studied in peer-reviewed scientific literature and has been proven to be a valid, reliable, and responsive measure for a variety of pain symptoms, including neck, back, knee.” I would say you name it. It probably works with anything, even headaches.
But notice that they’re giving us a tool. They’re saying they want to see the patient’s specific functional scale. So my rule would be, if that is the type of protocol they want to see, let’s make sure we give that because notice they’re going to give you the objective findings that they also want to see. Notice it says, “inspection, palpation, range of motion, motion palpation of spine, orthopedic testing, neurologic testing.” Now, this, of course, would be a person with back pain, but I want you to notice none of this really focuses on the pain as much as the result of pain, their level of dysfunction.
So I’ll give one more. The veterans program, I’m sure you’re familiar. Many of you are probably treating VA patients through the PC3 program, formerly known as Veterans Choice. And here’s the two things they say on the standard episode of care for acupuncture. It says, “The result of care should result in significant durable pain intensity decrease,” and they actually say on a VAS scale of zero to 10, so that’s good. We still want to use that. But to go beyond that, we have to have a little bit more because notice the next thing they want is also “functional improvement by clinically meaningful improvement on validated disease specific and outcome instruments or return to work or improvement in activities of daily living.”
So you’ll notice the pain scale is a part, and when that pain scale is positive, we’re going to have improvements here. So, at the very least, even if you’re not using a validated form, please make sure you’re documenting maybe three or four activities that are being affected by their condition and as that condition improves, how those improve as well.
Do always make sure you compare apples to apples. I used earlier the example of weight loss. So let’s say you put someone on a diet, and week one you put them on a scale, and you weigh them. But then week two, you don’t weigh them. You measure their waist circumference. Well, unfortunately, because we’re doing two different types of measurements, comparing those two will give us no idea of how the patient’s changed. So do be consistent. If you’re going to do some functional things that are not on a validated scale, please make sure to make them consistent. Whether or not it’s the activity you come up with or the patient does, so long as we have some consistency, it’s going to show the functional change.
The other thing the VA says though, and this is something that is worthwhile to do with any patient as well, is “documented decrease utilization of pain-related medications.” Now, of course, we’re not going to tell a patient that they should or should not take them, but we want to monitor the levels. When a patient’s in a lot of pain, they’re probably taking many more. As they’re getting your care and improving, all of a sudden they may say, “Hey, I’m no longer taking it at all, or maybe taking far, far less.” Notice all these demonstrate the changes of the patient. Instead of relying on “I feel better,” let’s rely on something that we can measure that no one can dispute.
So, by example, here is the patient-specific functional scale. And you’ll see here it’s simply just a questionnaire. And what this questionnaire does, it talks about your initial assessment, followup assessments. But what I want to focus on, notice it has a scale here that says “patient-specific activity scheme.” If it’s a zero, they can’t perform it at all. If it’s a 10, they can perform it fully.
But what’s nice here is notice you’re just going to score this maybe every two weeks, but you have to indicate what type of activity. The activity could be sleeping. The activity could be how long you’re sitting, lifting, bending, carrying for home activities, any of those. It’s your choice to come up with it, but notice what this allows you to do is to take something specific to your patient and then beginning to grade their changes because all they’re looking for is did you make the patient better? The easiest way is by function.
So this is the patient-specific functional scale. I like it, but because it takes a little bit of extra work to come up with those activities, you may well like something like this one. This is called a general pain index. Now, general pain index, you’ll notice at the top, it says, “We would like to take a moment to see how your pain presently prevents you from doing what you would normally do.” Notice it’s not talking about how much it hurts but activities.
But just like the patient-specific functional scale, you’ll notice this one already has the activities listed. Notice, family, recreation, social, employment, self-care and so forth, and if you go to the bottom here, life support. The one thing that is different though with this one, completely able to function is a zero, unable to function is a 10, so it’s a little bit opposite from that standpoint. But notice what it simply does is give us a way of measuring how the patient is doing. I really like this one because I pretty much don’t care what I’m treating the patient for. Whatever you have, even abdominal pain is going to affect these things, and as those get better, the function’s going to improve.
Now, along with that, the VA has given us, of course, a pain scale. The one thing about this pain scale that I think you want to see is it’s not the traditional pain scale many of you are used to about, well, the 10 is when its at its worse. But I’ll just have you notice these indicate things more about activities. Look at number five. Their pain level is five because it interrupts some activities, whereas number seven, the focus of attention of the pain prevents you from doing daily activities. So it’s not that it’s not pain, but it’s more functionally based. And what’s very nice about this type of form, it’s two-sided, and there’s four questions on the back that goes over how it affects your activity, your sleep, your mood, or your stress from a zero to 10 scale.
Now I’m going to offer you this one, if you’d like. Just text AAC Network. You’re going to text to the number you see 714-332-6926. And when you text that number, you’ll get a little bounce back that’s saying, “Hi, how are you, what’s your email?” And then once you send your email, we will then send you a copy of this form, and then that way what I would suggest to do is print it out and use this now as your pain scale, which means you’re getting away from talking about how much it hurts, but also how much it hurts and how the patient is functioning as a result of that.
And I do like this one quite a bit because it doesn’t just focus on activities of daily living, but sleep, the patient’s mood, their stress level, and those all certainly are going to play a factor, and I think many acupuncturists ask those questions. So certainly, if you have a moment, go ahead and text us. We’ll send you a free copy, no charge to you. It’ll be in color. I suggest print it out, maybe blow it up to a poster size.
Ultimately, do keep one thing in mind. Acupuncture is considered not medically necessary for these two things, and do bear in mind treatment intended to improve or maintain general physical condition. Now, as a person that likes to keep himself healthy, I think this is the thing most people should do, but this is just not something that we do directly with treatment. But this is lifestyle. So once a patient has reached a point where you’re doing this, certainly you want to put them on maintenance. And I do believe there’s a benefit to getting care, but it has to be paid by the patient, not insurance.
And then, of course, it says maintenance services when significant therapeutic is not expected. Now, one thing I would suggest on this last one, there are times that could be supportive care, so by example, the VA even indicates this and will allow chronic care. Let’s say you withdraw the services. When you withdraw the services, maybe after two to four weeks, the symptoms get much worse. They may well allow supportive care. And I want to be clear, I’m saying supportive, not maintenance.
Ultimately, medical necessity for acupuncture, in my opinion, is quite simple. Acupuncture really helps a patient decrease their level of pain, and as a result an increase in function. If you focus on both factors, the pain and the function, that is the easiest way to demonstrate true medical necessity because it’s not just the reliance on “I feel better.”
So I wish you the best. Please take a moment to download some of those forms. Ultimately, American Acupuncture Council is here for you. We offer lots of programs, whether it’s coding, billing online, whether it’s a live seminar with [inaudible 00:17:45]. but we also are online. If you want to go to Instagram or Facebook, we’re there, and we put out news. We’re not there just to promote a program, but to really make sure that you’re doing well. Our goal at American Acupuncture Council is to make sure you’re successful. Ultimately, if you’re not successful, we don’t have our own ways of dealing with making sure we have a business. We want to make sure this profession moves forward, and to give you a highlight, the acupuncture towards Medicare is still moving forward, so there’s a lot of positive things happening. And I’ll see you next time. This is Sam Collins, the coding and billing expert for the American Acupuncture Council, and I wish you the best.
Please subscribe to our YouTube Channel (http://www.youtube.com/c/Acupuncturecouncil ) Follow us on Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/acupuncturecouncil/), LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/company/american-acupuncture-council-information-network/) Periscope (https://www.pscp.tv/TopAcupuncture). If you have any questions about today’s show or want to know why the American Acupuncture Council is your best choice for malpractice insurance, call us at (800) 838-0383. or find out just how much you can save with AAC by visiting: https://acupuncturecouncil.com/acupuncture-malpractice-quick-quote/.