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Filing Numerically – Advantages and Disadvantages of Straight Numeric and Terminal Digit Methods
In an organized filing system folders are arranged in some sort of order (we hope!). Some commonly used methods include: alphabetical, direct numeric, terminal numeric numeric, or by some category. Subcategories can also be added to the above methods. Knowing the pros and cons of the various systems beforehand will allow for an informed decision based on your particular needs.
This article looks at numerical archiving. Alphabetical filing was covered in the Ezine article “Filing Alphabetically, Pros and Cons”
Before placing the files in numerical order, you need to decide what number will be used to designate each folder. Some commonly used numbers are: medical record number, account number, billing number, assigned number, etc. The amount of digits that make up the selected number will help determine which system to use. The next three decisions to make are how long the records will be kept in the system, what will determine when they are purged, and will they be color coded?
Direct Number File System
Direct number filing places the folders in order from lowest number to highest number. This works well with smaller file systems. Since almost everyone knows how to count from lowest number to highest number training is minimal. If the records are assigned a number in numerical order and continuous activity is not a factor cleaning is easier. You can often delete sections of folders at once. But this brings a disadvantage that you will have to change all the records to make room for the new numbers. Another disadvantage can be trying to work with large numbers and keep them in numerical order.
If you decide to color code then you want to choose numbers to color that will have the same number long enough to form a pattern. If the same color section is too large then the color coding is inefficient. For example, color coding the last digit of a number means it changes every record, the nest to last digit changes every 10 records, the 3rd to last digit changes every 100 folders and the 4th every 1,000 records. Depending on the size of the file room you could color the 1,000’s and 100’s numbers.
I would not recommend color coding all the numbers as this defeats the purpose of color coding by creating a rainbow of color and making it harder to spot wrong files. In addition, color coding of a number that changes too rarely will not contribute to spotting bad files. Why spend money on color-coded labels that will not contribute to the efficiency of the filing system? Color coding is an effective way to spot error files, not an effective way to number the charts.
Final Digital File System
End digit filing is putting the records in order starting with the last two digits of the number instead of the whole number. A simple way to describe this method for a six-digit number is: last two, middle two, first two. For example the number 137620 would be archived 20 76 13. This is a very efficient way to archive for very large archive systems (standard in medical departments due to the large amount of archives in the system and the importance of fast, accurate access. ).
You basically take the entire file room and divide it into partitions. You look at the last two digits first (last two), which means that the first section in the file room contains all the numbers that end with 00 and the last section contains all the digits that end with 99. These sections remain almost constant so knowing the last two digits of the file number means knowing the section of the file room that contains that record (a number ending in 50 will be in the middle of the file room, etc.). Now that the record is in the primary partition, the next digits for a file in that partition are the 1,000th and 100th digits (middle digits). Then you go to the next two digits back (first two with a six digit number).
I recommend considering this method of archiving if the file room contains 10,000 or more records. Final digit filing works well when folders are accidentally purged. Changing the records to make room for new numbers is reduced because the purged records and new records will be positioned equally throughout the file room. File room staff quickly learn the location of the 100 sections which greatly speeds up filing and retrieval. Also, by dividing the number into sections the number becomes easier to handle which reduces errors.
Color coding is very effective with final digit filing. If you have a file room with 10,000 records and color code the last two digits you will have 100 records in the file room with the same two colors. Since these records will be filed next to each other, it is easy to see if someone puts a record in the wrong section because the color scheme is broken. You only need to search through 100 files for a missing folder instead of 10,000. If you decide to color code the 1,000 digit, that would reduce the amount of records with the same three colors to 10. I recommend color coding the 1,000 digit when the file room contains 30,000 or more records (meaning 30 records with the same 3). colors as opposed to 300 when coding 2 colors). Again, I wouldn’t recommend color coding all the numbers because of the rainbow effect and the unnecessary cost.
The biggest disadvantage of final digit filing is that filing room personnel are afraid to learn the system. This is a new way of looking at a number and can be confusing. I’ve had file room supervisors say this is an advantage because it makes it harder for unauthorized people (doctors and lawyers are notorious for taking files and not signing them) to access the files. This is also not as efficient for a file room that contains a small number of assigned numbers along with very large individual files (some law firms) and systems that contain many subfolders.
In conclusion, weighing the pros and cons of the various archiving methods before starting the system will save a lot of future headaches!
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