Embracing new coding concepts and guideline changes can sometimes overshadow established policies that we use daily, prompting a need to revisit. Recently, while researching a concept I felt was clear to me, I realized that depending on the circumstance, the clarity may not be so apparent. All of us are vulnerable to being lulled into a false sense of coding satisfaction. Take for instance the 7th character assignment of injuries and conditions. Many of us learned this coding concept from the very beginning of ICD-10-CM training.
- Initial = A “used for the initial encounter for the injury or condition while the patient is receiving active treatment for the injury”
A patient presenting to the point of care for the very first time to be examined and/or treated for a condition or injury that just occurred; assigning the seventh character “A” is a straightforward coding decision.
Example: Forty-seven-year-old male presented with a 10 cm. laceration of the right forearm following a chain saw accident in his yard, trimming his tree. The laceration required layer closure in the Emergency Department. (S51.811A)(W29.3XXA)(Y93.H2)(Y92.017)(Y99.8)
Example: Patient is admitted for acute care treatment for overdose of Advil, trazodone, lithium. (T43.212A, T43.592A, T39.312A (and the external cause codes)).
It is following the patient throughout the treatment process that can be puzzling. One thing that helps me is to ask myself this question:
- Has the patient previously received any active treatment for this particular injury or condition in any other setting (ED, provider office, hospital, clinic, etc.) or by any provider of care?
If the answer is no, then you have no question that the seventh character is “A” initial. If the answer is yes, we have a decision to make and it helps to understand our choices.
- Subsequent = D “encounters after the patient has received active treatment of the injury and is receiving routine care for the injury during the healing or recovery phase”
Seems simple doesn’t it, and for injuries and conditions that follow the “routine course of healing,” coders should have no problem with this concept. It is when the “routine” is interrupted with an infection, or dehiscence, or complication that causes the injury or condition to be readdressed that a true understanding of the seventh character assignment is required. Anytime an injury or condition that was in the ‘routine’ healing phase requires attention, the seventh character “A” is reinitiated. A new treatment plan is developed, the patient is no longer in the ‘healing’ phase, but rather is on a new “initial” phase.
Example: Forty-seven-year-old male presented following repair of a 10 cm. laceration of the right forearm following a chain saw accident in his yard, trimming his tree. The laceration was closed and seemed to be healing well until the patient was changing the car tire in his home garage and the wound opened. Upon presentation to the provider, a decision was made to admit the patient to the hospital for debridement, washout, and closure of the wound dehiscence. (T81.33XA)(X50.0XXA)(Y93.89)(Y92.015)(Y99.8)
Example: Patient is accepted to the Psychiatric Center follow treatment for an overdose with Advil, Trazodone, and lithium for evaluation and treatment of the major depressive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. (MDD and PTSD are PDX/sec dx, with (T43.212D. T43.592D. T39.312D).
Same wound, but requiring a new care plan; the seventh character is appropriately assigned “A” initial. This is not aftercare; this is a new problem impacting a previous injury.
Following the phase of injury and/or condition healing is the state of healed/recovered. When a late effect occurs directly resultant from the previous injury or condition, the following seventh character should be assigned:
- Sequela = S “for use for complications or conditions that arise as a direct result of an injury, such as scar formation after a burn. The scars are sequelae of the burn”
Example: Chronic pain due to low back injury
(G89.21) chronic pain due to trauma (S39.002S) unspecified injury of muscle, fascia, and tendon of the lower back, sequela
Coders need to use caution when coding fractures as there are more choices:
- A – initial encounter for closed fracture
- B – initial encounter for open fracture
- D – subsequent encounter for fracture with routine healing
- G – subsequent encounter for fracture with delayed healing
- K – subsequent encounter for fracture with nonunion
- P – subsequent encounter for fracture with mal-union
- S – sequela
Coders may be tempted to assign the nonunion and mal-union fractures to acute as the treatment plan has changed to require additional treatment. However, following the initial treatment the fracture, during the healing phase, develops unique conditions. In mal-union, the bony healing is occurring but the fracture fragments are in a poor position. In nonunion, healing is also taking place, but there remains a gap between the bony structures at the fracture site. In these cases, the appropriate seventh digit for subsequent encounters is assigned (K/P).
Applying the guidelines to daily coding can be difficult; I’m hopeful this information will provide you with clarity regarding the characters representing initial, subsequent, and sequela.
About the Author
Marie Thomas holds a Masters in Healthcare Administration from Pfeiffer University, Charlotte, NC, and a Bachelor of Science in Healthcare Administration from Pfeiffer University. Marie has furthered her career education by becoming an AHIMA-Approved ICD-10-CM/PCS Trainer and Ambassador as well as earning the RHIT, CCS, CCDS, and CPC-H credentials. For more information please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org