Assessment of Intraoperative Time for Head and Neck Cancer Surgeries Compared With Medicare Work Time

Head and Neck Cancer

J Oral Maxillofac Surg. 2020 Aug 28:S0278-2391(20)31096-X. doi: 10.1016/j.joms.2020.08.030. Online ahead of print.


PURPOSE: Surgeon reimbursement is decided in part by the operative time necessary to complete a procedure. The purpose of this study is to compare insurer-set time to true intraoperative time for common head and neck cancer procedures.

METHODS: This retrospective cohort study compares intraoperative times between the 2019 Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) work-time estimates and the 2017 to 2018 American College of Surgeons National Surgical Quality Improvement Program (NSQIP) data sets for 10 commonly billed head and neck cancer procedures. The primary predictor variable was common head and neck oncologic and reconstructive procedures with corresponding Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) code. The primary outcome variable includes the calculated difference between CMS and NSQIP times. Additional variables collected include patient demographics (gender, age, race, and inpatient/outpatient) and work relative value unit (wRVU) per CPT code. Analysis of variance was used to evaluate differences in intraoperative times across CPT codes. Linear regression using standardized coefficients were calculated between CMS time and NSQIP time; CMS time and wRVUs; and NSQIP time and wRVUs.

RESULTS: There were 8,330 subjects (44% females, 57.7% inpatients) across 10 CPT codes. Analysis of variance revealed intercode variability in median intraoperative times between CMS and NSQIP (P < .001). CMS underestimated the time required to complete excision of malignant tumor mandible (CPT 21045) by 315 minutes. CMS overestimated the time required for excision of tongue lesion (CPT 41112) by 5 minutes. CMS intraoperative time estimates were neither consistently longer nor consistently shorter than NSQIP procedural times (β, 0.85; 95% confidence interval, 0.43 to 1.26).

CONCLUSIONS: CMS estimates of time needed to complete head and neck cancer surgeries varies from national intraoperative times. No consistent trend in underestimation or overestimation of procedure time was found. Improving the accuracy of CMS time estimates used in determining surgeon reimbursement for head and neck cancer procedures may be warranted.