Dreaming of a Better CPT: TLDR (Too Long, Didn’t Read)

by Gail I. Smith, MA, RHIA, CCS-P

CPT was first published in 1966. In 1966, healthcare was less complex and so was CPT.

Let’s fast forward to 2019, we communicate faster and differently than 50 years ago. We now consume lots of information in short bites. Twitter expanded the limit of a tweet to 280 characters, but only 9% of tweets hit the old 140-character limit. At this point, this blog is close to that 280-character mark.

This week, my daughter introduced me to the acronym TLDR (Too Long, Didn’t Read). She explained that several of her clients use TLDR as their template for final deliverables. Get to the point and remove all of the “fluff” is the message. I could see this being applicable to some of the new CPT codes introduced over the past several years. TLDR error alert!

As an example, let’s look at the Endovascular repair CPT codes, beginning with 34701, introduced in 2018. Not only were the Notes expanded to several pages, but code 34701 has 412 characters without spaces. The only action that saves my sanity is to highlight the key words that drive the code and write notes in the margin. (See illustration.) Does it have to be this complicated? I wonder how many errors occur as a result of TLDR?

In addition, a large portion of the code description for 34701 explains that the code includes “all associated radiological supervision and interpretation, etc.” Can we just have a symbol that conveys that all radiological supervision and interpretation services are included and leave out all of that verbiage that appears in many code descriptions?

It would be great if the AMA editorial process included coding professionals and technical editors who would make recommendations for a less complicated reading experience.

Short blog today, didn’t want to fall into the trap of TLDR!


CPT® Coding: Introduction to CPT Coding
CPT® coding is used by physicians and hospitals to describe medical, surgical, and diagnostic services provided to patients. This foundational course provides an introduction to the CPT coding system, CPT guidelines, and correct coding for hospital outpatient services. Learn more here.

About the Author

Gail Smith, MA, RHIA, CCS-P
Gail Smith, president of Gail I. Smith Consulting, is a nationally recognized coding educator. For most of her career Gail was an associate professor and director of the health information management (HIM) program at the University of Cincinnati and HIM program director at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College. Gail is a currently a consultant with a software company specializing in medical terminologies. Gail has authored several textbooks, including Basic Procedural Terminology and HCPCS Coding published by the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA).   An advocate for advanced coder training, Gail is the author of several titles for Libman Education including CPT: Introduction to Procedural Coding and two courses on the unique challenge of CPT coding in the pediatric setting: CPT for Pediatrics and CPT for Pediatrics: Advanced Orthopedic Coding. According to Gail: “One cannot possibly teach every coding scenario a coder will experience in their career. That is why coding education needs to focus instead on how to arrive at an accurate and defensible code assignment. It is the difference between learning to fish, and being given a fish. If you learn to code instead of being given answers to memorize, you will be able to arrive at the complete codes more quickly and with greater confidence.”

One thought on “Dreaming of a Better CPT: TLDR (Too Long, Didn’t Read)

  1. Valerie Thomas - July 10, 2019 at 3:31 pm


    You are absolutely correct. I recently took the RCCIR exam. We were not able to have any notations, no highlighting, no dog-eared pages, and nothing attached in our books. I about stroked!!!! We use these notations and highlighting to do our day to day jobs. I did pass, but it was very stressful. And so many times because there is too much wording it gets a little confusing. Hopefully the right people will see your article.

    Thanks for sharing!