March 2017

Coding Corner: The Utility of RVU Calculators

John Asghar, MD
Coding Committee Member

For some time, relative value units (RVUs) have been the key way to measure medical practice productivity. RVUs are a marker created by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to measure the productivity of physicians.

An RVU is tabulated for CPT codes by calculating things like the time it takes for an office visit or procedure and the technical skill and training needed to perform a service. Geographical differences are also taken into account.

The Work RVU (wRVU) is a component of the total RVU and is a specific and systematic measure of physician productivity. wRVUs certainly are not perfect, but are commonly used to create compensation packages for physicians and negotiating managed care contracts.

Given the complexities of coding for spinal deformity surgery, the wRVU can be a nebulous set of numbers that are magically assimilated by a practice manager and difficult to obtain on your own. However, the American Association for Physician Coders (AAPC) has developed a wRVU calculator that allows you to input your CPT codes and generate an approximate wRVUs for your surgical cases. Though it is an excellent tool for helping to understand your wRVU productivity, certain caveats do exist. It does not take into account wRVU changes attributed to modifiers, nor does it account for geographical as well as other variations. 

 American Association for Professional Coders:

Chair: Mathew D. Hepler, MD Committee: Shay Bess, MD; Jahangir K. Asghar, MD; Judson W. Karlen; MD; Barton L. Sachs, MD, MBA, CPE; Michael S. Chang, MD; Walaa Elassuity, MD; R. Dale Blasier, MD; Richard J. Haynes, MD