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BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES: The study’s aim was to deepen our understanding of family physicians’ perceptions of the strengths and weaknesses of the widely used US documentation, coding, and billing rules for primary care evaluation and management (E/M) services.

METHODS: This study used in-depth, qualitative interviews of 32 family physicians in urban and rural, academic, and private practices. Interviews were initiated with a series of grand tour questions asking participants to give examples and personal narratives demonstrating cost efficiencies and cost inefficiencies relating to the E/M rules in their own practices. Investigators independently used an immersion-crystallization approach to analyze transcripts to search for unifying themes and subthemes until consensus among investigators was achieved.

RESULTS: The majority of participants reported that the documentation rules, coding rules, and common fees for procedures and preventive services were reasonable. The E/M documentation rules for all other visit types, however, were perceived by the participants as unnecessarily complicated and unclear. The existing codes did not describe the actual work for common clinic visits, which led to documenting and coding by heuristics and patterns. Participants reported inadequate payment for complex patients, multiple patient concerns in a single office visit, services requiring extra time beyond a standard office visit, non-face-to-face time, and others. The E/M rules created unintended negative consequences such as family physicians not accepting Medicare or Medicaid patients, inaccurate documentation, poor-quality care, and system inefficiencies such as unnecessary tests and referrals.

CONCLUSIONS: Family physicians expressed many problems and frustrations with the existing E/M documentation, coding, and billing rules and felt the system undervalued and unappreciated them for the complex and comprehensive care they provide. Findings of this study could inform improved guidelines for primary care documentation, coding, and billing.


Originally published as:

Young RA, Bayles B, Hill JH, Kumar KA. Family physicians' opinions on the primary care documentation, coding, and billing system: a qualitative study from the residency research network of Texas. Fam Med. 2014 May;46(5):378-84. PMID: 24915481.

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