The Verbal Order Minefield

Authenticating Verbal OrdersPhysicians often provide orders over the telephone in cases where action must be taken immediately. For example, verbal orders must be given by a physician who is on call or off duty but an issue arises that requires staff to take immediate action. Physician orders are generally effective when they are given, subject to appropriate documentation. Verbal orders are effective when provided verbally, but must be properly recorded in the medical records and authenticated or signed by the ordering physician.

Verbal Order Policies and Procedures

Normally, the facility will have policies in place that provide guidance on how staff should handle verbal orders. Those policies will define who is authorized to receive a verbal order from a physician as well as the process for taking a verbal order. Many facilities use a “read-back” requirement that requires the provider who receives the order to read the order back to the physician and receive confirmation. The receiving provider is required to document the receipt of the verbal order in the chart.

Over-use of Verbal Orders

Medicare policy (and many state laws) clarifies that verbal orders are not to be used as common practice. Verbal orders are not to be used for the convenience of the physician, but only when the patient’s condition or status requires immediate attention and when it is impossible or impractical to enter the order without creating unacceptable delays in needed treatment. Even though verbal orders are to be used infrequently under Medicare policy, their use has become very commonplace in many facilities. Frequent use of verbal orders increases risk in a variety of ways. Verbal orders leave room for error. This can be mitigated by using a read-back process, but risk of misinterpretation or incorrect fulfillment will be enhanced when verbal orders are used. Verbal orders contribute significantly to the risk of medication error and a variety of other potential adverse patient incidents.

Another significant risk of using verbal orders relates to the need to meet authentication requirements. CMS rules direct medical reviewers to disregard orders that are not properly authenticated. All orders, including verbal orders, are required to be dated, timed, and authenticated promptly by the ordering practitioner.

Authentication of Verbal Orders by Ordering Physician

In terms of timing, Medicare guidance requires the ordering physician to sign the verbal order promptly. Some states, such as Wisconsin, require the ordering physician to sign the order within 24 hours of providing the verbal order. Medicare ties into state law requirements in this area. This is an area of significant potential risk for a facility where physician’s routinely use verbal orders during off-shift times. It can be days before the physician is back at the facility. It used to be that reviewers provided a lot of slack on the followup physician signature requirement. With the integration of electronic medical records and the use of electronic signatures, the timing requirements for physician signatures on verbal orders are enforced strictly.

CMS has gotten a bit more lenient on certain delayed medical record entries. Amendments, corrections, and delayed medical record entries are now given credit in medical review. This leniency does not apply with respect to certain types of physician orders. For example, late or corrected entries to support orders for inpatient admission or outpatient observation services are not accepted and are treated as they do not exist on medical review. Again, failure to properly and timely authenticate an “order” in contrast to an “entry,” has reimbursement implications. This makes it critical to assure that orders are completely documented. Verbal order use should be limited to appropriate cases. Verbal orders are over-used in many facilities. When verbal orders are used, prompt authentication requirements should be enforced. Strict time limitations may exist under state law. For example, Wisconsin requires verbal orders to be be signed by the ordering provider within 24 hours.

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Source: Health Law Blog