6 Tips For Coding Medical Complications

by Applied Medical Systems

The introduction of ICD-10 brought extensive changes to healthcare coding including the introduction of thousands of new codes, many of which providers are still getting comfortable with. One area that providers have found particularly challenging is the coding of medical complications. Although ICD-10 has made it easier to code complications through the elimination of separate complications codes and the separation of intraoperative and postoperative complications, questions still arise. At times, it can be difficult to determine if a complication is in fact a “postoperative complication” or if it is an expected outcome from a certain procedure or disease. Furthermore, as a provider, you may be hesitant to document postoperative complications for risk of negative feedback and/or ratings.

Most Common Complications

Naturally there are numerous complications that can arise following a medical procedure. However, the most common complications below have been the cause for many debates between physicians and medical coders. Debates arise as to whether the conditions following surgery are expected outcomes or in fact postoperative complications. The most common complications include:
  • Postoperative Shock
  • Postoperative Atelectasis
  • Postoperative Atrial Fibrillation
  • Postoperative Paralytic Ileus
Because every case is different, the best way to determine if a condition is expected or is in fact a complication is to speak to the physician and review the physician notes in depth. Also, working with a knowledgeable medical billing company can take the guess work out of coding medical complications.

When To Code Complications

If you find yourself questioning a complication code, first ask yourself if the following 4 questions. If the 4 items below are true, then a complication code should be used. The conditions are as follows:
  1. Did the physician document that the condition is a complication?
  2. Was the condition an unexpected outcome or occurrence from surgery and/or a pre existing condition?
  3. Is there evidence that the physician evaluated, monitored, and treated the condition?
  4. Is there a cause-and-effect relationship between the condition and the procedure performed and/or care given?
If you answered yes to all 4 questions above, then in most cases a complication medical code should be used.

Tips for Coding Medical Complications

Below are a few helpful tips to refer to when coding medical complications.
  1. Remember that not all conditions that occur following a procedure at complications.Look for a cause-and-effect relationship between the procedure and the condition.
  2. Ask yourself if the outcome is unexpected or “rare”.
  3. Speak to the physician directly to clear up any questions.
  4. Complications can arise at any time, including hours, days, months, or even years following a procedure.
  5. Look for the presence of words such as “iatrogenic”, “due to”, “resulted from”, etc. in physician notes.
If questions still exist, seek the help of a medical coding professional, such as the staff at Applied Medical Systems (AMS).

Take the Complication Out of Complication Codes with AMS

If you are ready to take the guesswork out of medical coding, let AMS help. We have been providing medical billing and coding services to physicians for over 30 years. AMS is a cost-effective and reliable medical coding service that reduces the cost of in-house resources while increasing your ability to get paid fairly for the services you provide. For more information on medical coding services from AMS contact us for a free quote.