Basics of Radiology Coding and Billing

In the intricate world of healthcare, radiology plays a pivotal role in diagnosis and treatment. However, behind the scenes, a complex coding and billing system ensures healthcare providers receive proper compensation for their services. Understanding the basics of radiology coding and billing is crucial for healthcare professionals and patients. This guide will delve into the fundamentals of radiology coding and billing, shedding light on key concepts and best practices.

Understanding Radiology Coding

Radiology coding involves assigning alphanumeric codes to procedures and services provided by radiologists and radiologic technologists. These codes communicate to insurance companies the specific services rendered during a patient’s visit. Proper coding ensures accurate reimbursement and compliance with regulatory requirements. Here are some essential points to grasp:

1. CPT Codes

Current Procedural Terminology® (CPT) codes, maintained by the American Medical Association (AMA), are used to describe medical, surgical, and diagnostic services. In radiology, CPT codes denote procedures such as X-rays, MRIs, CT scans, PET scans, Mammograms, Nuclear Medicine treatments, Ultrasound examinations, and image-guided Interventional procedures.  There are over 11,000 CPT codes to choose from, and of all medical specialties, there are more CPT codes applicable to radiology than any other specialty.

2. Modifiers

Modifiers are additional two digit alpha-numeric codes appended to the primary CPT code to provide more specific information about the procedure. They may indicate professional services only, left or right anatomy, multiple procedures performed, the use of contrast material, or whether the service was provided at a facility or non-facility location.

3. ICD-10 Codes

International Classification of Diseases, 10th Revision (ICD-10) codes classify diseases, injuries, and health conditions. Radiology reports must include ICD-10 diagnosis codes to justify the medical necessity of the imaging study. When the United States transitioned from ICD-9 to ICD-10 in 2015, the ICD code list expanded from approximately 11,000 3 to 5-character numeric codes to approximately 68,000 3 to 7-character alpha-numeric codes today. This change added significant complexity to coding rules and was very disruptive to the healthcare industry.

See Radiology Coding and Interventional Radiology Coding to learn more.

Radiology Billing Process

Efficient billing is essential for maintaining the financial health of radiology practices. The billing process involves several steps, from verifying patient insurance coverage to submitting claims and reconciling payments. Here’s an overview of the billing process:

1. Patient Registration and Insurance Verification

Upon scheduling an appointment, patients provide demographic information and insurance details. Staff members verify insurance coverage to determine patient eligibility and benefits.

2. Charge Capture

During the patient encounter, healthcare providers document the services provided, including radiology procedures, with corresponding CPT and ICD-10 codes.  Be sure to reconcile the patient demographic records, radiology reports, and the radiology department day log to ensure all patients seen in the department on any given day have a matching and accurate patient demographic record and radiology report to prevent lost revenue.

3. Claim Submission

After charge capture, billing staff compile the necessary information and submit claims to insurance companies electronically or via paper forms. Claims must adhere to specific formatting and coding guidelines to avoid rejection.

4. Adjudication and Payment

Insurance companies review claims for accuracy and medical necessity before processing payments. This step may involve pre-authorization requirements and appeals for denied claims.  Insurance companies will remit payment with an explanation of benefits (EOB) that explains what was paid or not paid, and why.  Most of the payments and benefits information is transmitted electronically today, via electronic funds transfer (EFT) and electronic remittance advice (ERA), but a smaller percentage is still mailed via US Postal Services.

5. Denied Claims Review and Appeals

Insurance companies routinely deny claims for various reasons including lack of medical necessity, lack of prior authorization, lack of patient eligibility, procedure bundling, etc.  Many of these denied claims can be successfully appealed and paid.  Doing so requires carefully reading the reason for the denial and writing a letter to the insurance company with a compelling argument explaining why the claim is valid and should be paid.  It is often important to attach supporting documents such as the physician’s report to the appeal to be successful.  See Basics of Radiology Coding and Appealing Radiology Denials to learn more.  Also, check out this short Radiology Billing Denials video clip to understand the potential value of an effective radiology denial appeals process.

6. Patient Billing and Collections

Once insurance payments are received, patients are billed for any remaining balances, such as copayments, deductibles, or coinsurance. Timely and accurate billing statements facilitate prompt payment collection.

7. Stay Informed

Since Federal, state, local, and payer regulations are continuously changing, stay current by joining industry societies such as the American College of Radiology (ACR), Society of Interventional Radiology (SIR), Outpatient Endovascular & Interventional Society (OEIS), and Radiology Business Managers Association (RBMA).  These organizations regularly publish updates and best practices applicable to radiology coding and billing performance.

Compliance and Regulations

Compliance with healthcare regulations, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), and the Affordable Care Act (ACA), is paramount in radiology coding and billing. Failure to comply with regulations can result in severe penalties, including fines and legal consequences.

Best Practices for Radiology Coding and Billing

To optimize revenue and ensure compliance, radiology practices should adopt the following best practices:

  • Regular training and education for staff on coding updates and regulatory changes.
  • Implementing modern radiology information systems (RIS) or electronic health record (EHR) systems for accurate documentation and streamlined billing processes.
  • Transmitting source documents including radiology reports, patient demographics, and radiology department day logs via electronic HL-7 format to prevent delayed or lost revenue.
  • Conducting regular source document reconciliation and claims audits to identify coding errors and billing discrepancies.
  • Utilizing coding and billing software, and artificial intelligence (AI) when appropriate, to increase automation and reduce manual errors.
  • Appealing denied claims with effective techniques that make compelling arguments the payers will understand.
  • Establishing clear communication channels between providers, billing staff, and patients to address billing inquiries promptly.
  • Stay informed about radiology coding and billing regulatory changes and industry trends through participation in professional radiology associations, conferences, and educational seminars.


Radiology coding and billing are integral components of the healthcare revenue cycle, requiring meticulous attention to detail and adherence to regulatory guidelines. By understanding the fundamentals of radiology coding and billing, healthcare providers can ensure proper reimbursement for services rendered while maintaining compliance with industry standards. Continuous education, technological advancements, and adherence to best practices are essential for navigating the complexities of radiology billing and ensuring the financial stability of healthcare organizations.

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