Q&A: Using modifier –50 for bilateral services

January 23, 2009

In some instances it is appropriate to use modifier –50 for bilateral procedures.

Q: Can you clarify when it is appropriate to use modifier –50 for bilateral procedures?

A: It is appropriate to use modifier –50 when the Current Procedural Terminology code refers to a unilateral procedure that you are performing bilaterally. An example of a code representing a unilateral procedure would be 27448: "Osteotomy, femur, shaft or supracondylar; without fixation." To report a bilateral procedure, use 27448 with modifier –50.

An example of a code representing a bilateral procedure would be 69210: "Removal of impacted cerumen (separate procedure), 1 or both ears." It would be inappropriate to use modifier –50 to report this procedure.

The author, vice president of operations for Reed Medical Systems in Monroe, Michigan, has more than 30 years of experience as a practice management consultant and is also a certified coding specialist, certified compliance officer, and a certified medical assistant.