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JOURNAL ARTICLE

Visit-level acuity and resource-based relative value unit utilization in a pediatric emergency department

Jay Pershad, Michelle Whitley, Martin Herman
Pediatric Emergency Care 2006, 22 (6): 423-5
16801843

OBJECTIVE: There is currently limited data on the distribution of evaluation and management (E&M) codes and resource utilization in pediatric emergency departments. We sought to ascertain the following: (1) the distribution of visit-level acuity among patients who sought care in our pediatric emergency department (PED); (2) mean relative value units per physician hour (RVUs/h) as a measure of health care provider productivity; (3) the extent of correlation between the mean number of patients seen per hour and RVUs/h; and (4) the difference in RVU's generated using observation codes versus a higher level E&M code for diagnoses that require an extended level of service.

DESIGN/METHODS: The study was conducted at an urban tertiary level, university-affiliated PED in a freestanding children's hospital. After obtaining data from patient encounters during the period from January through December 2004, we calculated total RVUs by using 2004 national Medicare data that pertained to facility coding, adjusted for data from Tennessee. We also reviewed the frequency of 3 diagnoses that usually require extended care to determine disposition (status asthmaticus [International Classification of Disease-9 Diagnosis Code 493.91], volume depletion [276.5], and sickle cell disease with crisis [282.62]). Utilizing a high-level E&M code (99285) and high-level, same day observation code (99236), we compared RVUs generated for each of the earlier said diagnoses.

RESULTS: During the study period, 61,444 patient encounters occurred. Of the patients seen, 4678 (7.6%) were admitted. The most common E&M code used was 99283 (53.7%). The mean RVU's/h for pediatric emergency medicine physicians and for pediatricians (and nurse practitioners) were 4.36 and 3.08, respectively. There was high correlation between RVU's/h and the number of patients seen per hour (r = 0.85). The cumulative frequency of the 3 diagnoses that required extended care was 2602. Total RVUs generated when the high-level E&M code 99285 and the high-level observation code 99236 were used was 10,408 and 15,143, respectively.

CONCLUSIONS: Our descriptive study provides PED benchmarking data on E&M code distribution and RVU utilization. RVU's/h may serve as a reliable measure of productivity. Although the use of observational codes in the PED requires additional documentation, their use for select diagnoses may appropriately reflect the level of service and have a favorable impact on the total number of RVU's generated.

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