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Are trends in billing for high-intensity emergency care explained by changes in services provided in the emergency department? An observational study among US Medicare beneficiaries
  1. Laura G Burke1,2,3,
  2. Robert C Wild4,
  3. E John Orav5,
  4. Renee Y Hsia6,7
  1. 1 Department of Emergency Medicine, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  2. 2 Department of Health Policy and Management, Harvard T H Chan School of Public Health, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA
  3. 3 Department of Emergency Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, 02115
  4. 4 Department of Health Care Policy, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  5. 5 Department of Biostatistics, Harvard T H Chan School of Public Health, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA
  6. 6 Department of Emergency Medicine, University of California San Francisco, San Francisco, California, USA
  7. 7 Philip R Lee Institute of Health Policy Studies, University of California San Francisco, San Francisco, California, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Laura G Burke; lgburke{at}bidmc.harvard.edu

Abstract

Objective There has been concern that an increase in billing for high-intensity emergency care is due to changes in coding practices facilitated by electronic health records. We sought to characterise the trends in billing for high-intensity emergency care among Medicare beneficiaries and to examine the degree to which trends in high-intensity billing are explained by changes in patient characteristics and services provided in the emergency department (ED).

Design, setting and participants Observational study using traditional Medicare claims to identify ED visits at non-federal acute care hospitals for elderly beneficiaries in 2006, 2009 and 2012.

Outcomes measures Billing intensity was defined by emergency physician evaluation and management (E&M) codes. We tested for overall trends in high-intensity billing (E&M codes 99285, 99291 and 99292) and in services provided over time using linear regression models, adjusting for patient characteristics. Additionally, we tested for time trends in rates of admission to the hospital and to the intensive care unit (ICU). Next, we classified outpatient visits into 39 diagnosis categories and analysed the change in proportion of high-intensity visits versus the change in number of services. Finally, we quantified the extent to which trends in high-intensity billing are explained by changes in patient demographics and services provided in the ED using multivariable modelling.

Results High-intensity visits grew from 45.8% of 671 103 visits in 2006 to 57.8% of 629 010 visits in 2012 (2.0% absolute increase per year; 95% CI 1.97% to 2.03%) as did the mean number of services provided for admitted (1.28 to 1.41; +0.02 increase in procedures per year; 95% CI 0.018 to 0.021) and discharged ED patients (7.1 to 8.6; +0.25 increase in services per year; 95% CI 0.245 to 0.255). There was a reduction in hospital admission rate from 40.1% to 35.9% (−0.68% per year; 95% CI −0.71% to −0.65%; P<0.001), while the ICU rate of admission rose from 11.7% to 12.3% (+0.11% per year; 95% CI 0.09% to 0.12%; P<0.001). When we stratified by diagnosis category, there was a moderate correlation between change in visits billed as high intensity and the change in mean number of services provided per visit (r=0.38; 95% CI 0.07 to 0.63). Trends in patient characteristics and services provided accounted moderately for the trend in practice intensity for outpatient visits (pseudo R2 of 0.47) but very little for inpatient visits (0.051) and visits overall (0.148).

Conclusions Increases in services provided in the ED moderately account for the trends in billing for high-intensity emergency care for outpatient visits.

  • quality in health care
  • health policy

This is an Open Access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial (CC BY-NC 4.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt, build upon this work non-commercially, and license their derivative works on different terms, provided the original work is properly cited and the use is non-commercial. See: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/

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Footnotes

  • Contributors LGB had full access to all of the data in the study and takes responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis. LGB and RYH developed the study concept and LGB, RCW, EJO and RYH all substantially contributed to the study design. LGB, RCW and EJO performed the statistical analyses, and all authors interpreted the data. LGB and RYH drafted the manuscript. LGB, RCW, EJO and RYH revised the manuscript for important intellectual content. All authors approved the final version of the manuscript.

  • Funding This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent Not required.

  • Ethics approval The Office of Human Research Administration approved this study.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement No additional data available.

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