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The Physician Query: What Every Coder Wants You To Know

The Physician Query: What Every Coder Wants You To Know

Query! Query! Query! Who are these people and what do they want from me?

Whether you are a physician who practices medicine in the inpatient or outpatient setting, you have probably been hunted down by a medical biller, coder, or clinical documentation improvement specialist.

This group of “hunters and gatherers” are quite astute and tenacious and their weapon of choice is the QUERY! They know their stuff and can sniff out any area in the chart that needs clarification.  Coders and CDI have the task of assigning the codes and providing documentation to paint the most accurate picture of the patient care you provided.  They increase revenue, decrease reimbursement time, put together the puzzle that displays the acuity of care you provide, help relay information about the risk of mortality, and more.

Take my word for it; you want these fierce hunters on your team. Now, onto the query!

What is a Query?

So, what in the world is a query (besides a word that drives me crazy and makes your skin crawl) anyways?

“A physician query is defined as a written question to a physician to obtain additional, clarifying documentation to improve the specificity and completeness of the data used to assign diagnosis and procedure codes in the patient’s health record.

I have found that queries seem to instill the fight or flight response from most physicians.  Is this person questioning my clinical judgment? Dukes are up…ready to fight. They want me to decide what type of heart failure my patient has…… Run for the Hills! But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Coders speak in codes. Physicians speak in clinical rational.

When a coder sends you a query to clarify information in the chart, they are looking for a code to assist them in painting the patient’s clinical picture.  It’s unlikely that they’re questioning your clinical care or judgments, but rather searching out a clarification of which code is most appropriate to reflect the care you’ve provided.

Physicians are eager to provide a clinical rationale for the query.  Several paragraphs regarding clinical judgment and rationale take up too much of your time and is not what the coders need and/or want to complete their task.

On the flip side, if the coder asks what type of CHF the patient has, a physician’s response of “just CHF, that’s it” is not helpful either. In other words, both sides must be balanced to create harmony. Here are a few steps to help achieve said harmony:

  • The coders and CDI need to query appropriately for information they need to accurately assign codes.
  • Queries need to be consistent with evidence-based practice and clinical practice.
  • Physicians need to be educated on how to document and respond with documentation to help coders accurately assign codes.

Most of all, everyone has to be patient with each other.  We are all on the same team here. We just need to learn each other’s language.

Meat and potatoes? Yes please….

Steak and Potatoes of Medical CodingOkay, so why do we need these “hunters and gatherers?”  Because they get you your meat and gather your potatoes so you can focus on patient care.  Hospitals have seen the benefit of coders and CDI programs for years now, but outpatient practices are starting to see the advantages in their practice as well.  Think of CDI as a quality initiative.

Most physicians are not taught how to, which is where coders and CDI come in! They help you demonstrate the quality of care provided.  Whether your practice designates a coder/CDI from already existing staff or hires an outside coding or billing company, their contribution is guaranteed to be invaluable to you.

Here are 7 reasons a physician needs coders/CDI:

  1. They can track the volume of queries by physician (education needs)
  2. They track response rates to queries. The faster response time, the quicker the revenue turnover
  3. They can track the most common CC/MCC diagnoses
  4. Track the most common DRGs, E&M codes, CPT, etc
  5. Determine the severity of illness and risk of mortality scores
  6. Track your case mix index
  7. Reduce/ manage denials and audits

Scout on and Forage, Fellow Villager!

With cuts in healthcare spending, tightened purse strings of private insurance companies, and increased claims audits, hospitals, and outpatient medical practices can really benefit from coding and CDI teams.  While no one likes to receive questions regarding the care that they provided, being proactive with the coder/ CDI process, will only help the physician in the big picture.

The return on investment (ROI) is evident with this process through quicker revenue return, decreased claim audits, and education for physicians on proper charting. The data received can also be organized and utilized to look deeper into various topics of interest to a physician’s personal practice, business practice, or hospital revenue flow.

So, hopefully, you will no longer dodge the query bullet, but better understand why the fierce hunters and gatherers do their job and come to appreciate the help they can provide your village.Print Post & Download PDF

Let’s dialogue on whether your practice uses coders or CDI.  What experience you have had with coders and whether you internalize these roles in your outpatient practice or outsource?

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7 thoughts on “The Physician Query: What Every Coder Wants You To Know”

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    I wanted to correct myself in the last comment. The coders I mentioned who write queries that anger and confuse doctors were from years ago, in the late 1980s and early 1990s not the coders I work with currently. We have great coders I work with today who code at a high accuracy rate, so I’m proud of them. We also have 2 more Coding Educators so we can do more with querying and education.

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    Years ago, I created over 40 Standard queries with multiple choices, involving all of the common diagnoses. and a few on procedures This sometimes prevents our coders from creating their own queries which often results in leading questions and poor decision on what to put down as multiple choices . We are respected by the physicians, which is super important to me, because I have seen coders write queries that anger, annoy and confuse the physicians and I don’t want that. As coding Educator covering 4 acute care hospitals, writing effective queries with great results is awesome, and we get around 50,000-100,000 more a week in reimbursement, 80% of the results end up with an increase in the DRG and around 20% end up as a lower DRG

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    I thought it was interesting when you mentioned that physicians and coders speak in two different languages. I would imagine that it would be important for these 2 professions to know how to communicate with each other. If I remember correctly, I think I have heard that there are professionals that help with these relationships called CDIs. It would be interesting to learn more about what CDIs do.

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    I’m so sorry to hear about your hearing! It sounds like you have made a great decision about coding and billing to reach out in another form of medical care. I know it’s not hands-on with the patient’s, but you are still involved to an extent. I am currently taking online classes for medical coding /insurance billing through Purdue Global formerly known as, Kaplan University. I find this class is very in-depth on everything. I am having some difficulties in understanding some of the coding processes right now. I will figure it out along the way, I hope and pray. LOL
    I hope you have continued success with your change in the medical field. I really enjoyed your testimony!


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