Getting Paid for Phone Calls

February 1, 2006

Are there any payers that will cover telephone calls by either the physician or the nursing staff? Our nurses can spend up to 20 minutes on the phone with results, instructions, and so on. The physicians do the same, changing medications and offering other services.

Question: Are there any payers that will cover telephone calls by either the physician or the nursing staff? Our nurses can spend up to 20 minutes on the phone with results, instructions, and so on. The physicians do the same, changing medications and offering other services.

Answer: It's worth a call to your major payers - or a claim to them - to see if they will pay, but, in general, the answer is no. Most consider this "management" time as part of your service/treatment code.

Some physicians are charging patients directly for phone and other "extra" treatment on an a la carte basis. You'll need to be careful, however. Most payers do consider the phone calls "bundled," and thus not something you can charge their beneficiaries for. Some will instead tell you that phone calls are uncovered. Then you are free to charge. The only way to know is to call each payer.

While you're at it, ask if they pay for secure e-mail communications. Some will, even if they don't pay for phone-based communication. Call it technophilia.

Of course, the other, quite reasonable, option is to bring these patients into the office for a visit or look for other ways to get them the information they need. For example, try a secure phone or Web-based service to deliver test results. Use time during the office visit or at scheduling to offer instructions, post them to a web site, or even mail them out. The cost of a stamp is less than 20 minutes of a nurse's time.