General Physical Therapy Modality Guidelines

by  Find-A-Code
January 4th, 2018

According to CGS Administrators, CPT codes 97012, 97016, 97018, 97022, 97024, 97026, and 97028 require supervision by the qualified professional/auxiliary personnel of the patient during the intervention.

CPT codes 97032, 97033, 97034, 97035, 97036, and 97039 require direct (one-on-one) contact with the patient by the provider (constant attendance). Coverage for these codes indicates the provider is performing the modality and cannot be performing another procedure at the same time. Only the actual time of the provider’s direct contact with the patient, providing services requiring the skills of a therapist is covered for these codes.
Modalities chosen to treat the patient’s symptoms/conditions should be selected based on the most effective and efficient means of achieving the patient’s functional goals. Seldom should a patient require more than one (1) or two (2) modalities to the same body part during the therapy session. Use of more than two (2) modalities on each visit date is unusual and should be carefully justified in the documentation.

The use of modalities as stand-alone treatments is rarely therapeutic, and usually not required or indicated as the sole treatment approach to a patient’s condition. The use of exercise and activities has proven to be an essential part of a therapeutic program.
Therefore, a treatment plan should not consist solely of modalities, but should also include therapeutic procedures. (There are exceptions, including wound care or when patient care is focused on modalities because the acute patient is unable to endure therapeutic procedures.) Use of only passive modalities that exceeds 4 visits should be very well supported in the documentation.

Multiple heating modalities should not be used on the same day. Exceptions are rare and usually involve musculoskeletal pathology/injuries in which both superficial and deep structures are impaired. Documentation must support the use of multiple modalities as contributing to the patient’s progress and restoration of function. For example, it would not be medically necessary to perform both thermal ultrasound and thermal diathermy on the same area, in the same visit, as both are considered deep heat modalities.
When the symptoms that required the use of certain modalities begin to subside and function improves, the medical record should reflect the discontinuation of those modalities, so as to determine the patient’s ability to self-manage any residual symptoms. As the patient improves, the medical record should reflect a progression of the other procedures of the treatment program (therapeutic exercise, therapeutic activities, etc.). In all cases, the patient and/or caregiver should be taught aspects of self-management of his/her condition from the start of therapy.

Based on the CPT descriptors, these modalities apply to one or more areas treated (e.g., paraffin bath used for the left and right hand is billed as one unit).

References:

General Physical Therapy Modality Guidelines. (2018, January 4). Find-A-Code Articles. Retrieved from https://www.findacode.com/articles/general-physical-therapy-modality-guidelines-32721.html

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