The aim of this study was to assess the accuracy of inpatient postoperative visits assumed in the valuation of surgical relative value units (RVUs).
Summary Background Data:
Medicare reimburses physicians based on the number of RVUs assigned to a service. For surgical procedures with a 10- or 90-day global period, the RVU valuation is based, in part, on a presumed number of inpatient postoperative visits whether or not those visits occur. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) have recently proposed changing all surgical procedures to a 0-day global period.
We combined 2017 National Surgical Quality Improvement (NSQIP) data with physician time and RVU files from CMS. We then compared the number of inpatient postoperative visits assumed in the valuation to actual length of stay (LOS) information from the surgical registry.
The analysis included 10 specialties and 601 distinct current procedural terminology codes. The number of patient observations underlying NSQIP LOS estimates ranged from 50 to 57,904. Eighty-three percent of procedures had median NSQIP LOS values that were shorter than the values assumed in the global period. These differences varied by specialty, with the largest discrepancy in neurosurgery. Procedures in this sample were last reviewed, on average, in 2000, with procedures reviewed more recently having more accurate valuations with respect to LOS.
The number of postoperative visits assumed in the valuation of surgical RVUs is grossly inaccurate. Holding all else equal, removing global periods from surgical RVUs would dramatically reduce surgeon compensation.