How to Bill for Anesthesia for an Emergency of Short Duration

I was recently asked, “If one of my partners is medically directing a Medicare patient in OR #1 and an emergency C section needs to be performed on another patient because of fetal distress, is medical direction broken if the anesthesiologist begins the emergency case in OR #2 and remains there for 31 minutes, until an on-call CRNA relieves the anesthesiologist?”

CMS muddied the waters by stating that the medically directing anesthesiologist may perform other duties concurrently (sometimes known as the “Six permissible sins” of medical direction). These duties include: 

  1. Addressing an emergency of short duration in the immediate area
  2.  Administering an epidural or caudal anesthetic to a patient in labor
  3. Performing periodic, rather than continuous, monitoring of an obstetrical patient
  4. Receiving patients entering the operating suite for the next surgery
  5. Checking or discharging patients in the PACU
  6. Coordinating scheduling matters

The emergency case is clearly an emergency (CPT code 99140) and I think we can assume that OR #2 is in the immediate area. So what constitutes “a short duration”? My recommendation is to look at the expected on-call response time as your relative duration. Most anesthesia groups that utilize from-home, on-call for CRNAs, expect them to arrive within 30 minutes of being contacted (group policy statement). In the about example of the anesthesiologist starting the emergency C section and remaining in OR #2 for 31 minutes, would qualify for all three criteria and the case should be billed as medically directed and not subject to decreased reimbursement for broken medical direction (or supervision). My qualified opinion.

Anesthesia groups should use all resources available to them when faced with a situation that they have not encountered before. A few suggested resources  are:

  • check with their fiscal intermediaries for guidance
  • post your situation on a respectable listserv so that your colleagues can share experiences
  • contact a consultant that might have experience with this issue