• Revenue Cycle Management
  • COVID-19
  • Reimbursement
  • Diabetes Awareness Month
  • Risk Management
  • Patient Retention
  • Staffing
  • Medical Economics® 100th Anniversary
  • Coding and documentation
  • Business of Endocrinology
  • Telehealth
  • Physicians Financial News
  • Cybersecurity
  • Cardiovascular Clinical Consult
  • Locum Tenens, brought to you by LocumLife®
  • Weight Management
  • Business of Women's Health
  • Practice Efficiency
  • Finance and Wealth
  • EHRs
  • Remote Patient Monitoring
  • Sponsored Webinars
  • Medical Technology
  • Billing and collections
  • Acute Pain Management
  • Exclusive Content
  • Value-based Care
  • Business of Pediatrics
  • Concierge Medicine 2.0 by Castle Connolly Private Health Partners
  • Practice Growth
  • Concierge Medicine
  • Business of Cardiology
  • Implementing the Topcon Ocular Telehealth Platform
  • Malpractice
  • Influenza
  • Sexual Health
  • Chronic Conditions
  • Technology
  • Legal and Policy
  • Money
  • Opinion
  • Vaccines
  • Practice Management
  • Patient Relations
  • Careers

Is end-of-life planning truly necessary?


Do you know what treatments your patients would want if they became seriously or even terminally ill?

Do you know what treatments your patients would want if they became seriously or even terminally ill?

Since 2016, physicians have been able to bill Medicare’s Physician Fee Schedule for a visit with a beneficiary to discuss advance care planning and preferences about the patient’s medical care for some future point when the patient’s condition worsens or the person is no longer able to express care preferences. This care planning conversation might make some patients-and physicians-uncomfortable, but it is voluntary and it offers an opportunity to explore the patient’s values and wishes in a circumstance when no crisis is looming.


TRENDING ON OUR SITE: Bundled pricing is the only true transparency in healthcare


“We are quickly moving to a healthcare payment system based on value and outcome,” says Jean Acevedo, a healthcare billing and compliance consultant in Delray Beach, Florida. “Any service that can help patients make personal decisions about their healthcare, based on how much aggressive treatment they are likely to want or not want in those situations, is a good thing.”

Not only that, she says, but Medicare encourages physicians to do an annual wellness visit with their Medicare patients-even sending emails to beneficiaries reminding them of this service. If at that wellness encounter a discussion about advance care planning is initiated, there is no co-pay for the patient, but the physician is able to charge an additional fee for the advance care planning part of the visit.

Legal Documents-and the Conversations that Guide Them

Advance directives are written legal documents designed to allow patients to guide their medical care at a future time when they can no longer speak for themselves. One type of advance directive, the living will, describes medical treatments a person might want or not want, while the Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care Decisions names a surrogate authorized to speak on the patient’s behalf. In a number of states, a related document called POLST (Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment) allows patients and their physicians to spell out more specific treatment choices when the patient’s advancing illness makes them timelier.


POPULAR ONLINE: Are physician incomes falling?


In all of these cases, the advance directive document should follow a thoughtful conversation, also called advance care planning, an ongoing process of clarifying and defining one’s values and preferences for a variety of future scenarios. The patient’s attending or primary care physician often is best situated to guide such conversations, based on a history with the patient and an understanding of the kinds of medical issues that are likely to shape the patient’s future medical needs.

Those future needs are far from self-evident, but the physician can help the patient understand what is reasonable to expect. While advance directive documents are often associated with a preference to withhold aggressive treatments such as resuscitation, mechanical ventilation or feeding tubes, they can also be used to capture preferences for everything medically appropriate to be done in a crisis.

Next: Coversations don't always translate well


The legal framework for advance directives varies considerably from state to state, but a number of national groups, including Five Wishes, the Conversation Project, and many health plans, try to make it easier for patients to access sample documents and tools for completing them. Other groups are developing electronic registries to make the patient’s advance directive more easily accessible in a crisis.

Conversation Is Important

“Everyone would agree: these conversations are very important, and for the government to pay for them is a huge step forward,” says Tim Short, MD, a palliative care physician at the University of Virginia Health System in Charlottesville. “But it’s not enough to pay for them; we need to make sure that practitioners know what they’re doing-which may require training.  There’s a risk that the process could just become boxes to check, while a different approach is needed for different people at different stages of life.


TRENDING: It's about time PCPs say enough is enough


“We are having more of these conversations these days, but they don’t always translate in meaningful ways to impact how care is delivered or to patients getting the care they say they want,” Short adds. “I live and breathe these conversations every day in my work, so I was surprised to find that we don’t have really good double-blind data on the outcomes and effectiveness of advance care planning. But in the end, it doesn’t change my commitment or passion for talking about care preferences with my patients. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat in the waiting room of a trauma unit with a family that has never thought about these things.”

The Technical Fine Print

The fee for a doctor’s care planning visit, based on time spent, can run about $85 for an encounter lasting between 16 and 30 minutes. The government doesn’t spell out a lot of additional requirements for the visit, Acevedo says.

“But since Medicare is pretty clear that this is a voluntary discussion for the patient, the documentation should reflect that the patient consented to have the discussion,” she says. The notes should address who was present and what kinds of treatment decisions were made or advance directive documents discussed. “And, of course, since these are time-based codes, the number of minutes spent in the discussion must be documented,” Acevedo adds. But it is not required that a completed advance directive results from the visit.

These visits can be provided in a variety of settings, including the hospital and the clinic, but must be made in person-with the patient or with a family member or surrogate-using billing codes 99497 for the first 30 minutes and 99498 for additional minutes. There are no limits on how often these visits can be repeated, although it would be good to document changes in the patient’s health status, Acevedo says. Anyone who is able to independently bill Medicare for a medical visit, including advanced practice professionals, can bill for this visit, as well, and the physician can also assign some of the conversation to office staff “incident to” the initial encounter.

Next: Patients need a say


The Patient Needs a Say

Advance care planning, done to help prevent the provision of care that would not be wanted by the patient, requires a discussion with that patient, says Joseph Rotella, MD, chief medical officer of the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine and a physician in Louisville, Kentucky. “The public and the people we care for want to have a say in their care. Many families have had the experience of a loved one who was on life support, where the family has to make painful decisions. The only thing that can make it easier is if they know what the patient would have wanted,” he says.

“This is an agonizing position for families to be in, and some of us want to make it easier for the patient and family,” Rotella says. “Frankly, if I imagine myself in that position, totally sedated, I’m not as concerned about what happens to me as about what my family is going through. That’s the same reason people make wills, to ensure that they don’t put their family in a tougher situation than it needs to be.”


IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: Warning signs to look for to avoid practice embezzlement


“I don’t believe doctors want to give futile, harmful care to their patients, but the default position in our medical culture is to do everything,” Rotella says. “We all find it challenging to talk about the end of life. But when we lean in and think about it and take some control over our preferences and have these conversations, we realize that we do have choices. It can be empowering.”

Related Videos