RSSAuthor Archive for Melissa Varnavas

Melissa Varnavas

Melissa Varnavas, is the Associate Director of the Association of Clinical Documentation Improvement Specialists (ACDIS). ACDIS is a community in which CDI professionals share the latest tested tips, tools, and strategies to implement successful CDI programs and achieve professional growth. With more than 5,000 members, its mission is to bring CDI specialists together. To learn more about ACDIS, go to or call HCPro customer service at 800-650-6787.

Note from the Associate Editorial Director: Consider the peer audit


Associate Editorial Director Melissa Varnavas

By Melissa Varnavas

Back in 2015, 40% of ACDIS Radio listeners (of the October 28, 2015, broadcast) indicated their CDI program had an established query auditing process in place. Another 29% said they had some type of query review practices established but they only informally or occasionally take the time to examine the efforts of CDI specialists.

ACDIS has long advocated for some type of regular query practice audit and review—be that driven by the CDI program manager or director or peer-to-peer amongst the CDI team. Donald A. Butler, RN, BSN, then the CDI manager at North Carolina facility authored a White Paper regarding the auditing process and provided an in-depth PowerPoint presentation regarding the benefits back in 2012. In 2013, a number of professionals described the importance of such reviews and pulled the lid off for a glimpse inside their own processes in a CDI Journal article. [more]

Note from the Associate Editorial Director: What’s so special about ACDIS?


Associate Editorial Director Melissa Varnavas

By Melissa Varnavas

In short, the membership. There are more than 5,500 ACDIS members now as we celebrate our 10th anniversary. That’s the size of a city. Sure, it’s not a large city but it’s definitely a community. It’s a community that’s chosen to live together and work together and ensure that its neighbors succeed. And that’s an amazing and special thing to be a part of in this day and age.

But it’s been that way since the start of the organization. Back then everyone was scrambling to figure out the best way to do this job. Back then everyone was looking for the best clinical indicators to help win their physicians over. Back then everyone was struggling to find their niche within the hospital hierarchy of department reporting structure. So everyone shared. Everyone shared just about everything they possibly could. [more]

Membership Update: ACDIS 2018 speaker proposal deadline extended

Join us in San Antonio!

Join us in San Antonio!

The Association of Clinical Documentation Improvement Specialists (ACDIS) is currently seeking speakers to present at the 2018 ACDIS 11th Annual Conference, to be held May 21-24 in San Antonio, Texas at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center. The deadline for submissions has been extended due to the devastation brought by hurricanes Harvey and Irma. The new deadline is September 25. Click here to view and complete the speaker application.

We seek speakers to present on all aspects of clinical documentation improvement (CDI). Advanced CDI sessions geared for mature programs are particularly welcome and will receive additional consideration but the 2018 Conference Committee also seeks to meet the needs of those new to the profession and those at an intermediate level. Click here to meet the volunteers.

CDI and/or HIM/coding professionals typically present at ACDIS, but we also welcome practicing physicians, case management and quality personnel, healthcare auditors, lawyers, and other professionals with a tie to or an interest in CDI. Accepted speakers and co-presenters will have their admission fee waived.

Based on the learning needs identified by participants of the successful 2017 ACDIS Conference, several topics have emerged as areas of great interest within the ACDIS community, including two new tracks—outpatient CDI and pediatric CDI. Click here to read a full list of suggested sessions and tracks.

Note from the Associate Editorial Director: A Little Local Chapter Love


Associate Editorial Director Melissa Varnavas grabs a picture with a Local Chapter leader from Kentucky at the 2017 Conference!

By Melissa Varnavas

Next Friday, August 11, ACDIS Editor Linnea Archibald and I will head down to Newton, Massachusetts for the third-annual joint ACDIS/AHIMA New England CDI Symposium. The leaders of the MaHIMA, NYHIMA, and MA ACDIS have met for months to develop a comprehensive agenda to fit the educational needs of both coding and clinical documentation professionals.

The full-day event, sponsored by 3M, was originally the brainchild of then ACDIS Advisory Board member Walter Houlihan, director of HIM for Baystate Health in Springfield, Massachusetts. Houlihan, at the time, served as the president of the MaHIMA and, although his time in that role was ending, he had yet to see his vision for a multi-state event come to pass. After mentioning his hopes in a passing phone call, we decided to see if we could, in fact, bring this idea to fruition. The first year, more than 100 attendees arrived. The second held nearly 160. Baystate Health generously hosted those first two events.

This year, attendance has topped 200 and the registration has closed due to the constraints of the room size (although there is a wait list).

This is an amazing story about the importance of collaboration and the value of networking and education in our tiny slice of the healthcare industry we serve. And it’s a story that’s not just happening in New England but is playing out across the country. Every week in this email newsletter, we list local chapter upcoming events and offer a tip or tale about what’s happening at the local level. Recently, on ACDIS Radio, we remarked about the number of full-day events coming up.

In August, not only do we have the New England event but also North Carolina and Florida are holding full-day educational sessions. In September, both California and Alabama hold full-day events. The California event will be its third annual, and generally gathers more than 200 attendees. The leaders from each of the three Missouri ACDIS chapters have been meeting for more than a year to plan their big full day event coming up in October. Last year there were nearly 150 attendees and this year they expect to reach 200 attendees as well. South Carolina and Oregon also hold events in October and although it’s still in the planning stages, Texas hopes to have a full-day event in October too.

These volunteer leaders have done a tremendous job planning these events for the benefit of their communities. We cannot thank them enough for their efforts and hope that you, too, reach out to them, volunteer, attend, extend your own involvement in this, our ever growing, ACDIS community.

Editor’s Note: Varnavas is the Associate Editorial Director for ACDIS. To find out about what’s happening in your neighborhood visit the local chapter page. To learn more about starting a chapter or networking group, scroll down below the map to read our local chapter leadership resources. Contact her at


Note from the Associate Editorial Director: Setting the outpatient CDI table

outpatient CDI table

Join us for the ACDIS Symposium: Outpatient CDI!

By Melissa Varnavas

The stew’s been simmering in the pot for a while now. All the separate ingredients are melding and the overwhelming aroma in the room is enticing. The stew is outpatient CDI. Its ingredients are multitudinous, varied.

  • Pinch of evaluation and management (E/M) coding
  • Few cups of hierarchical condition category (HCC) groupings
  • Sampling of risk adjustment methodology
  • An awareness of current procedural terminology (CPT) codes
  • Knowledge of ICD-10-CM/PCS Official Guidelines for Coding and Reporting
  • Several specks of physician practice business savvy

And that’s not a comprehensive list of ingredients by any stretch of the imagination. Each cook in this CDI kitchen (just as in the inpatient world) follows its own recipe—drawing from its unique set of programmatic goals and overarching system mission and focus.

Yet, we have a basic recipe to follow thanks to those taste-testing the mixture over the past few years and sharing their samplings with rest of the CDI community. Now all we need to do is set the table and invite others to join us.

The ACDIS Symposium: Outpatient CDI invites you to the feast. Hope to see you there.

Editor’s note: Varnavas is the Associate Editorial Director for ACDIS and has worked with its parent company for nearly 12 years. Contact her at

Note from Associate Editorial Director: Growing a CDI garden

CDI garden

Grow your CDI garden this summer

By Melissa Varnavas

Longstanding ACDIS members know I’m not one to shy away from a good extended metaphor. Today, is June 1. Spring has given up her blooms. The petals have fallen away from the tulips and the daffodil heads have dropped or been plucked by those dedicated gardeners among us.

While we haven’t quite reached true summer yet, the gardens are evolving. In my yard, bridal wreath spirea creates a wall of white blooms. My niece likes to shake the branches over us creating a fluttering of petals that catch in our hair as we run through.

The point of the metaphor is this—just like our gardens, clinical documentation improvement efforts continue to evolve as do the individuals who claim such efforts as their professional calling.

To be sure, when ACDIS began 10 years ago, each CDI professional and each program, too, perhaps, saw itself uniquely. A crocus. A primrose. A hyacinth. A lily of the valley. Over that time, however, CDI efforts meshed. Over that time, the roots of those perennials spread. The bulbs multiplied. And now we have a garden that is dense with experience and flourishing in its ability to help improve clinical documentation not just in the spring, not just for financial outcomes, not just to help coders and physicians speak the same language, but as the seasons turn to assist patients and the hospitals and physicians which serve them in a wide variety of ways. You know these flowers well as they begin to bloom—quality, medical necessity, outcomes measures, patient safety indicators…

As the ACDIS Advisory Board wrote in a Position Paper, “Developing effective CDI leadership: A matter of effort and attitude,” released last week, it’s up to each and every individual working in the field—be that person a manager of a multi-disciplinary team of five or 50, be that person the sole CDI professional in a rural facility, be that person brand new to the role—to take ownership of their career and their program and become an effective leader, become the gardener of their profession.

You’ll need to water, especially in the height of summer. You’ll need to invest in your own education. You’ll need to reach out and network with others in the field. You’ll need to weed and fertilize and stake and tie and organize. You’ll need to take in information and seek out the primary sources to verify the information you’ve learned.

And when you step back and see the colors and the fruits of your labor you’ll know the role you play in brining such cohesiveness forth and role that each flower also plays.

Editor’s Note: Varnavas is the Associate Editorial Director for ACDIS, overseeing its various publications and website content. Contact her at

Note from Associate Editorial Director: Quotes of note

Melissa Varnavas

Melissa Varnavas

by Melissa Varnavas

As a young journalist on deadline, I stared down a blank white computer screen as the clock ticked toward midnight, pondering an exposition regarding my home town’s complicated municipal budget. In the end, I settled on introducing the article with a quote from Theodore Roosevelt. “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort…”

As the article devolved into a collection of quotes from city councilors, my editor at the time simply titled the piece “Beverly Budget Debate: Quotes of Note.”

While not exactly one of my more shining journalistic moments, it is true that certain quotes, like that of Roosevelt’s, reverberate through time, echoing with the truth of the sentiment they express. It’s probably the reason so many ACDIS members include famous quotes in their email signatures.

I love the one from hockey player Wayne Gretzky that ACDIS member Tracy Boldt, RN, BSN, CCDS, CDIP, system manager for CDI at Essentia Health in Duluth, Minnesota, uses in her signature: “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.” The 2016 CDI professional of the year award winner Karen Newhouser played off Gretzky’s quote in her acceptance speech, encouraging those in attendance to use the resources available to them to stay informed about changes in healthcare reimbursement and their effect on CDI efforts.

Another of my favorites related to the CDI profession has long been Mark Twain’s: “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter. ’Tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” Don’t call it congestive heart failure if it’s actually acute-on-chronic diastolic heart failure.

Musing on this, I asked the ACDIS team to put on their thinking caps and come up with a few themselves. Both ACDIS Director Brian Murphy and ACDIS CCDS Coordinator Penny Richards stuck with a writerly theme and the importance of thoughtfully chosen words to convey a message.

Murphy chose John Cheever’s: “A page of good prose remains invincible.”

Richards chose Emile de Girardin’s: “The power of words is immense. A well-chosen word had often sufficed to stop a flying army, to change defeat into victory and to save an empire.”

“Not to mention invited in the auditor or caused claims to be denied,” she added.

ACDIS Editor Linnea Archibald pointed to a quote from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: “It takes less time to do a thing right than to explain why you did it wrong,” as evidence of the importance of educating physicians on proper clinical documentation habits. Those physicians who take the time to heed CDI professionals’ advice, she says, ultimately end up saving time by getting the documentation correct to begin with.

ACDIS Associate Director of Membership and Product Development Rebecca Hendren chose a quote from Jane Austin, tweaking the details a tad. “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a physician in possession of poor documentation must be in want of a CDI specialist.” We’ll leave it to you to look up the original wording.

ACDIS Educational Director Laurie Prescott couldn’t settle on just one. Her favorites include:

  • “Good words are worth much, and cost little,” by George Herbert
  • “I like good strong words that mean something,” by Louisa May Alcott, in Little Women (like acute, chronic, and acute on chronic, Prescott added)
  • “It’s always a bit of a struggle to get the words right, whether we’re a Hemingway or a few fathoms below his level,” by Rene J. Cappon (which is why you have CDI specialists to assist you, Prescott joked)

We’re sure you have your own favorites, too. Feel free to share them with us or better yet, why not play this game with your CDI team and post your quotes near physician’s documentation stations and around your CDI department as a fun way to provide a little additional insight into the importance of CDI.

After all, as Aristotle said, “The aim of CDI is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.”

Editor’s note: Varnavas is the Associate Editorial Director of ACDIS. Contact her at

Conference update: MGM Grand hotel discount for ACDIS ends 4/12

MGM Grand exterior hero shot

Don’t miss the hotel discount cut off rate! It ends Tuesday, April 12!

My first trip to Las Vegas was back in 2006. I was a novice traveler at best. Luckily, I was in good company with my team of coworkers. My husband also came with us. With his schedule free, he’d take a swim in the hotel lap pool in the morning, meet me out by the fountains near the hotel’s cabanas for lunch, and have a snack and wine ready for me in our hotel room when the work day is done. We were there over our first anniversary and my sister and brother-in-law ordered us a dozen chocolate covered strawberries and champagne delivered to our hotel room. After the conference ended, we stayed over and spent a beautifully relaxing afternoon floating in pool, slushy drinks in hand.

Beyond reminiscing about a favorite memory, I share this personal story simply to let you know that the MGM Grand, where ACDIS’ 10th Annual celebration takes place in less than a month, is quite the place.

But if you haven’t booked your room yet, time is almost out. There’s only a few more days left to get a discounted hotel room rate for the ACDIS Conference. Reserve your room by April 12 to take full advantage of the discount. The conference takes place from May 9-12 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

When you book your hotel room by April 12, you’ll get the discounted room rate at the MGM Grand for $169, plus a $30 daily resort fee (tax and fees not included).

Make sure to check the dates of your hotel reservation as there may not be availability on the days surrounding the conference. If you plan on extending your stay in Las Vegas for personal reasons, keep in mind that you may need to change hotel accommodations.

While you book your hotel room, make sure to check out the three special, pre-conference educational opportunities:

Many long-time ACDIS attendees have come to know my hubby over the years (he was the guy passing out the extra t-shirts in Nashville and helping at the registration desk in San Antonio, among other sightings). Unfortunately, he can’t come with us this year. He’ll be back at home teaching his middle school students biology, art, and music, and taking care of our two cats Hugo and Katrina. But I do plan to have a soak in the pool and slushy in his honor.

Q&A: Querying for acute respiratory failure

You've got questions? We've got answers.

You’ve got questions? Let us know!

Q: If a patient is extubated post-operatively but continues to be treated with supplemental oxygen, when is a query for acute respiratory failure appropriate?

A: To determine if this represents acute respiratory failure, the values for impaired oxygen exchange can be used, along with the amount of oxygen being administered to the patient.

The ratio of arterial oxygen concentration to the fraction of inspired oxygen (P/F ratio) can be a helpful tool to identify respiratory failure criteria above for a patient receiving supplemental oxygen:

  • The P/F ratio is an indicator of hypoxemia. This is a useful tool when a patient is on supplemental oxygen.
  • The P/F ratio is provided on arterial blood gas (ABG) tests.
  • A P/F ratio less than 300 suggests acute respiratory failure.

If an ABG test is not available, an estimated P/F ratio can be calculated:

  • The calculation is pO2 divided by FIO2:
    • The FIO2 is determined by the liters of oxygen the patient is receiving expressed as a decimal (e.g., 32% is .32).

An illustration of the calculation shows that if a patient is receiving 3L oxygen by nasal cannula, and has a pO2 of 40 mm Hg. That would be 40/.32, which results in 125 (acute respiratory failure). The P/F ratio is a useful tool to validate the presence of acute hypoxemic respiratory failure when patients are receiving supplemental oxygen. After following this formula, and acute respiratory failure is still in question, then a query to your physician is needed.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in JustCoding. This question was answered by Robert Stein, MD, CCDS, associate director of the MS-DRG Assurance program for Enjoin. Join him for a webinar on this topic on March 21!

Note from Associate Editorial Director: What’s your query metric?

Melissa Varnavas

Associate Editorial Director Melissa Varnavas

Although many CDI program directors wish for national standards for calculating CDI productivity (e.g., a set number of new reviews and re-reviews per CDI specialist per day), “frequent regulatory changes and broad diversity within the industry prohibit a one-size-fits-all approach,” the ACDIS Advisory Board wrote in a White Paper released in December.

While that fact may be indisputable—new CDI staff simply cannot be expected to be as productive as those with multiple years’ experience and programs with expanded record review scopes cannot be expected to turn over as many records as those simply looking for a lone CC/MCC—CDI programs can take advantage of polling research conducted by ACDIS over the years to help establish baseline metrics and program goals.

For example, a 2014 ACDIS website poll indicated that productivity expectations ran the gamut:

  • 32% review 1–10 records per day
  • 25% review 11–15 records per day
  • 18% review 16–20 records per day
  • 13% review 21–25 records per day
  • 6% review 26–30 records per day
  • 6% review more than 30 records per day

The productivity survey conducted in association with December’s White Paper release found 85% of respondents review 6–15 new patient reviews—only 7% reviewed less and only 5% reviewed 16 new records or more per day.

Ultimately, judging from the data, the Advisory Board suggested that “16–24 total reviews per day (new reviews and re-reviews) is an average range for a CDI specialist, with 20 daily reviews being an acceptable goal to account for variability in review focus,” as noted later in the survey.

The latest survey out from ACDIS probes at a number of additional questions related to CDI physician query practices, including:

  • Do you query for clinical validation, i.e., to confirm presence of a documented diagnosis lacking clinical support?  To date, 85% of the more than 200 respondents do.
  • Does your facility have standard query policies and procedures? More than 75% do.
  • Does your facility have an electronic query system either as part of your EHR or another software system? Only 17% don’t.

The survey which will remain open through March 1, also asks important questions about query auditing and monitoring, resources used to craft query policies, and about respondents’ perceptions regarding the effectiveness of electronic systems.

As I often say, ACDIS thrives on membership participation and we need yours to ensure the data revealed in this 2017 physician query assessment represents the true benchmarks of our industry. Won’t you take a few minutes to share your thoughts?

Click here to take the survey. And thanks!