An unfunded federal regulation's mandate requires us to provide foreign-language interpreters to non-English- speaking patients, says William H. Cotton, MD, medical director of the Primary Care Network at Columbus Children's Hospital in Ohio. Interactions that involve a foreign-language interpreter to provide care take longer and are more complicated than regular interactions, he says.
Good news: The additional work of using an interpreter allows you to code for a higher level of care. Test your familiarity with complex E/M coding with the following case study. Review OM Case Involving Increased Effort A 5-year-old boy from a Spanish-speaking family comes in for evaluation of fever and ear pain. Normally you would code this as an established patient level-three visit with a diagnosis of otitis media (OM) and treatment with antibiotics, Cotton says.
The problem: Because the pediatrician requires an interpreter to communicate with the patient and parent, the encounter takes 10 minutes more than the physician would typically spend on a similar visit that didn't require an interpreter. How should you code the interaction to receive credit for the increased effort? Realize Interpretive Code Isn't an Option Unfortunately, you can't use an exact CPT code to represent the extra work. "No specific codes exist for providing and using foreign-language interpreters," says Richard H. Tuck, MD, FAAP, a nationally recognized speaker on pediatric coding and pediatrician at PrimeCare of Southeastern Ohio.
Workaround: You can, however, capture the increased work through E/M services. "The additional work of using an interpreter allows you to code at higher levels," Tuck says. You could justify a level-four visit from two perspectives. Method 1: Use Time to Bump Up the Level Did you first jump to time-based billing to capture the added work of using an interpreter? Additional time spent counseling and coordinating care could support billing 99214 (... physicians typically spend 25 minutes face-to-face with the patient and/or family) instead of 99213 (... physicians typically spend 15 minutes on this service). You would need to spend more than 50 percent of the encounter for counseling and interpretation, including the interpreter/translation time.
Example: Assuming the total visit time is 25 minutes or more, Tuck says, the breakdown would include the:
• 10 minutes for the interpreter
• additional 3 to 5 minutes of counseling and coordinating care in the other 15-minute segment. Counseling and coordinating care dominates the visit (13-15 minutes of counseling time out of 25 minutes of total time), so you would use time-based billing to justify a [...]