Minor Procedures Get a Major Sting in the 2021 CERT Report

by  Aimee L. Wilcox, CPMA, CCS-P, CST, MA, MT
May 3rd, 2022

According to the 2021 Comprehensive Error Rate Testing (CERT) report, the improper payment rate was noted to be only 6.26%, with a proper payment rate of 93.74%. While this is looking better than many other years, it still warrants researching to identify how the numbers can be improved. Of the 6.26% of improper payments, the majority were caused by insufficient documentation (64.1%), medical necessity (13.6%), incorrect coding (10.6%), Other miscellaneous causes (6.9%), and finally no documentation at all (4.8%). At the top of the list of services ranking highest for improper payments are laboratory services with an improper payment rate of 24.8% and minor procedures (other than musculoskeletal) at 15.0%. The report identifies insufficient documentation as the main culprit for classifying these services as improperly paid. 

How Do CERT Reviewers Define Insufficient Documentation? 

Reviewers may deem a claim improperly paid based on insufficient documentation when: 

Insufficient documentation is not the same as no documentation. It is not uncommon to review provider records requested by a payer as part of an audit only to find the provider has not included all of the records requested by the payer. When no records are submitted for review, the finding is no documentation and another check mark in the improperly paid column.

Use Templates with Formatting to Capture Documentation Details

With the advent of the EHR and the never ending demands for increased detail within the encounter note, provider organizations have come to rely on properly organized templates with section headers that identify the segmented portions of the service. For example, an Evaluation and Management (E/M) template may include the following section headers: 


Patient Name:

History of Present Illness: 

Review of Systems: 

Past Medical History:

Family History: 

Social History:





Electronic Signature/Date:

The provider simply fills in the specific patient information under the appropriate section header, signs, and dates it and hopefully, the note is completed with all the required details.

Documenting Minor Procedures

Regardless of where a minor procedure is performed, they are usually documented as part of a greater service, such as an E/M encounter. These encounters can occur in the provider’s office, the emergency department (ED) of a hospital, or elsewhere. Formatting patient notes to include an area to document any procedures performed during the evaluation is a critical step in capturing and reporting services. For example, if a patient had an E/M encounter that includes the above template details and also had a minor procedure performed, the optimal way to support the service is to have a separate location within the encounter note for the procedure details. Here's an example of how procedure details might be notated within the encounter note.


Patient Name:





Procedure: List the name of the procedure under this section header. If multiple procedures are performed list each procedure on its own line.

Details of the Procedure: A description of the procedure should include all required supporting details. Always refer to the CPT code description to ensure what details must be included in the procedure note to support billing the service. 

Electronic Signature/Date

Note: Failure to properly sign and authenticate an encounter note can ensure audit failures. According to Medicare, signature requirements include legibility of the provider’s name or if illegible, then there must be a printed name and title on the report or a signature log that identifies the signature with a printed name as well. For a best practices guide to provider signatures, click HERE 

It can be very surprising to find how many procedures are not reported simply because the encounter note is not formatted in a way that the procedure itself stands out from the rest of the documentation or the details needed to support the procedure performed are missing from the note itself. 

For additional information on how to improve documentation for minor procedures, join us for our next webinar, "Webinar Title" scheduled for Thursday, Add Date @ 10:15 AM PT, 11:15 AM MT, 12:15 PM CT, 1:15 PM ET. Click HERE to register for this FREE webinar.


Disclaimer: The above article is the opinion of the author(s) and should not be interpreted by providers/payers as official guidance. For any questions about the content of this article, please contact the author(s).

About the Author: Aimee L. Wilcox is a medical coding, billing, and auditing consultant, author, and educator with more than 30 years of clinical and administrative experience in healthcare, coding, billing, and auditing. Medicine, including coding and billing, is a constantly changing field full of challenges and learning and she loves both. Aimee believes there are talented medical professionals who, with proper training and excellent information, can continue to practice the art of healing while feeling secure in their billing and reimbursement for such care.

Minor Procedures Get a Major Sting in the 2021 CERT Report. (2022, May 3). Find-A-Code Articles. Retrieved from https://www.findacode.com/articles/minor-procedures-get-a-major-sting-in-the-2021-cert-report-37056.html

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