Top 3 Radiology Claims Denials and How to Avoid Them?

The goal of a well-managed radiology billing operation is to submit claims for services promptly and receive reimbursement as quickly as possible. Timely submission and prompt payment enhance the practice’s cash flow and keep the overall cost of billing at a minimum.  All too often, however, payment is delayed because the payer denies the claim for some reason.

Increased awareness of claims requirements among ordering clinicians, technologists and front office staff will help avoid denials from Medicare administrative contractors (MACs) and private insurance providers. Each MAC or private insurer develops its own policies regarding coverage determinations – so there are variations with regard to specific requirements based on which administrator will process a given claim. However, ensuring claim approvals all boils down to documentation of medical necessity – that is providing a complete record a patient’s signs, symptoms and medical history to substantiate the services prescribed.

When it comes to radiology service claims, most troublesome area includes three types of studies that account for as much as 80% of medical necessity denials: chest X-ray exams, non-invasive cardiovascular studies, and bone density studies. Following are general guidelines for meeting administrators’ requirements for medical necessity.

  1. Chest X-ray exams

We see the highest rates of denial among orders for pre-operative chest X-rays or chest X-rays that have been routinely performed on admission. When a chest X-ray is ordered, it must be documented that the patient has pulmonary or cardiac disease, or that specific signs or symptoms were reported or diagnosed indicating a potential issue with the heart, lungs or other organs in the chest cavity. Facilities that follow a standard of ordering chest X-rays for patients upon admission or pre-operatively will likely experience high rates of denial.

  1. Non-invasive cardiovascular studies

MACs have varied and extensive policies regarding non-invasive CV studies, which means they probably have seen a lot of inappropriate billing on these procedures. It also means they are more likely to scrutinize related claims. Be thorough in documenting the medical necessity of radiology studies for:

Peripheral venous examinations, Extracranial arterial studies, and Peripheral arterial exams

Signs and symptoms of medical necessity may include:

  • Peripheral venous examinations

  1. Patient needing anticoagulation or invasive therapeutic procedures
  2. Evidence of arterial occlusion disease or venous disease
  3. Edema, tenderness, inflammation
  4. Hemoptysis, chest pain, dyspnea
  5. Major surgical procedure or trauma to the lower extremities, or concern about compromising veins to the extremities
  6. For chronic venous insufficiency, recurrent DVT or post-thrombotic syndrome
  7. For varicose veins, must be accompanied by significant pain or stasis dermatitis
  • Extracranial arterial studies

  1. Localized symptoms, such as weakness of one side of the face, slurred speech or weakness of a limb
  2. Recent history of neurological or cerebrovascular event
  3. Evidence of blunt trauma or penetration to the neck
  4. Documentation of significant stenosis
  • Peripheral arterial exams

  1. Limb ischemia, either acute or chronic
  2. Intermittent claudication, pain at rest, diminished pulses
  3. Ulcerations, gangrene
  4. Evidence of a thromboembolic event
  5. Blunt penetrating trauma
  1. Bone density studies

Bone density studies have specific medical necessity criteria. Typically, these studies are ordered either for a woman who has been determined to be estrogen deficient and at clinical risk for osteoporosis based on her medical history, or an individual with vertebral abnormalities that indicate the possibility of osteoporosis or osteopenia.

Administrators will take into account each patient’s drug therapy history when evaluating a bone density study claim. For example, if a patient is receiving a glucocorticoid, such as prednisone, they must be taking at least five milligrams per day and have been on that medication for a minimum of three months before the study is considered medically necessary. It is essential that physicians provide a patient’s medications when ordering bone density studies, or there’s a high probability that the claim will later be denied.

While the three types of studies outlined above account for a large number of radiology claim denials, the bottom line is that greater diligence in documenting signs, symptoms and medical histories for every patient when ordering radiology services – or any diagnostic services – will reduce claim denials while improving patient care.

While the best course of action is to avoid denials in the first place by understanding the payer’s rules and obtaining good information, a denial for medical necessity is not final. If after reviewing the denial the practice feels that it is not correct, an appeal can be filed.  The reasons for appeal can be as simple as clarifying a detail about the patient’s history or as complex as citing case studies or other evidence to show why the procedure was appropriate under the circumstances. Our radiology billing team is well versed with above-mentioned denials and makes sure that denials are addressed at the source. To know more about services offered under radiology billing you can call us at 888-357-3226 or write us at