Homecare Coding Concerning Primary Diagnoses

Posted on Monday, March 13, 2017 10:28 PM

There is a huge discussion going on in homecare coding concerning primary diagnoses. Differing choices or using symptom codes for a primary diagnosis is currently frowned upon. There is ICD-10 coding guidance that supports these choices in certain cases. Symptoms can be used as a primary diagnosis when no definitive diagnosis is available.

Even though many agencies refuse to use a symptom code as primary, the coding guidance supports the practice as long as the cause of the symptom is unknown or not stated. There can be contradictory opinions about the choice for primary diagnosis when more than one diagnosis meets the criteria without creating a coding error in certain cases.

The 2017 official coding guidance supporting these coding options is stated below:

A. Codes for symptoms, signs and ill-defined conditions from Chapter 18 are not to be used as principal diagnosis when a related definitive diagnosis has been established (if no definitive diagnosis is present-code the symptom).

B. Two or more interrelated conditions – each potentially meeting the definition for principal diagnosis. When there are two or more interrelated conditions potentially meeting the definition of principal diagnosis, either condition may be sequenced first, unless the circumstances of the admission, the therapy provided, the Tabular List, or the Alphabetic Index indicate otherwise.

C. Two or more diagnoses that equally meet the definition for principal diagnosis. In the unusual instance when two or more diagnoses equally meet the criteria for principal diagnosis as determined by the circumstances of admission, diagnostic workup and/or therapy provided, and the Alphabetic Index, Tabular List, or another coding guideline does not provide sequencing direction, any one of the diagnoses may be sequenced first.

Make every attempt to obtain the cause of symptoms to avoid using these as a primary diagnosis. Keep in mind that the choice for primary diagnosis may differ when more than one diagnosis meets the criteria as primary – only if there is no mandatory sequencing applied in those cases.

Written by Mary Deakle, HCS-D, COS-C, Corridor’s Manager of Compliance and Education.

About Corridor

Corridor is the nation’s preferred partner and trusted business advisor to home health and hospice providers, providing quality services and impactful results for 30 years. Focusing on key operational, regulatory and financial challenges, Corridor delivering industry-unique solutions and deep expertise in coding, clinical documentation review, compliance, billing and collections , consulting and provider staff education . At Corridor, we make the business of caring for people Better! For the most important industry updates and news that impacts home health and hospice, please make sure to sign up for our weekly newsletter to receive the latest up-to-date industry information direct to your inbox!

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