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Orthopedic Coding Alert

Reader Questions:

Open Fractures May Not Require Open Care

Question: Our orthopedic surgeon documented fracture care for an open scapula fracture, and our coder automatically assigned the open fracture care code, but I didn't think open fractures always required open treatment. Who is right?

Alabama Subscriber Answer: An open fracture occurs when a patient breaks his bone and the skin, and has an open wound down to the fracture site. For such a fracture to the scapula, for example, you'd report 811.1x (Open fracture, scapula). 

Many coders mistakenly assume that open fractures require open treatment, in which the physician makes a surgical incision to treat the fracture. As CPT states in its introduction to the musculoskeletal surgery section, the incision can be directly over the fracture or in a remote location that allows the physician to place a nail across the fracture. If the orthopedist performs open fracture care at the scapula, you should report 23585 (Open treatment of scapular fracture [body, glenoid or acromion] with or without internal fixation). But you should not assume that this code is accurate just because the physician documented an open fracture.

Physicians can address open fractures using closed fracture treatment as well. Closed treatment can include casting, strapping and splinting. 

If your physician tells you that he performed closed fracture care of the scapula, you should report 23570 (Closed treatment of scapular fracture; without manipulation) or 23575 (... with manipulation, with or without skeletal traction [with or without shoulder joint involvement]).

If the orthopedist does not specify whether he performed open or closed treatment, you should ask him which service he performed rather than simply assuming that he performed open treatment.


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