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Radiology Coding Alert

3-D Simulation Takes Radiation Oncology into Next Dimension

Radiation oncology coders working with practices that perform complex radiation treatments often wonder when they can bill 3-D simulation-aided field setting and when they should use complex simulation.

The organization of the CPT manual doesn't make things any easier because both CPT 77290 (Therapeutic radiology simulation-aided field setting; complex) and 77295 (... three-dimensional) are indented under the same heading. The trick with these two codes is to realize that, for most payers, simulation (simple, intermediate or complex) is allowed in addition to 3-D in order to prepare the patient and to confirm the accuracy of treatment fields.

"The only restriction is reporting more than one 'simulation category code' on the same day," says Deborah I. Churchill, president and founder of Churchill Consulting Inc., an auditing and electronic coding consulting firm in Killingworth, Conn. Simple, Complex and 3-D "A simple simulation (77280) is reported if only an orthogonal pair of films is taken," Churchill says, "while a complex simulation (77290) is reported if custom immobilization is constructed or if contrast is used." Direct physician supervision is required in both cases. Complex simulation 77290 refers to situations in which there are three or more treatment areas and/or rotation or arc therapy is prescribed. Complex simulation requires complex blocking, special wedges or compensators, custom shielding blocks, complex immobilization or multileaf collimation.

When appropriate, complex simulation may also include brachytherapy source verification; hyperthermia probe verification; contrast materials, with or without fluoroscopy; and tangential ports, oblique fields, rotational or special beam considerations. On the other hand, 77295 moves into the realm of treatment planning. "Although this service is listed with the simulation codes in CPT, it is perhaps better defined as a 3-D treatment plan," says Cindy Parman, CPC, CPC-H, RCC, co-owner of Coding Strategies Inc., an Atlanta-based coding and consulting firm. This code describes computer-generated three-dimensional (3-D) reconstructions of tumor volume and surrounding critical normal tissue structures. 3-D simulation requires the use of CT, MRI, PET or ultrasound technologies and uses multiple beams for treatment, each having a single beam weight, Parman says.

In brief, the critical tissues or structures that youre protecting drive the decision to employ 3-D simulation as much as, or more than, the challenging tumor placement and/or structure that youre targeting, Parman says. Experts concur that 77295 may be billed once per treatment course, per treatment volume. Requirements for a 3-D Planning System The 3-D treatment planning system must fulfill several highly specialized functions before one may appropriately use the 3-D code. It goes almost without saying that the treatment planning system must be capable of performing 3-D modeling of the tumor and surrounding critical anatomic structures, Parman says.

Churchill says the 3-D system must also be able [...]

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