Reality of Clinical Documentation Improvement- Compliance Risk
CDI programs have strong potential to significantly raise compliance risks for the hospital or health system in which the program operates. Compliance departments strive to minimize and alleviate the numerous risks associated with the myriad of components associated with and fundamental to the delivery of healthcare. Clinical documentation improvement initiatives can work in tandem, align and collaborate with the compliance department’s goals and objectives, supporting overall efforts to minimize this risk while still achieving optimal enhancement of documentation accuracy, completeness and overall sustainable long-term effectiveness.
The Business of Compliance
Healthcare compliance is the process of following rules, regulations, and laws that relate to healthcare practice. There exists countless number of CMS laws, regulations, policies and mandates particular to and governing coding, billing and reimbursement for healthcare care services, not to mention all other third-party payers with their own distinct set of laws, regulations, policies and mandates. Let’s take a close look at some of the most pertinent CMS regulations and policies cited in the OIG’s Compliance Review of past hospitals when reporting on the results of a hospital’s
compliance with Medicare billing requirements.
Medicare Requirements for Hospital Claims and Payments
No payment shall be made to any provider of services or other person under this part unless there has been furnished such information as may be necessary in order to determine the amounts due such provider or other person under this part for the period with respect to which the amounts are being paid or for any prior period. the Social Security Act (the Act), § 1833
The Medicare Claims Processing Manual (the Manual}, Pub. No. 100-04, chapter 1, § 220.127.116.11, requires providers to complete claims accurately so that Medicare contractors may process them correctly and promptly.
Medicare contractors shall utilize the medical record to determine whether procedures and diagnoses were coded correctly. If the medical record supports that they were, pay the claim as billed. If the medical record supports that they were not, then utilize ICD-10-CM coding guidelines to adjust the claim and pay at the appropriate DRG. The Medicare Program Integrity Manual, chapter 6.5.
The contractor shall perform DRG validation on PPS, as appropriate, reviewing the medical record for medical necessity and DRG validation. The purpose of DRG validation is to ensure that diagnostic and procedural information and the discharge status of the beneficiary, as coded and reported by the hospital on its claim, matches both the attending physician's description and the information contained in the beneficiary's medical record. Reviewers shall validate principal diagnosis, secondary diagnoses, and procedures affecting or potentially affecting the DRG. The Medicare Program Integrity Manual, chapter 6.5.3.
Medicare, its contractors and the OIG utilize advanced data analytics, data mining and claims matching to identify potentially aberrant patterns of coding and billing as an integral part of a Medical Review program to insure appropriate payment of claims and protection of the Medicare Trust Fund. This is a critical element of hospital compliance that clinical documentation improvement specialists, CDI leadership and the C-suite of hospitals lack understanding and appreciation for in the quest to increase reimbursement through reimbursement optimization and the deployment of clinical documentation improvement programs. Further adding to and complicating the compliance risk of hospitals is CDI consulting companies pushing hospital CDI specialists to become more aggressive in querying for high weighted DRGs such as DRG 871- Sepsis with MCC and DRG 177- Complicated Pneumonia with MCC. This is a lesson in futility with all third-party payers focusing upon high weighted DRGs to refute the diagnoses used in assigning the DRG and cost containment. I have personally experienced a colleague who is being advised to engage in more queries for sepsis while eighty percent of their current billed sepsis DRGs are being denied for clinical validation. An underlying premise of true clinical documentation improvement initiatives must be securement of the clinical facts, clinical information and context within the record in a clear, concise and contextually consistent manner to support the establishment of medical necessity for hospital level of care. There is all this talk of late on the importance of CDI incorporating clinical validation into the chart review process as a regular part of our duties and responsibilities. The reality is clinical validation is not a separate entity that the profession should subscribe to; instead, it should be treated as integral and fundamental to clinical documentation that speaks the truth beginning in the Emergency Department and extending throughout the entire hospital stay concluded with the discharge summary.
I call your attention to the graph that accompanies this blog representing the billed DRG severity complexity of a specific hospital versus the expected severity complexity based upon risk adjustment using hospital specific billed data available in the CMS paid claims history file. You can obviously see when the CDI program began with the black line signifying the hospital’s results gradually surpassing the green line which represents the expected risk adjusted severity complexity for the hospital. Hospitals should be cognizant of their DRG billings including volume of high weighted DRGs, CC/MCC capture rate and DRG pairs/triplets with the potential to invite unwanted outside scrutiny just like this hospital is certainly facing with the achieved results of CDI. The compliance risk is real as I am personally aware of a three-hospital system where eighteen months after the CDI program began the OIG began an intense focused review of the hospitals inpatient coding and billing while at another three-hospital system the OIG began a similar focused review of inpatient billings just twelve months after starting the program. To date the health system has spent over $2million defending their coding and billing and there is no letup in sight.
A word to the wise for the CDI profession, don’t become overzealous in “improving” clinical documentation at the mercy of exposing the hospital to unnecessary costly compliance risk. Stay true to the mission, vision and goals of CDI, that is enhancing the communication of patient care extending beyond the mere capture of diagnoses that impact reimbursement. We must migrate away from a narrow reimbursement focus of CDI to one that embraces clinical documentation accuracy and completeness that speaks and communicates the truth of patient care. We must not succumb to continued expectations of achieving KPIs that purport to measure success of the CDI program yet in reality expose the hospital to potentially costly unnecessary compliance risk like to the two health systems pointed above. By focus and direction upon truth in expression and communication of patient care, adherence to third party payer regulations, policies, procedures and mandates will be ultimately satisfied thereby alleviating and minimizing compliance risk. A periodic outside assessment of CDI processes and outcomes is essential to insure an objective viewpoint of compliance risk with potential risk mitigation strategy recommendations to be considered as a CQI approach to CDI.