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Family Practice Coding Alert

You Be the Coder:
Specimen Transfer

Question: Can you explain the proper use of CPT code 99000? Our practice does not pay for the transportation of specimens. May we still report this code? Also, may this code be used to describe specimen collection, lab codes and venipuncture?

Robbin Kimball RN, NP
Moore, Okla.

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Answer: Different practices use various methods to transport specimens to laboratories. In some cases, the practice pays for a courier service. In other cases, the lab provides courtesy pick-up service.

Although some coding experts believe you should not report 99000 (handling and/or conveyance of specimen for transfer from the physicians office to a laboratory) if the practice did not incur the costs of transportation, most disagree. They point out that the code states handling and/or conveyance of the specimen and, therefore, may be assigned.

CPT supports this position and published an article to that effect in the October 1999 issue of CPT Assistant. The article noted that, while 99000 is certainly intended to be used when the physician handles and transports a specimen to the lab, the code is also intended to reflect the work involved in the preparation of a specimen prior to sending it to the laboratory which often includes centrifuging a specimen, separating serum, labeling tubes, packing the specimens for transport, filling out lab forms and supplying necessary insurance information and other documentation. CPT acknowledged that this was the most typical use of 99000.

However, coders should note that 99000 is not intended to be used simply to report collection of the specimen. Reimbursement for obtaining a Pap smear or throat culture is factored into the relevant lab procedure code. In addition, obtaining a blood specimen by venipuncture or finger/heel/ear stick should be reported with 36415.