Merriam-Webster, which tracks changes to the evolution of the English language, added 535 new words and terms to its dictionary this year, such as “COVID-19,” “physical distancing” and “self-isolate.”
Similarly, the 2021 AMA Current Procedural Terminology (CPT®) code set—long described as the “common language of medicine”—includes 329 editorial changes from last year’s edition.
The codes are developed by the work of hundreds of volunteers and describe the work of physicians and other qualified health care professionals—from office visits to genetic testing. The 2021 set has 206 new codes, 54 deletions and 69 revisions that reflect the emergence of new medical technologies and testing services sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Major change includes E/M overhaul
The most significant changes are connected to the first major overhaul in more than 25 years of the code descriptors and guidelines for evaluation and management (E/M) services delivered during office visits and other outpatient encounters.
These foundational modifications aim to make E/M office-visit coding and documentation simpler and more flexible, while eliminating clinically irrelevant administrative burdens that diverted physicians’ attention away from patient care.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has proposed adopting the code modifications on Jan. 1. They include:
- Eliminating history and physical exam as elements for code selection.
- Allowing physicians to choose the best patient care by permitting code level selection based on medical decision-making or total time.
- Promoting payer consistency with more detail added to CPT code descriptors and guidelines.