Shave Skin Lesion Confusion: Excision Codes Aren’t the Only Answer

From Ambulatory Coding & Payment Report, 2008, Vol. 13, No. 8

Remember: Exclude margins for 11300-11313

When applying codes 11300-11313 for shaving of epidermal or dermal lesions, you must follow a different set of rules than when you report more familiar lesion excision codes 11400-11646.

More fundamentally, you may not always be clear on when you should select 11300-11313 over the excision codes or, for that matter, a biopsy code. Here are the facts you need to identify and report shaving procedures properly.

Consider Depth to Distinguish Shaving

To differentiate between shaving (11300-11313: APC 0013) and excision (11400-11646: APC 0019, 0022), you should first consider the depth of the removal.

Technically, anytime the physician removes skin tissue, he’s performed an “excision.” For coding purposes, however, CPT narrowly defines an excision as involving “full-thickness (through the dermis) removal of a lesion.” Shaving, by comparison, involves “sharp removal … without a full-thickness dermal excision.”

“Shaving implies a superficial removal, and remember a simple repair cannot be billed for these excisions as they are inclusive and bundled.”  says Andrew Eriksen, president of Physicians World Online.  In some cases, the physician may remove the raised portion of a benign lesion and allow additional lesion tissue to persist in the dermis.

The surgeon’s method to remove a lesion better reveals the difference between shaving and excision. During shaving, the surgeon uses a “transverse incision or horizontal slicing,” as CPT says, to remove the lesion. That is, the physician holds the blade horizontal to the skin and moves it across the lesion, literally shaving it off.

Excision, in contrast, usually involves holding the blade perpendicular to (and thus cutting through) the skin to remove the lesion at a greater depth. In these cases, the surgeon always wishes to remove the entire lesion to the greatest necessary depth.
“You have to read the documentation carefully,” Bishop says. “Physicians may use terms like ‘shave biopsy’ for a procedure CPT might describe as an excision.”

Bottom line: Pay more attention to the removal’s depth than to the terminology your physician uses.

A final clue that may help you differentiate between shaving and excision is whether the surgical wound requires repair, Bishop says. Although excision frequently requires suture or separate repair, shaving “does not require suture closure,” CPT says.

For Shaving, Rely on Lesion Size Only

When reporting shaving procedures, you must not consider the size of any margin the surgeon removes with the lesion. In fact, the surgeon may not document, or even take, a margin of tissue during a shave. This is a crucial difference from coding for excisions.

CPT groups shaving codes into three categories, as determined by the lesion’s location:

  • 11300-11303 — trunk, arms or legs
  • 11305-11308 — scalp, neck, hands, feet or genitalia
  • 11310-11313 — face, ears, eyelids, nose, lips or mucous membrane.

Within each category, CPT further divides the codes by the lesion’s size. Thus, 11301 applies for a lesion of the trunk, arms or legs measuring 0.6 cm to 1.0 cm, whereas 11302 applies to a lesion in any of the same locations but measuring 1.1 cm to 2.0 cm. That these measurements apply to the lesion’s size only and do not include any margin.

Code per Lesion

The descriptors for 11300-11313 specify “single lesion,” which means that you may report one code for each lesion that the surgeon removes by shave technique. If, for instance, the surgeon shaves 16 dermal lesions, you may report an appropriate code for each. Keep in mind, however, that if the surgeon does shave an extraordinary number of lesions during a single session, you may have to submit documentation to explain the situation.

For example, the physician removes by shaving four dermal lesions: one on the left upper arm, measuring 1.0 cm, two on the chest, measuring 1.4 cm and 1.6 cm, and another on the neck, measuring 0.4 cm.

In this case, you would report 11301 (Shaving of epidermal or dermal lesion, single lesion, trunk, arms or legs; lesion diameter 0.6 to 1.0 cm) for the upper arm lesion, two units of 11302 (… lesion diameter 1.1 to 2.0 cm) to describe shaving of the chest lesions, and one unit of 11305 (Shaving of epidermal or dermal lesion, single lesion, scalp, neck, hands, feet, genitalia; lesion diameter 0.5 cm or less).

Bishop says that some payers might prefer that you list each removal as a separate line item, with modifier 59 (Distinct procedural service) appended to the second and subsequent identical codes. In the above example, this means you would report 11301, 11302, 11302-59 and 11305.
“This is payer-specific, so ask for instructions if you’re unsure,” Bishop says.

Include Anesthesia, Cauterization

CPT guidelines, reiterated by the AMA in CPT Assistant (Vol. 18, Issue 2; February 2008), stipulate that removal of epidermal or dermal lesions using shave technique includes local anesthesia and, if necessary, chemical or electro cauterization to arrest bleeding. You should not attempt to code separately for these services.

Bishop says that the physician may choose freezing or chemical means to cauterize the wound, but as long as the physician doesn’t place stitches or staples, the shave removal codes are still appropriate.

Watch Out for Biopsy Confusion, Also

Although surgeons may submit samples taken using a shave technique for pathological examination, the results of the exam (whether benign, malignant or uncertain) have no bearing on your CPT coding (although, obviously they matter tremendously for ICD-9 coding). Again, this is in contrast to excisions, which designate separate code ranges for benign and malignant lesions.

Perhaps more important, however, you must be careful not to confuse removal by shaving with biopsy only as described by 11100-11101. CPT instructions preceding the biopsy codes specifically site “shave removals” as a method to obtain tissue for pathologic examination, which has added to the confusion over how to differentiate 11300-11313 from 11100-11101.

In the end, physician intent matters most, says M. Trayser Dunaway, MD, FACS, CSP, a general surgeon, author and educator with Healthcare Value in Camden, S.C. Often, a physician will remove by shaving a lesion that she suspects is benign. Although she may submit the tissue for biopsy, you should still select an appropriate shaving code rather than the biopsy code (biopsy is included in the shave).

But in the case of a suspected malignant lesion, the physician may use shaving to remove a portion of the tissue for examination, with the intent of removing the entire lesion by excision if pathology confirms malignancy. In such a case, you would apply the biopsy code (11100, Biopsy of skin, subcutaneous tissue and/or mucous membrane [including simple closure], unless otherwise listed; single lesion) and, if circumstances require, the appropriate lesion excision code (11600-11646) at a later session.

However, even if the pathology report did not reveal malignancy in the above case, you would still report the biopsy code rather than a removal-by-shaving code. In this case, the intent was to obtain sample tissue for examination, not removal.

From Ambulatory Coding & Payment Report, 2008, Vol. 13, No. 8

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2 Responses to Shave Skin Lesion Confusion: Excision Codes Aren’t the Only Answer

  1. bonnie horvath says:

    I went to the dermatologist for sun spot on my face which was raced a bit to check it out. He said it nothing and prescribed me a hydrocortisone cream. But I still wanted to check it out since we live I Florida. He took a blade and removed a piece. After about 2 month I went back to sort of complain becouse I have a deep scar on my face. Dr told me that’s the way it shoud be and I need 1 year for proper healing because I had deep spot there [before he said to use cream]. A was billed for cpt 88305 and not for shaved biopsy.Was I supposed to bill as 88305 or 11100? His notes shows as shaved biopsy. Thank you Bonnie

    • admin says:

      The 88305 code is the pathology code where he looked at rhe specimen under the microscope. The shave biopsy should also be billed but that may come on a separate EOB if it was an outside lab.

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