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Are You Setting Yourself Up for an Audit?



Obviously, no one wants to be audited for anything. Let’s face it. No one wants to go to the I R S and be audited, but what I will say is, often the people who try to bring this up often do it in a way that they’re ultimately just trying to scare you..

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Disclaimer: The following is an actual transcript. We do our best to make sure the transcript is as accurate as possible, however, it may contain spelling or grammatical errors. Due to the unique language of acupuncture, there will be errors, so we suggest you watch the video while reading the transcript.

Hi there everyone. This is Sam Collins, the coding and billing expert for acupuncture for you and of course with the American Acupuncture Council. We’re gonna talk today a little bit about something. I know many of you hate to hear the word. In fact, it’s considered the a word audit. I’m in trouble.

What’s happening. Obviously, no one wants to be audited for anything. Let’s face it. No one wants to go to the I R S and be audited, but what I will say is, often the people who try to bring this up often do it in a way that they’re ultimately just trying to scare you and trying to elicit a response of fear so that you do something that they have like they’re the magic.

Clearly. I. Audits can be a problem, but I wanna talk about it from a standpoint. Is it really as much as people say, and are there some things that may make you more vulnerable, less vulnerable? Let’s get into that part of it. Obviously what occurs is many times an insurance company is simply looking at what you have billed and whether or not it was documented.

This doesn’t have to be insurance though. This is where people often have some misgivings. Quite frankly. If you’re doing a cash patient, there’s a complaint. They’re gonna look at your notes to see did what you say you did happen in the notes. And really, that’s all it comes down to. I’ve not really seen a lot of audits for their coming back for medical necessity, and I’ll never say that doesn’t happen.

But most often for Accu is, Hey, you build out something. Did you do it? And you have to think of what causes this? Why are they looking? I will tell you, in many instances, UnitedHealthcare recently seems to be the one that’s doing this the most, and I’m finding that often, to me, it appears they’re doing it because unfortunately, acupuncturists generically have some pretty poor documentation habits, and as a consequence, it’s low hanging fruit.

If they look at your notes. It’s not documented well, and I wanna make sure that we prevent that ’cause what triggers them to look at it, why? And often there’s these little triggers that happen. But let’s talk about it from this standpoint. Who protects you? You’re protecting yourself to start, but then you may have someone else behind you.

Like obviously I’m an expert and if you work with me in the network, I would wanna audit your notes myself to make sure they’re okay before even someone looked. But let’s talk about malpractice coverage. Obviously you all have malpractice coverage and the main reason you have it is just for that malpractice.

Frankly, there’s not a lot of malpractice, and I’m not saying it never happens, but it’s actually pretty rare. That’s why for the most part, your coverage is so low. But one of the things I want you to think of is do you have coverage for other than just malpractice by example, the most common thing I see an acupuncturist looked at for are gonna be either from the board.

Or it could be from an agency including an insurance on the documentation of your services that we call an audit. If you’re with American Acupuncture counsel for insurance, do you know it’s included up to $30,000 of defense, meaning they bring in attorneys of people to protect. You realize, invariably when I see an office audited and an insurance company has said that it’s not proper, most often it is.

Once we can work with it, or even if it isn’t, I wanna work with you to make sure, is it, and that’s how I’m gonna focus today, a little bit on that part of it, how to make sure that if you are audited, what do you need to do, but what things can trigger it. So let’s talk about the first thing that triggers someone to maybe want to look.

And frankly, it comes up when you bill something that’s unusual or out of the ordinary. In other words, if you’re floating in the middle of the stream, you’re okay. But if you get to the outsides, things can get a little bit trickier. Probably one of the big areas is your exam codes or evaluation and management codes.

What code are you choosing? Acupuncturists often will choose high level codes, which can be appropriate in many instances, but we wanna be careful if your style. Is to spend an hour with every new patient, meaning you’re billing a 9 9 2 0 5 every time. That’s a little unusual, and that’s not to say you wouldn’t have some, but to spend an hour with every patient seems a little bit odd.

Clearly, as an acupuncturist might you have a patient you spend more time with on average, simply because maybe they’ve been to two or three other providers, they have a long-term chronic condition. That history of evaluation may take longer, so certainly could be appropriate, but not everyone think of it simply.

If someone has chronic low back pain, surgical candidates been to a chio, a pt, medical doctrine, all of those things, I would bet that exam takes longer ’cause just the history of information they need to give you. Comparatively though, if someone has a hangnail, I wouldn’t expect that same type of exam.

So be conscientious. What triggers an audit or someone requesting records is when something is unusual. If you are billing a high level e and m code on a regular basis, you have a greater tendency for someone to look. Now, if you are doing that exam and can justified, I’m all in, but realize you become vulnerable.

So if you’re billing with that pattern, your documentation may be better in order. Because chances of someone looking at it means they wanna see and does it fit by example? Have you ever audited your own records? Like when you bill a 9 9 2 0 5, have you ever looked at the notes and said, do these notes meet that level of coding?

Did I have the medical decision making? Which is probably not, we don’t see things that severe Or do I have the time that justifies it? And often I found it doesn’t. So I want you to start to look and go, let’s make sure if I’m coding it, lemme make sure I know why. I’m picking that e and m code, and I would say that even applies with a 9 9 2 0 4 2 0 5.

The other place that runs into a problem is just the frequency of an exam by example. A lot of people come to me and say, Hey, Sam, how often should you bill for re-exams? And this is across the board. Really, even if you’re not an acupuncturist, a chiropractor, a medical doctor, is expected that re-exams are about every 30 days for recurring care of a patient’s condition.

If it’s sooner than 30 days, that’d be a little bit like why now? Could there be reasons for it being sooner than 30 days? Of course. What if you’re seeing someone for headaches and neck pain and then they come in on the next visit and say, Hey, last night I tried to list something. I twisted my low back, I felt a pop, and they have low back pain.

Sure an exam is appropriate ’cause it’s a new condition or new complaint. But if it’s to deal with the same area, chances are not until every 30 days. So be conscientious. What insurance companies do and what everyone does is just look at an algorithm. How often is something being billed and where do you fit with your peers?

If you fit outside the norm, someone’s gonna think we’re gonna take a look by example. Blue Cross sent out letters. Blue Cross Blue Shield sent out letters to many providers last year. On that factor about the frequency of the codes for E and s, but also the frequency of acupuncture. In the letter, it doesn’t say that you’re doing anything wrong, but it says your numbers are above the norm.

We want you to look to make sure it’s justified. To me, that’s a warning that an audit is impending. Now, I don’t care about an audit so long as we’ve documented and have the reasons, but I prefer not have to go through it. So high level e and m codes are just a very great frequency, is definitely one trigger.

So keep that in mind. If you have exams done every 30 days for ongoing care, you’re billing oh threes with an occasional oh 4 0 5, I think you’re gonna have no issue. The other area is just the sheer number of services you provide. Now for acupuncture, as I’m sure many of you are aware, you can bill up to three sets that are payable, and I haven’t found too much of an issue billing up to that number, however, Keep in mind if you bill everyone three sets, no matter what, that may be your style or technique, but be conscientious.

That shouldn’t. Some people have less or more. Now, I’ll never take away if that’s the style, but keep in mind when that number is higher, it’s gonna afford someone to look. Now, I do not care if you build three sets, two sets, whatever. Just make sure it’s documented. The problem I find is that many acupuncturists are never taught properly.

The documentation. And remember, documentation of Accu Acupuncture requires two things. You have to document the time. This is the time with the patient, and realize that time is soon as you walk in the room and say, Hey, Mrs. Jones, how are you feeling? That starts the time. It includes also tongue and pulse and evaluation, day to day-to-day, but also sterilizing your hands, preparing the points, choosing marking, inserting needles, all of those things.

So document that along with what points you have done. If you have that, we’re okay. Unfortunately, I’ve seen a lot of offices that don’t document that they may document one way off the other. So if you’re going to document acupuncture, remember it has two things, time and the points of each set, and they must be separate.

The time a person resting on needles without any active part to acupuncture does not count, but the active part of it and realize that takes a lot more time than people realize. It’s not just the point of inserting the needles. But all the things that lead up to, into, and the removal. So make sure that’s documented.

But again, if it’s more than three, so be it. There are, most plans won’t cover more than three, so if you do more, that’s fine. It doesn’t really matter. Just make sure what’s there is documented. The other trigger, of course, is just the sheer number of visits that the patient has. If you have a patient with an uncomplicated condition that you treat for a very long time.

The chances are someone’s gonna eventually look and go, is this care working? Why is this person continuing? Are they getting better or not? And again, it doesn’t mean it’s wrong, but they’re gonna start to question the efficacy. I would say start thinking of when you say someone has a stagnation or a chief stagnation, think of that as a functional deficit.

As they get better, the she improves, which means the function improves. And if we’re demonstrating that, I think medical necessity becomes a lot easier, but length of care can be a factor. But what about length of care? Depending on the condition, simple, low back pain, I would expect not to take too long.

But what about some of that’s had chronic recurring low back pain? That’s a little different. Maybe they have more complicated conditions. Maybe they have a disc injury. So there could be factors that are involved within that. So keep in mind, all I wanna make sure is that if anyone ever looks at your notes, they’re justified.

Let’s face it, people think all the time that’s only gonna happen with insurance. No, it doesn’t. If a patient makes a complaint to the board or has an issue, the board is always gonna want your records, and the board has certain standards that must be met regardless of insurance billing. So please be careful.

Don’t think because I’m billing cash or getting paid by cash, my documentation can be sloppy. No. You still have to have the same detail to indicate what services were provided. You can’t just do, I did acupuncture and it was $75. So give me a little bit more. The other factor is just number of services, and I’m talking generally, I talked a little bit about acupuncture, but what about additional services?

If you’re doing twin on gu sha cupping, those are all fine, but what if you have a person, you’re doing eight things on a visit? Does that not seem maybe just a little excessive? I’m not saying it absolutely is, but that would be unusual. Unusual things get looked at. Now, unusual on an occasional basis.

Everyone gets that unusual on a consistent basis means what’s going on in your office. That’s different. What I prefer to do is flow in the middle and when you get outside of it, if someone looks no big deal. One of the things I do with our network members when you join is I audit you. One of the requirements is I wanna see a sample of two or three claims from you, whether cash or otherwise to see are the things you billed for.

In the notes, because here’s what I found. I had an office once that had an audit, and the notes they requested, quite frankly weren’t very good. The insurance company was coming down on them, but because they’re with American Acupuncture Council Plus with me, we went back and said, yes, actually, we did an audit of this office six months prior and we found certain deficiencies and we have them correct them.

To include all the things they needed. Do you know they didn’t have to pay anything back in that audit because they showed there was compliance that, yeah, that older claim had that. But take a look at a newer claim where you can see that it was fully documented. Realize sometimes you’re just not doing things because you didn’t understand what was necessary.

If you show that correction can probably make all the difference in the world, and I see that happen way too often for you to not feel panicked oh my God, I’m gonna get in a lot of trouble. Most often, they’re just looking for you to be compliant. We see it with the VA and other plans, they just wanna make sure if they’re paying for something, that the person got it.

So if you’re doing a lot of services, great, document it, but also give me a reason why it can’t just be that’s what I do with everyone. No, it might be, that’s what I do with everyone with this particular condition. But not one that has a hangnail and a disc injury. You get my differences there. So thinking this way, don’t overly panic about an audit, but realize anytime anyone looks at your notes, they’re being audited, they’re looking, let’s make sure they’re in place.

So here’s some things that I wanna make sure that you’re doing. So let’s go to the slides, let’s talk about them so you can get a little visual of it as far as what’s happening. And you’re gonna look at what things are gonna trigger. So let’s get to the slides. I’m hoping my slide person is there to bring those up.

I’m not seeing them yet, but we’ll start there. I’ll wait for them to come in. But one of the triggers, as I mentioned, is gonna be high level evaluation and management codes. So keep in mind if you’re billing oh fours or oh fives, you have a greater chance of someone looking at you, which I do not care.

Just make sure they’re documented. So if you’re billing a 9 9 2 0 4. Or 2 0 5. What are the main things you’re gonna need to have? Remember exam codes are based on medical decision making or the time now medical decision making. I don’t think an acupuncturist is probably gonna see a condition that meets the medical decision making for a 9 9 2 0 5.

I’m not gonna say never, but very unlikely. ’cause you don’t see life or death things. However, what do you meet Time there could be a patient, let’s face it. That’s been to all these doctors that I mentioned. It could literally take a 45 minute interview plus an exam that takes an hour, so that certainly makes sense.

The same with the 2 0 4. Remember, that’s 45 to 59 minutes. Now, as an experienced acupuncturist, often once you’ve been around a while, do you really require that you spend an hour? I think in many instances, not don’t be overly concerned of, I don’t meet the medical decision making, but the time is there, which means document time.

Tell me how much time did you spend on this exam? If you’ve done that, you’re covered. Now be careful if you have an exam that you said you spent an hour and I see a half a page of information, I would go, how did that take an hour? That would seem unusual, but keep in mind, what if that person was hard of hearing?

There could be other factors, part of it. So high level e and m codes, and I’m hoping can someone go to the slides for me? The next factor is just simply evaluation and management frequency. Are you billing exams too frequently? I’ve had acupuncturists that mistakenly would bill an exam every visit. That is not appropriate an exam.

Every visit is not, it’s about every 30 days. So a lot of people think I can bill one ’cause I have to evaluate. Of course you do have to evaluate a patient each time, but the evaluation you do on a day-to-day visit is part of the acupuncture. . When you bill an e and m code or an exam, that’s when you do the big full thing.

So think of every 30 days. If it’s any sooner. Always do this check if I’m doing it than sooner than 30 days. Do I have the reasons behind it? In other words, do I have new condition, significant complaint, or change without that rethink and go why am I doing that? The next factor is greater than three sets of acupuncture.

I am all in and I have some acupuncturists that are mad and say people shouldn’t even do more than one set. I will never get into that argument. You do what you feel is necessary. Just bear in mind when you do more sets, someone’s gonna look and go, why is this always doing more sets? Nothing wrong with that.

But if you’re doing three sets of acupuncture, let’s remember what is the minimum you have to have documented? You must have 53 minutes of face-to-face time and no single set because there’s three is less than eight minutes. . So make sure the time matches and you have documentation of time and points for each set, and that’s the face-to-face time doing the acupuncture.

The other thing is just plain acupuncture documentation. Please take a moment to look at your notes and see that you have those two elements. That’s not really that hard. I wish the schools did a better job of teaching it, but this should just basically tell you from the start, always tell me time and the points.

If you have that, you’re fine. Where I think we run into a problem is people forget that and all you have to do is document it invariably, and I’ve been around acupuncture for 25 years as a patient, partly, but also as an expert on the coding and billing. And I invariably find acupuncturists generally will always tell us they see patients longer than the average provider.

I agree. I agree. I see that too. However, what do you need to do? Tell me the time. Tell me the points of each one. If you have those in place, we’re gonna be okay. And then just about therapies. If you are doing therapies in addition to acupuncture, I’m all in. But let’s be careful of not having eight or nine units of therapies.

Try to stick with four or less. If you’re doing three units of acupuncture, I would stick with maybe no more than one or two things that are therapies outside of it. Not to say never ever. But again, on a regular basis, we are not trying to do everything plus the kitchen sink. Keep it in mind. But if you’re doing more than that, what do you have to have documented the services?

If you’ve done more than four units or services, good documented. But if I did four units a time service, remember now my time has to equal 53 minutes. In addition to that, if I’m doing even more than that, I might have to as much as an hour and 15. Keep in mind, I had an offices a few weeks ago that they’re being questioned.

That they were billing for more times than their office was open. They were billing out, 20 hours of services and you’re thinking, how can you bill 20 hours of service in one day? For this office actually was quite simple. There was more than one acupuncturist working in the office. And part of it, they weren’t showing which acupuncturists were doing the care.

So they always thought it was just one when there actually were three acupuncturists. That makes sense, but it was looked at. Now, once they figured that out, they were fine. But remember, you can’t do more than one hour of acupuncture in one hour. So you can do four units, whether you’re gonna do four units on one patient or divided up among two or three or four depending.

So keep that in mind. And then just remember, always look at long-term care. If you’re doing long-term care, I get it. . But if it’s an uncomplicated condition, why? Realize there’s gonna be a point of, is the care really helpful? Now, I’m a believer in palliative care. I think it’s important, but let’s remember that isn’t always what an insurance will cover.

And this is where with insurance, it’s a bit different. If a person’s paying cash, you do palliative care all you want. Just make sure they’re aware of what it’s doing. So keep in mind here will be the point document. If you’re doing an , make sure it meets the amount of time or medical decision making, either one.

I think it’s probably more, mostly time. If you’re doing acupuncture, document the face-to-face time and the points of each set. Not a big deal. Not very hard. Once you learn that your life will be easy. In fact, I would say for acupuncturist, your documentation is quite easy, but it’s not something that you’re doing if you’ve never learned it in that way.

So time and points, and just make sure the care plan matches complexity. Simple pain or simple problems shouldn’t take as long, but things can take longer. But there’d be reasons behind it. And that’s not always documented or reflected in the diagnosis because often you’re limited to just the symptom.

But realize in the notes, don’t be afraid to include all of the complicating factors. Even the VA talks about this. What if you have a patient that’s diabetic, they’re very overweight, they’re very deconditioned. I don’t care what you’re treating ’em for. With those three things on board, it’s gonna take longer.

Even though you’re not treating the obesity, not treating the diabetes, it’s still gonna complicate it. Not to think that maybe some of those things might get better if they’re in less pain. Maybe they can be more active, lose a little weight, and all those things. But keep in mind, there’s reasoning. All I want from you is simply when you’ve billed it, make sure it’s there.

I’m your advocate. Make sure that if someone looks at your notes, they can see what you’ve done. It’s documented properly. No issue at all. I don’t care if you’re audited, just document the services. No one can ever come back and say you should have only done two sets. Who says you should do what you do?

Based upon your experience and expertise as a provider, you might wanna say, what do I ever get a chance to have that looked at? Our network service does that. I would say definitely take a look. That’s what we do. We offer you a way of looking at that beforehand, and it’s just part of the overall service.

I have a vested interest in you. . If you’re not successful, you wouldn’t need continuing education. Therefore, why would I exist? Your practice is not surviving. I’m not surviving. So we’re gonna be your advocate. The American Acupuncture Council is always gonna be your resource. Give us a call, make sure if you need help, we’re here to do that.

Until I see you next time, document. But take care of your patients and do well, my friends.