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Otolaryngology Coding Alert

READER QUESTION ~ Which Codes Apply to Bronchitis?

Question: When I use 491.9 to describe a patient's bronchitis, payers often deny the code and request more information. How can I avoid this added step?

North Dakota Subscriber
Answer: You should choose a more specific ICD-9 code, if possible, instead of the unspecified chronic code that you-re using (491.9, Unspecified chronic bronchitis).

Here's how: When the allergist indicates that a patient has -chronic bronchitis,- ICD-9 leads you to select 491.9. To maximize space, the selections provided on the encounter form might only offer the physician nonspecific diagnoses. Your physician's documentation may actually be more specific.

You should note that the physician may render treatment for -acute exacerbations- of chronic bronchitis. The term -acute- under 491.21 (Obstructive chronic bronchitis; with [acute] exacerbation) appears in the diagnosis definition. So if the doctor sees a patient with an exacerbation of chronic bronchitis, you may bill 491.21.

If you can't find the additional information necessary to choose a specific 491.xx code, you may have to educate your practice's physicians on the terms they need to use. Physicians may not realize the exact levels of specificity ICD-9 codes can achieve.

If your doctors are not giving you enough information to choose the right diagnosis, explain that their unspecified code selections may delay and/or reduce payment.

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