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Coding for a consultation versus a referral continues to be a topic of confusion but there are simple differences between the two services. A consultation is a request by a qualified provider for the advice or opinion of a physician regarding the evaluation and/or management of a specific problem. A referral is the transfer of care from one physician to a second physician when the second takes over responsibility for treatment of the patient. Keep in mind, not every referral of a patient to a specialist constitutes a consultation service; instead, a referral may constitute a “transfer of care.”
The CMS states, “The intent of a consultation service is that a physician is asking another physician for advice, an opinion, recommendation, suggestion, direction, counsel, etc., in evaluating or treating a patient because that individual has expertise in a specific medical area beyond the requesting professional’s knowledge.” On January 1, 2010 Medicare stop accepting consultations codes for office and outpatient services (99241–99245) and inpatient services (99251– 99255). Some private carriers are still accepting the consultation codes and it is important for practices to verify with the carrier on their billing guidelines.
There are certain requirements that must be met in order to qualify a visit as a consultation. These requirements include, requesting physician must document the reason or need for the consultative service, request services of consulting physician, the consulting physician must render an opinion, and send a report to the requesting physician. One way to remember these requirements is the rule of 3 R’s: request, render opinion, and response/report. The following chart summarizes the difference between a consult and a referral:
The ACR has developed forms for physicians to utilize in their practice to guarantee proper documentation for consultations. These forms can be used in patient records to show medical necessity. All files are Word document to allow you to customize them for your practice. If you need further assistance or have questions, contact our practice management coding staff at email@example.com.