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Current Procedural Terminology Coding in an Academic Breast Pathology Service

An Illustration of the Undervaluation of Breast Pathology

Johnson, Steven M. MD; Vanleer, Jessica P. MD; O’Connor, Siobhan M. MD; Maygarden, Susan J. MD

The American Journal of Surgical Pathology: November 2019 - Volume 43 - Issue 11 - p 1510–1517
doi: 10.1097/PAS.0000000000001337
Original Articles

Many physicians share the perception that the work required to evaluate breast pathology specimens is undervalued by Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) codes. To examine this issue, we compared slide volumes from an equal number of breast and nonbreast specimens assigned 88305, 88307, or 88309 CPT codes during four 2.5-week periods over 1 year. For each specimen, a number of initial hematoxylin and eosin–stained sections (H&Es), preordered additional H&E sections (levels), H&E sections ordered after initial slide review (recuts), and specimen type were recorded. Slides associated with ancillary stains were not considered. In total, 911 breast and 911 nonbreast specimens, each assigned 88305 (n=580), 88307 (n=320), and 88309 (n=11) CPT codes, were compared. Breast 88305 specimens were mainly core biopsies and margins and generated 2.3 and 6.4 times the H&Es and recuts, respectively, than did nonbreast specimens (P<0.01). Breast 88307 specimens were mainly lymph nodes and lumpectomies and generated 1.8 times the total slides than did nonbreast specimens (P<0.01). Eleven modified radical mastectomies (88309) generated 2.1 times the total slides than nonbreast 88309 specimens (P<0.01). In total (n=911 in each cohort), breast specimens generated 1.9, 4.0, and 1.7 times the H&Es, recuts, and total slides (P<0.01) than did nonbreast specimens. At our academic institution, the slide volume for breast specimens is nearly twice that of similarly coded nonbreast specimens. These results have significant implications for workload management and assessing pathologist productivity, particularly in subspecialty practices.

Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, The University of North Carolina School of Medicine, Chapel Hill, NC

S.M.J. and J.P.V.: contributed equally.

Present address: Jessica P. Vanleer, MD, Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, The University of California, Irvine School of Medicine, Irvine, CA 92617.

Conflicts of Interest and Source of Funding: The authors have disclosed that they have no significant relationships with, or financial interest in, any commercial companies pertaining to this article.

Correspondence: Susan J. Maygarden, MD, Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, CB 7525, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-7525 (e-mail:

Online date: August 2, 2019

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