RSSAll Entries Tagged With: "query"

Review ACDIS advice regarding use of prior information in query creation

Cheryl Ericson

Cheryl Ericson

Last year at around this time, the ACDIS Advisory Board released a white paper reviewing the role of CDI specialists in assessing information in the medical record from prior treatments.

Codes cannot be assigned based on previous conditions. However, there’s a gray area clouding whether CDI professionals can pull information forward to clarify a diagnosis being treated during the current episode of care, says Cheryl Ericson, MS, RN, CCDS, CDIP, manager of CDI services at DHG Healthcare, during an ACDIS Radio discussion on the topic.

ACDIS created the white paper as a means to help CDI programs open a dialogue about such concerns within their facilities and to help CDI managers begin to craft policies and procedures around compliant and ethical practices regarding electronic health record interrogations.

It states:

In particular, CDI specialists face the dilemma of whether to apply information from prior encounters when querying a physician in order to clarify a diagnosis documented in a current admission or episode of care. The CDI profession is divided on this topic: Some are comfortable referencing the historical information within the query when it clarifies a currently documented condition relevant to the current episode of care; however, others believe this practice violates Uniform Hospital Discharge Data Set (UHDDS) definitions regarding an episode of care, as well as coding guidelines.

The paper reviews overarching guidelines and weighs various references such as reporting additional diagnoses and the definition of the term “encounter,” to help CDI programs begin to assess their own practices.

In Arizona where Judy Schade, RN, MSN, CCM, CCDS, works as a CDI specialist at Mayo Clinic Hospital, the population includes a large

Judy Schade

Judy Schade

number of “snowbirds,” retirees who travel to warmer climates for the winter. For these patients, information included in the electronic medical record often represents an important link between the current encounter and conditions which may have developed in another setting since their last hospital visit.

“We might not have the most current information so we need to be careful and to ask the provider where additional information may be needed to validate a diagnosis and pull it forward,” Schade says.

“It’s not enough for the physician to say this is a complex patient,” Ericson says. “They have to document it. If someone has hypertension they’re clinically always going to have hypertension. However, we cannot automatically make that assumption in coding that’s why the physician has to document ‘history of,’ or ‘chronic,’ or something else that is affecting this episode of care and the resources directed toward treating it.”

Such information “is so much more accessible” due to extensive use of electronic health records than it was in the past, ACDIS Director Brian Murphy says. CDI specialists need to determine whether looking back in the medical record, or opting not to look back, artificially limits a CDI professional’s ability to capture diagnosis specificity or whether concerns regarding the compliance of such activities are valid.

For example, Schade cautions that CDI specialists could be pulling forward outdated or inaccurate information as well intentioned as they may be. So “partner with different departments to formulate your policies. We’re moving in a different way of looking at things so we really need to carefully examine this process and develop the best practices,” she says.

The white paper walks through some common concerns but also recommends reviewing recommendations from the Joint Commission, CMS, and your own facility’s compliance, IT, and coding policies, for example.

Editor’s Note: This article originally published in the free eNewsletter CDI Strategies. Subscribe today!

Guest Post: Volume overload in ESRD patients

detective-with-footprints-300x240By Robert S. Gold, MD

A patient with end-stage renal disease (ESRD) comes into the ED with volume overload, identified by increased swelling of the legs and slight shortness of breath. Chest x-ray shows some pulmonary edema. Studies show a creatinine level of 9.8 that went down to 4.5, hemoglobin of 10.5, and BNP of 25,000. The patient is admitted for dialysis, gets rapid relief, and is discharged the next day. Coders assigned the following ICD-9-CM diagnoses, among other codes:

  • 403.91, hypertensive renal disease with chronic kidney disease (CKD) stage 5 or ESRD
  • 585.6, ESRD
  • 514, pulmonary congestion and hypostasis
  • 428.33, acute on chronic diastolic heart failure
  • 285.29, anemia of other chronic disease
  • 584.9, acute kidney injury (AKI)

Somewhere in the chart we noticed history of congestive heart failure, so the CDI team member queried the physician using the evidence of a BNP of 25,000 and previous echo demonstrating ejection fraction of 65%. The CDI specialists asked whether these two pieces met the criteria needed for acute on chronic diastolic (heart failure with preserved ejection fraction) heart failure. Other conversations included that the creatinine dropped from 9.8 to 4.5, a greater than 0.3 drop and certainly a 50% improvement in renal function, so acute kidney injury must have existed. The CDI specialist argues that the patient’s hemoglobin was only 10.5, so it was probably anemia of the patient’s chronic disease. And the pulmonary edema documented in the ED physician’s note, having been seen on the chest x-ray and copied and pasted on every progress note, must be 514.

Wrong! As a CDI specialist you shouldn’t  jump at numbers but look at the total patient, the clinical evidence, and use clinical thinking.

People with ESRD who are on dialysis, people who don’t have renal function, can’t go into acute renal failure. There’s nothing left to fail. The change in creatinine level was caused by dialysis removing nitrogenous products from the bloodstream. That’s all. This patient’s renal function didn’t change.

People with ESRD constantly have higher-than-normal levels of fluid in the bloodstream. Why? They can’t get rid of the fluid in the urine—they’re not making urine. So the venous circulation fills up with fluid.

When the right atrium gets stretched by volumes of fluid in the right side of the circulation, it stretches every day. And when the atria of the heart stretch, BNP is produced so that the body can try to urinate the extra fluid. That’s the normal mechanism in everybody. But the kidneys don’t work, so the stretch stays there and it gets worse. The BNP level rises and rises. These people walk around with BNP levels in the thousands, ten thousands, hundred thousands every day, and they’re not in acute congestive heart failure at all. It’s their new baseline. Get over it. Check their last 20 BNP levels; it’s the same high level.

Are you kidding about 514? I have ranted enough about 514. I’m tired of ranting about 514. But I’ll keep on ranting about 514 until someone gets it.

Pulmonary congestion and hypostasis was invented in the early 1800s (it was called 94 at that time). It defined a finding at postmortem exam of some people who had lain without moving with minimal nutrition for extended periods of time while they died of something, whether cancer or tuberculosis or leprosy. The pathologists who performed the autopsies on these patients gave it several descriptive names, including pulmonary congestion, pulmonary edema, hypostatic pneumonia, and apoplexy of the lung. Here is an excerpt from the Manual of the International List of Causes of Death from 1909:

Pulmonary congestion, pulmonary apoplexy. This title includes:

  • Active congestion of lung
  • Apoplexy of lung
  • Collapse of lung (3m+)
  • Congestion of lung
  • Dropsy of lung
  • Engorgement of lung
  • Hyperemia of lung
  • Hypostatic congestion of lung pneumonia

None of these terms were ever designed to be diagnoses. They were all ways that pathologists described the lungs in these patients. And the instructions for codes, which represented signs and symptoms and findings on autopsy of patients who died, were to NEVER assign such codes for a patient. Here again is a quote from the instructions on coding for death certificates from that time (emphasis added):

(d) The physician may indicate the relation of the causes by words, although this is a departure from the way in which the blank was intended to be filled out. For example, “Bronchopneumonia following measles” (primary cause last) or “Measles followed by bronchopneumonia” (primary cause first). 2. If the relation of primary and secondary is not clear, prefer general diseases, and especially dangerous infective or epidemic diseases, to local diseases. 3. Prefer severe or usually fatal diseases to mild diseases. 4. Disregard ill-defined causes (Class XIY), and also indefinite and ill-defined terms (e.g., “debility,” “atrophy”) in Classes XI and XII that are referred, for certain ages, to Class XIY, as compared with definite causes. Neglect mere modes of death (failure of heart or respiration) and terminal symptoms or conditions (e.g., hypostatic congestion of lungs).

In our case, pulmonary edema was an x-ray finding and not a diagnosis at all. It was evidence of volume overload, which the physician diagnosed.

And finally, the anemia of chronic disease. We have no code for anemia of chronic disease. Code 285.29 is not anemia of chronic disease. We have code 285.21 for anemia of CKD (which is what the physicians were actually talking about, but somebody told them of “anemia of chronic disease”), 285.22 for anemia of neoplastic disease, and 285.29 for anemia of OTHER chronic disease—you tell us which other chronic disease the patient has. If you can’t, it’s not 285.29, period.

Editor’s note: Dr. Gold is CEO of DCBA, Inc., a consulting firm in Atlanta that provides physician-to-physician CDI programs, including needs for ICD-10. Contact him at 770-216-9691 or article originally appeared in the HCPro website

Q&A: Query rate metrics

Have a question? Leave a comment below!

Have a question? Leave a comment below!

Q: I noticed that several programs do not seem to have a query percentage rate that they must meet. My facility has a goal of 35%, which was set by a consulting company about five years ago when our program was started. Is there a more realistic query rate percentage we should aim for? What do other programs set as a goal?

A: There are several concerns with having a set query rate. Query opportunities vary through the “life” of CDI efforts. Initially, there may be a high query rate (i.e., type of heart failure with CHF), but once physicians become educated—which should be the goal of CDI efforts—those “clarification” queries should decrease in volume.

As a CDI department matures, the type of queries often become more sophisticated, moving from queries that clarify an existing diagnosis to identifying missing diagnoses and/or clinical validation of documented diagnoses, which may be less prevalent.

A continued high query rate among seasoned CDI specialists could actually be seen as a potential performance issue, because it could indicate the CDI specialists is not effective in establishing relationships with providers and delivering education. The goal of CDI is to reduce the query rate over time, as improved documentation practices become ingrained in the culture of the organization. [more]

Sunday Reading: Query Reviews

Start educating physicians now

The CDI’s Guide to ICD-10

Query forms themselves in many cases will help start ICD-10-CM/PCS-related conversations and educational opportunities with providers. Medical staff should be involved in the ongoing creation and review of query forms.

As is the case with ICD-9-CM, the medical staff most closely linked to a particular condition should vet the clinical guidelines incorporated in the query forms as you adapt them to ICD-10-CM/PCS. Many facilities have clinical guidelines to help determine types of congestive heart failure (CHF) based on recent medical literature and as supported by the cardiology department.

The CDI team at [more]

Q&A: Creating a compliant query for SIRS and/or sepsis

Submit your inpatient coding and CDI questions reply to this post .

Submit your CDI questions by replying to this post .

Q: I have been asked to build a query for a diagnosis of SIRS and/or sepsis for the following scenario: The patient was admitted for an infection urinary tract infection (UTI), Pyelonephritis (PNA) and meets two SIRS criteria. The patient may be treated with oral or intravenous antibiotics, and may be on a general medical floor (not intensive care). The physician did not document SIRS or sepsis. I am having a hard time with this query because I am not sure if this would be considered adding new information to the chart, leading the physician, by introducing a new diagnosis. Do you have any suggestions?

A: Although many CDI and coding professionals feel offering a new diagnosis as a choice in a multiple choice query or clarification is considered introducing new information, the 2013 Guidelines for Achieving a Compliant Query Practice states,

“[P]roviding a new diagnosis as an option in a multiple choice list, as supported and substantiated by referenced clinical indicators from the health record, is not introducing new information.”

Thus, if you have a patient that demonstrates clinical indicators to support the diagnosis of sepsis, you may submit a query to clarify if this diagnosis is appropriate. In the body of the query, you would also include those clinical indicators and evidence of treatment that supports your rational for querying the physician.

That said, use the SIRS criteria to support sepsis, with caution. The criteria cannot be explained by another existing condition—for example, tachycardia when the patient has atrial fibrillation.  Review the Surviving Sepsis Campaign’s nationally supported clinical criteria and treatment bundles that can be used to support the diagnosis of sepsis.

Here’s an example query that you might use:

Dear Doctor;

Patient 2345 was admitted with a UTI. The ED record indicates patient was febrile with a temperature of 102.7, heart rate of 98, Laboratory results showed a white blood cell count of 13,500 with 12% bands, hyperlactatemia, and altered mental status. Blood cultures pending. Antibiotics ordered with fluid bolus.

Based on these clinical indicators, can the patient’s status be further clarified as:

  1. UTI with sepsis
  2. UTI only
  3. Other _____________________
  4. Unable to determine

Editor’s Note: Laurie L. Prescott, RN, MSN, CCDS, CDIP, AHIMA Approved ICD-10-CM/PCS Trainer, and CDI Education Specialist at HCPro in Danvers, Massachusetts, answered this question. Contact her at For information regarding CDI Boot Camps visit

Q&A: Documenting uncertain diagnoses

Ask your question by leaving a comment below.

Ask your question by leaving a comment below.

Q: If the physician says “concerning for,” “considering,” “cannot be ruled out,” or “cannot be excluded” for a diagnosis is that considered an uncertain diagnosis? Can those terms be coded if the patient is being worked up? Are the terms “concerning for” and “considering” equal to the “uncertain diagnosis” terms “yet to be ruled out?”

A: Yes, the terms “concerning for” and “considering” would be interpreted as an uncertain diagnosis, so they would only be reportable if they appear at the time of discharge. The Official Guidelines for Coding and Reporting doesn’t limit the terminology that can be associated with an “uncertain” diagnosis. It states:

“If the diagnosis documented at the time of discharge is qualified as ‘’probable,’ ’suspected,’ ‘likely”, ‘questionable’, ‘possible’, or ‘still to be ruled out’, or other similar terms indicating uncertainty, code the condition as if it existed or was established. The bases for these guidelines are the diagnostic workup, arrangements for further workup or observation, and initial therapeutic approach that correspond most closely with the established diagnosis.”

Note: This guideline is applicable only to inpatient admissions to short-term, acute, long-term care and psychiatric hospitals.

The AHA’s Coding Clinic for ICD-9-CM/ICD-10-CM/PCS has also addressed this topic.  Encourage providers to use the phrase “evidence of” when they feel comfortable that a diagnosis is relevant, but may be lacking certainty through diagnostics. Please see below (the text is taken from slides featured in our CDI Boot Camp):

Querying for Organism:

  • Coding Clinic 3rd Quarter 2009 provides clarification regarding use of the verbiage “evidence of
  • When the provider documents “evidence of” a particular condition, it is NOT considered an uncertain diagnosis and should be appropriately coded and reported.
  • If the provider documents “evidence of” a condition and/or causative organism in the progress notes or on a query, a code can be assigned without further documentation; however, the CDI should monitor the record for evidence of the condition being ruled out and query the status of the diagnosis if applicable.

Coding Clinic ICD-10-CM 1st Qtr. 2014

  • Is it appropriate to report codes for diagnoses reported as “evidence of cerebral atrophy” and “appears to be a nasal fracture,” …
  • ANSWER: The phrase “appears to be,” listed in the diagnostic statement fits the definition of a probable or suspected condition and would not be coded in the outpatient setting… However, when the provider documents “evidence of” a particular condition, it is not considered an uncertain diagnosis and should be appropriately coded and reported…

Editor’s Note: Cheryl Ericson, MS, RN, CCDS, CDIP, AHIMA Approved ICD-10-CM/PCS Trainer, Associate Director for Education at ACDIS and CDI Education Director at HCPro in Danvers, Mass responded to this question.

Q&A: Coding an excisional debridement

Ask your question by responding in the comment section.

Ask your question by responding in the comment section.

Q: Where can I go to find out if the word “excisional” must be written by the doctor to code an excisional debridement?

A: Many professional coders will say that the physician must include the  word excisional in order to assign a code for excisional debridement.. I always taught students to use this word as well. So let’s start our investigation as to where this rule came from by taking a look at the Official Guidelines of Coding and Reporting. If there isn’t any direction here (and in this case, there isn’t) we’d turn to the instructions in the alphabetic and tabular index of the code set. Actually, we should really start with the index, as these guidelines need to be applied first when assigning a code..

At code 86.22, excisional debridement of a wound, infection or burn, states “for removal by excision of: devitalized tissue, necrosis, and slough.” No other terms or synonyms are used to describe how the tissue was removed, except for excision. So physicians need to use that word specifically.

Now if you are debating this with a surgeon, he or she will have little desire to understand the inner workings of the code book. However, a number of AHA Coding Clinics offer guidance.

Specifically, AHA Coding Clinic for ICD-9-CM, First Quarter, 2013, states that the requirements in the index were intended to “encourage improved documentation…as to the type of debridement performed.” It includes an example of a patient with a traumatic open wound, stating that clinically an excisional debridement may not be clinically performed and that in many cases a nonexcisional debridement may be needed to clear the problematic area.

“Clear and concise documentation is needed,” Coding Clinic states. “It is critical that hospitals work with their providers to ensure that the documentation used to support excisional debridement clearly describes the procedure.”

Editor’s Note: The ACDIS Forms & Tools Library also includes sample query forms. For more information regarding this topic see these additional articles:

© Copyright 1984-2014, American Hospital Association (“AHA”), Chicago, Illinois. Reproduced with permission. No portion of this publication may be copied without the express, written consent of AHA.

CDI Boot Camp Instructor Laurie Prescott, RN, MSN, CCDS, CDIP, AHIMA Approved ICD-10-CM/PCS Trainer, answered this question. Contact her at For information regarding CDI Boot Camps offered by HCPro visit

2015 Conference Update: Hotel details; Speaker Q&A

Do you know what sessions you’ll attend? The 2015 conference will be held in San Antonio, Texas.

Do you know what sessions you’ll attend? The 2015 conference will be held in San Antonio, Texas.

Have you booked your hotel room for the annual conference? You may have heard that we’re sold out of our original number of hotel rooms. But don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. We’ve contracted an additional block of rooms at the Grand Hyatt San Antonio, which is just around the corner from the convention center. Reservations may be made individually through the hotel’s reservation department by calling 888-421-1442 or 800-233-1234 and mentioning ACDIS.

Room rates are $199 for single or double occupancy; $225 for triple occupancy; and $249 for quadruple occupancy. These prices do not include applicable taxes, service fees, and/or hotel-specific fees. The cut-off date for reservations is April 24—reservation requests received after that date will be based on availability at the hotel’s normal rates.

Even if you haven’t started planning your itinerary, we’re previewing a handful of speakers throughout the coming weeks to give you a feel for the sessions. This week, we spoke with Millie G. Alexander, RN, BS, CCDS, a senior managing consultant at Berkeley Research Group in Hunt Valley, MD, who will be presenting “Clinical Evidence Queries: Tips, Tricks, and Caveats.”

Q: Why is it important to understand clinical evidence?

A: Prior to the release of the 2013 Guidelines for Achieving a Compliant Query Practice, CDI specialists and coders were told to never question physician documentation because doing so meant that we were questioning the physician. The new brief suggests otherwise; it instructs CDI specialists to always use existing clinical evidence to formulate queries and when lack of clinical evidence exists, to query the physician for alternative diagnoses and/or documentation.

Q: How is your topic important for everyone in the CDI role, regardless of professional background?

A: This topic addresses the evolution of CDI practice. Clinical evidence is what is cited by federal, state, and commercial auditors as the reason for denials, so it’s important that we’re all aware of how it is used.

Q: As an RN, how does your perspective differ from other professionals performing the CDI role?

A: A RN has not only clinical knowledge, but also what I call “trench” knowledge.  An RN thinks in clinical scenarios, and this depth of experience can sometimes enrich the practice of CDI.

Q: What do you think is the most important quality for a CDI professional to have?

A: Integrity and humility go hand in hand. When I teach, I not only bring out my own humble pie, but I tell my students to always have a case of humble pie on-hand. We are in an evolving practice, and cannot know what we do not know. This form of integrity of being totally real has enabled me to be a student and a teacher at the same time.

Q: What are you most looking forward to at the ACDIS conference?

A: The conference is a “pump you up” experience and is reinforcing to our practice. CDI is still controversial to some physicians and to some hospital administrators. I personally love working our booth and meeting new folks, and seeing former students.

Last Week on CDI Talk: Leading clarifications and proper query examples

Don't neglect nursing notes and nursing education when looking to strengthen your CDI program efforts.

A good clarification summarizes the case and presents the clinical indicators are.

Editor’s Note: CDI Talk is a networking forum for ACDIS members, in which members ask pressing questions and garner the opinion and expertise of their peers. Pediatric CDI Talk is a forum specifically designed for CDI specialists in pediatrics. Join by clicking on the CDI Talk tab on the ACDIS website.

In one recent discussion on Pediatric CDI Talk, users discussed examples of malnutrition and acute respiratory failure query templates, as well as query compliance. The tips are applicable to both adult and pediatric CDI.

A good clarification summarizes the case and presents the clinical indicators are, says Katy Good, RN, BSN, CCDS, CCS, CDI Program Coordinator, and AHIMA Approved ICD-10CM/PCS Trainer at Flagstaff Medical Center in Arizona.

Format-wise, many providers prefer simple bullet points for a quick and easy read, says Good. However, some do prefer a narrative, so it is important for the CDI specialist to find out what each physician would like to see in a query. Good generally uses bullets, but will modify to a narrative approach if the query is unusual or complex, and if the narrative style query is more effective in a certain case.

The problem many CDI specialists face, Good says, is often properly wording and formatting the question(s). Any questions must not lead the physician to a particular diagnosis in any way. For example, the CDI specialist cannot ask the physician if a patient has a particular condition. Instead, they must ask the physician to clarify an existing condition with additional specificity, or ask what condition(s) is being treated. It is appropriate to provide options, Good says, but it is also important to include all reasonable options, and to allow the physician to provide an additional response such as “other” and “unable to determine.”

Here are some example queries (download the forms below under “attachments”). Though this was posted on Pediatric CDI Talk, the example queries are for the adult population, which is reflected in the clinical indicators.

In the first query about a malnutrition case, Good suggests including the clinical indicators used, making sure to note where in the record you found them. Then, ask if the physician can further specify the malnutrition as “mild,” “moderate,” “severe,” “other,” or “unable to determine. Be extremely careful when querying for malnutrition as various government agencies and auditors have targeted malnutrition and related activities. (Read a related article on the matter in the March 5 edition of CDI Strategies.)

The second query deals with clarifying a diagnosis. CDI specialists should never ask the provider if a patient has a certain condition. This could introduce a new diagnosis to the medical record and is considered leading. Try using a multiple choice query instead. For example, “Can you please clarify whether the patient is being evaluated/treated for: Acute respiratory failure, Chronic respiratory failure, Acute on chronic respiratory failure, Other, Unable to determine.”






Book Excerpt: Open-ended queries


The Physician Queries Handbook

The following is one example of a possible open-ended query:

“Dear Dr. Phil,

The patient’s sodium (Na) was 129, the progress notes indicate low serum sodium level, ‘¯Na.’ An order was written to place the patient on .9NS. Please clarify the associated diagnosis being treated.”

In this scenario, the physician is highly likely to respond and document “hyponatremia.”

The 2013 ACDIS/AHIMA query practice brief describes an obtruded patient with a history of vomiting treated for pneumonia. The open-ended query asks the type/etiology of the pneumonia, which, in that example, most likely result in a response of “aspiration pneumonia.”

Sometimes an open-ended pneumonia query can be problematic, however. For example,

“Dear Dr. Oz,

The patient’s progress note indicates he is being treated for pneumonia with vancomycin. Please clarify the type of pneumonia being treated.”

Although the wording of this query does a great job of not leading, it may not result in the most clinically appropriate answer (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus pneumonia). In many cases, the physician will respond “bacterial pneumonia,” which will still lack the specificity needed for coding purposes. Other physicians may respond “complex” or severe pneumonia.

In such situations, the CDI specialist would have to use a second query in an attempt to further clarify the issue. The use of open-ended queries works best when the potential answers are limited, involve commonly used terminology, and when physicians essentially understand the type of documentation required.

 Editor’s Note: This excerpt was taken from The Physician Queries Handbook by Marion Kruse, MBA, RN.