Physician Orders – Big Implications but Few Definitions
I wanted to talk a bit about physician orders. Physician orders hold a great deal of significance in health care. The root purpose of a physician order is to direct other providers to furnish certain services. Services ordered by a physician might include things like therapy services, skilled nursing services, home health, diagnostic testing, and a variety of other therapeutic and/or diagnostic services that might flow from the physician’s examination of the patient.
In addition to the practical application of directing care, health care payors look to physician orders to make payment determinations. The Medicare program places a great deal of importance on physician orders to support claims for ancillary and diagnostic services. Certain services require a physician’s order as a prerequisite to payment on a claim for service. In other cases there may be no direct, fee-for-service payment implication to a physician’s order, but they are still critical to patient safety and to communicate matters that may impact care and treatment of patients.
A few weeks back, my trials and tribulations as a health care compliance lawyer resulted in my need to locate a definition of what constitutes a physician’s order. I looked in the Medicare regulations and was surprised to find that there is no statutory or regulatory definition of what constitutes the order of a physician. This seemed odd given the importance of physician orders as conditions for payment of many Medicare claims. There are references throughout the regulations that require physician orders. I was finally able to locate a definition in a CMS Policy Manual. But if push comes to shove in the context of a case, these policy manuals are not binding on the interpretation of regulatory terms. CMS may define physician orders internally, but that does not necessarilly mean that a court will uphold that definition.
Some states do a better job than Medicare at defining what constitutes a physician’s order. Medicare policy sometimes defers to state law, particularly regarding some of the technical aspects of physician orders such as what constitutes a valid electronic signature. State law should always be referenced when determining issues relating to physician orders, attestation, signatures, and other issues. This does not always provide clarification and, in fact, sometimes it causes confusion. But it is necessary for a full analysis and identification of where there may be uncertainty.
So no I am inspired to do some further exploration on physician orders. When are they necessary? When are they required? What technical requirements apply? Stay tuned to this blog for additional articles and hopefully some fairly comprehensive coverage of physician orders.
Source: Health Law Blog