Finding All Queries — not Just the “Right” Query

By: Fran Jurcak, MSN, RN, CCDS, CCDS-O, Chief Clinical Strategist

The goal of a quality Clinical Documentation Integrity program is to support documentation that identifies ALL of the conditions being monitored and treated during a patient encounter. Clear and simple. Yet many CDI Specialists (CDIS) in our profession spend significant time “shopping” for queries that only impact financial or quality outcomes (SOI/ROM). Not only does this waste significant and valuable CDI time, but the true goal of CD work is to ensure documentation integrity of the complete medical record.

If the clinical evidence supports a condition that is not clearly and consistently documented, best practice would dictate that communication with the provider should occur to ensure accuracy of the medical record. Period. For documentation integrity, the impact of the intervention shouldn’t matter. The need to accurately capture documentation of all the conditions that were assessed, evaluated and cared for in the medical record is essential to accurate coding of the care provided and results in accurate payment and reporting of quality metrics.  

CDI Specialists spend countless precious minutes searching for queries with impact. Thinking that the only way to engage providers is to only “bother” them with queries that matter is short sighted and misses the bigger picture of the value of documentation integrity. In a world with diminishing resources and where integrity of the medical record is so important to capturing true acuity of every patients’ condition, every query opportunity to support documentation integrity is vital.  

If the documentation does not reflect the clinical evidence in the medical record, any and all queries should be communicated with the provider. Picking and choosing the “right” query creates inconsistency that is not only confusing to providers but allows for inaccurate coding and reporting, which can lead to incorrect reimbursement and poor performance in quality metrics.   

Let’s also talk about the time wasted on searching for the right query.  Knowing that resources are limited and time is short (average length of stay is typically below 5 days) there isn’t time to spare for a search-and-seek mentality. CDI Specialists need to stay focused on the job at hand and not spend upwards of twenty minutes hunting for the query that drives a particular metric. All conditions being cared for and monitored should be appropriately documented in the medical record so they can be accurately coded and reported. 

During the current COVID-19 pandemic, we discovered that across our clients, query rates on COVID-19 patients are 33-42% higher than on non-COVID-19 patients. It’s not likely that provider documentation is materially worse for these patients than others. Rather, this seems to point to the fact that due to the perceived need for greater scrutiny on these records to capture all appropriate comorbid conditions for accurate reimbursement and reporting, CDI staff are actually querying for every co-morbid condition. Why just these patient records and not all patient records?  

Many CDI professionals spend additional time concurrently coding the record thinking this will assist them in identifying a query opportunity. While there may be other good reasons to concurrently code a record, doing so to specifically identify impactful query opportunities is often wasted effort as the impact of a query may change due to additional documentation that results later in the stay.  For example, consider a CDIS that spends time searching for a condition that will impact the DRG, say a Major Comorbid Condition (MCC).   So, the CDS searches for a condition that qualifies as an MCC and queries that condition based upon the clinical evidence but does not query other conditions that are also clinically supported but do not qualify as MCC.  Then, later in the stay an additional MCC condition becomes accurately documented, which changes the impact of the query.  The end result is wasted time concurrently coding, often leading to missed query opportunities on other conditions and subsequent negative impact to  accurate documentation, coding and reporting.  If a condition is being monitored and/or treated and not clearly and consistently documented, the documentation should be clarified regardless of the potential impact.

It’s important for CDI Specialists to  utilize their clinical expertise and judgment to determine if there are documentation integrity concerns and communicate with providers to resolve those concerns. While basic knowledge of code language and coding guidelines is important to assist in accurately capturing documentation, CDI professionals should be assessing the clinical evidence in the medical record to identify missed or inaccurate documentation of conditions to support the integrity of medical record documentation. How the condition final codes should be driven by the documentation and completed by professional coders.

So the catch line is this:  While it is important for CDI Specialists to understand coding language and be able to identify appropriate codes for conditions being monitored and treated, CDI Specialists need to focus their attention on supporting documentation integrity and query all documentation concerns, not just those that have financial impact. 

Let’s focus on documentation integrity in every record, not just where we can measure impact.

 

 

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