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ICD 10 Coding Alert

ICD-10 Updates:
Check Up On Updates On Infection, Sepsis

Neglect evolving guidelines at your own risk.

This time of year offers coders a multi-month window to get caught up on all the various changes to the ICD-10-CM and CPT® manuals. However, there’s one area of equal importance that coders are notorious in neglecting in their haste of getting caught up on all the new codes — the guidelines.

“While becoming familiar with the annual changes to specific ICD-10-CM codes is important, it is equally important to review the coding guidelines for additions, revisions and deletions,” says Amanda Corney, MBA, medical billing operations manager for Medical Resources Management in Rochester, New York.

Dive in for a closer look at all the most important sepsis changes to the 2019 ICD-10-CM guidelines.

Keep Up with Code Sequencing Instructions

The first guideline worth noting is a subtle one, but offers important additional instruction to the postprocedural sepsis guidelines in Section I.C.1.d (Sepsis, Severe Sepsis, and Septic Shock). Note the new guidelines, which are in bold for emphasis:

  • “For infections following a procedure, a code from T81.40, to T81.43 (Infection following a procedure…),  T88.0, (Infection following immuni­zation), or a code from O86.00 to O86.03, (Infection of obstetric surgical wound…), that identifies the site of the infection should be coded first, if known. Assign an additional code for sepsis following a procedure (T81.44) or sepsis following an obstetrical procedure (O86.04). Use an additional code to identify the infectious agent. If the patient has severe sepsis, the appropriate code from subcategory R65.2 should also be assigned with the additional code(s) for any acute organ dysfunction.”

In addition to some semantic changes, you’ll want to take specific note of the instructions on the sequencing of codes. First, you will select one of the appropriate codes listed above to report the underlying postprocedural infection. Next, you will either report T81.44- (Sepsis following a procedure) or O86.04 (Sepsis following an obstetrical procedure) depending on the patient’s surgical status. Next, you will report a third code to identify the infectious agent. Finally, you will report a code from R65.2- (Severe sepsis) if the patient has documented severe sepsis.

Beware of this New Postprocedural Infection Policy

Within the same set of guidelines, the ICD-10-CM manual offers one entirely new rule regarding postprocedural infections following infusion, transfusion, therapeutic injection, or immunization:

“For infections following infusion, transfusion, therapeutic injection, or immunization, a code from subcategory T80.2, Infections following infusion, transfusion and therapeutic injection, or code T88.0-, Infection following immunization, should be coded first, followed by the code for the specific infection. If the patient has severe sepsis, the appropriate code from subcategory R65.2 should also be assigned, with the additional codes(s) for any acute organ dysfunction.”

One important point to note with this guideline is that there is no instruction that you should report postprocedural sepsis codes T81.44 or O86.04 as secondary diagnoses, if applicable. Instead, you should only report R65.2 if the physician documents severe sepsis.

Note: Most of the codes referenced are new as of 2019, so be sure to brush up on all the guidelines that are affected by the plethora of new diagnosis codes.

New Guidelines Require More Specificity in Coding Sepsis, Shock

The last guideline to note under Section I.C.1.d pertains to a revision to the postprocedural infection and postprocedural septic shock coding guidelines:

“If a postprocedural infection has resulted in postprocedural septic shock, assign the codes indicated above for sepsis due to a postprocedural infection, followed by code T81.12-, Postpro­cedural septic shock. Do not assign R65.21, Severe sepsis with septic shock. Additional code(s) should be assigned for any acute organ dysfunction.”

As you can see, ICD-10-CM almost completely overhauls their prior guidelines on postprocedural infection and septic shock coding. For a patient experiencing postprocedural septic shock following an infection, ICD-10-CM first instructs you to follow by the guidelines listed above. Unfortunately, ICD-10-CM does not elaborate any further, but it’s to be assumed that you will report each diagnosis in the following order:

  • The postprocedural infection code (T81.40-T81.43, T88.0, O86.00-O86.03)
  • Sepsis following a procedure (T81.44 or O86.04)
  • Code to identify the infectious agent
  • T81.12-.

Brush up: Abiding by these new sepsis guidelines requires a firm knowledge of what constitutes a sepsis versus septic shock diagnosis. “The ICD-10-CM official guidelines on sepsis explain it best: ‘Septic shock generally refers to circulatory failure associated with severe sepsis, and therefore, it represents a type of acute organ dysfunction,’ whereas sepsis is a systemic response to infection,” relays Stephan Tong, CPB, CPC, COC, revenue cycle management freelancer at “Septic shock occurs when septic infection of the bloodstream has become so severe that the patient will fall into a very dangerous hypotensive state,” explains Tong.