CMS Reminds Providers to Prepare and Maintain Legible Medical Records

November 26, 2012

Recently, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released an MLN Matters article stressing the importance of providers preparing and maintaining legible medical record documentation. CMS contractors are required to deny a provider's claim for repayment if the item or service is not reasonable and medically necessary. Submitting legible medical documentation is critical because CMS review contractors are required to rely on the submitted documentation when determining the medical necessity of the billed item or service.

When submitting medical record documentation to support a claim for payment, providers should ensure that the medical records are complete and legible. In addition, the medical records should include the legible identity of the provider and the date of service. In connection with submitting documents that contain amendments, corrections or delayed entries, CMS specified that providers must comply with the following principles: (1) any amendments, corrections or addenda must be clearly and permanently identified; (2) the author and date must be clearly indicated; and (3) all original content must be clearly identified.

Medicare also requires that providers properly authenticate any service ordered or provided. Such authentication is achieved by including the author's signature, which can be handwritten or electronic. Contractors will disregard any order in which a signature is missing and will continue their review of the medical record as if the order was never received. When reviewing medical documentation that is not an order, the contractor will consider evidence in a signature log or attestation statement to determine the author's identity when the original documentation is missing or illegible. However, contractors will not take into consideration a signature attestation for orders.

Claim denials for illegible, missing or unsigned medical documentation can cause frustration for providers whose claims would otherwise be found to be reasonable and medically necessary. Providers should implement into their compliance programs and audit defense strategies a standard process for complying with these medical documentation requirements. If your claims have been denied due to illegible, missing or unsigned medical documentation, or you need assistance in successfully defending an audit for such claims, please contact an experienced health care attorney at Wachler & Associates at (248) 544-0888.