HIV ICD-10-CM Codes – When to Use Z Code vs. B Code Q: “On the HIV codes, when do …
Q: “On the HIV codes, when do you use the
Z code versus the B code? Would you code the
patient as being active if they have history
of HIV?”
A: When we start looking at the AIDS and HIV
codes, we originally received this question
that came asking, “When do we use that Z
code versus when do we use the 042 in ICD-9?”
So we went update it for ICD-10.
I’m reiterating some of the information
that Tammy and Alicia covered when they covered
this topic back in August, but I looked at
it from a little bit different perspective.
You’ll find I’m huge on citing my sources,
so I wanted to give you where I found the
information that helped me make my decision
in when do I use the Z code, the Z21 versus
the B20.
When we first start looking at HIV, the important
thing to understand here is that a patient
at this point in time cannot have a history
of HIV, it’s not possible. We do not yet
have a cure for HIV. Once the patient has
HIV, they have HIV for life. From a coding
perspective, it simplybecomes do they have
symptomatic HIV or do they have asymptomatic
We’ll scroll down a little bit farther and
we’re going to talk about how do we figure
out what constitutes asymptomatic, which is
the Z21, versus what constitutes symptomatic,
which is B20.
It was funny because when we were looking
at our answer sheets earlier today, Alicia
goes, “I love this little timeline thing,
how do you get that?” I said, “The CDC
website” because that’s actually where
this came from. What I did is, if you didn’t
know this, the Federal government, our Federal
government here in the United States has a
website devoted to AIDS and HIV because for
years it was so rampant and it’s still a
very large thing that we have to deal with.
They actually estimate that up to 18% of the
population that has HIV has no idea that they
have HIV because they’re asymptomatic. What
they explained is that there are really three
stages of HIV. There’s the Acute Infection
point where the person first gets infected
and their body, it’s a virus so it’s replicating
constantly. That’s that acute infection
timeframe. Usually, they might have some flu-like
symptoms. It’s going to be a bad flu, it’s
not going to be, “Oh, that was a piece of
cake.” That’s kind of all the more they’re
going to get. They’re not going to know.
It’s not going to be any abnormal, crazy,
“Oh, I must have HIV, that’s what this
Then, they fall into a period of what we call
Clinical Latency. That means that the virus
is just there, doing its thing replicating,
not making them sick but continuing to spread
throughout their bloodstream. It’s reproducing
at a lower level than that initial thing,
but it’s still considered active infection.
Both of these, we’re still talking about
an asymptomatic patient. They have not yet
had a symptom related to their HIV.
When we talk about symptoms related to their
HIV, CDC actually defines AIDS, their CD4
cells fall below 200 cells and that’s when
it’s progressed to AIDS. They actually go
up to explain that it’s not just the CD4
blood counts, it’s actually about whether
or not a patient has had what we call an OI
or an opportunistic infection.
Those first two stages, the acute infection,
the clinical latency, we don’t have any
symptoms associated with those. Yeah, they
thought they had the flu, but it’s not necessarily
asymptomatic, it’s not an opportunistic
infection. When we start looking through here,
the guidelines actually say, “OK, if they’ve
not had a symptom of HIV, they’re asymptomatic.”
Usually, the provider is going to call this
HIV positive, known HIV, they have a history
of an HIV-positive test.
The important thing to note here is this is
not where the provider uses the phrase AIDS,
and I did not put this in this note, but this
was a question that I have had people ask
me as I’ve done trainings, this is not if
a provider writes the word ARC (Aids-Related
Complex). That’s actually a lot of providers
in the infectious disease world will call
it ARC when the patient is first beginning
to experience an opportunistic infection,
which is an HIV-related illness.
Notice both of these guidelines for symptomatic
and asymptomatic revolve around: Has the patient
had, either currently or in the past an HIV-related
illness? If they’ve had an HIV-related illness,
they get coded as symptomatic HIV.
The website goes on to explain: An
HIV-related illness is these Opportunistic
Infections (sometimes referred to as OI).
The web address actually says there
are 20 Opportunistic Infections that by default,
if you have a patient with known HIV, since
the time of their diagnosis with HIV has had
one of these conditions, they have full-blown
AIDS. Period. Once they have AIDS, they have
AIDS for the rest of their life. Once they
go from that Z21, that asymptomatic status
to having an Opportunistic Infection, they
move into the B20 world. They stay in that
B20 world for life. Even if we treat that
Opportunistic Infection and it goes away,
things like… if you’ll scroll a little
farther up, it will give you that full list
of B20.
When we talk about Opportunistic Infections,
these are things that take advantage of the
patient’s weakened immune system. I think
about it as, it’s going to take a patient
nearly to death’s door, and it could potentially
be fatal for them. If we start looking at
these, think about this. Candidiasis of bronchi,
trachea, esophagus, lungs, that’s a fungal
infection down in there. A patient with AIDS
or with HIV has a compromised immune system,
they’re not going to be able to fight off
these infections as well as a normal healthy
patient would.
By definition, if a patient has HIV, and they
have or since the time of their diagnosis
has had one of these 20 conditions, they have
AIDS, they have full-blown AIDS. The most
common question I get is, “Well, the doctor
didn’t call it AIDS.” If the doctor documents
known HIV and then the history it says “history
of invasive cervical cancer.” At a bare
minimum, you need to be querying the provider
and going, “Was that before or after their
HIV diagnosis? Is it related?” Because if
it’s related, that patient has AIDS, they
should be reported using B20.
That’s one of the things I see most frequently.
I see a lot of coders go, “Well, the doctor
didn’t say that, the doctor just said this…”
It comes down to understanding the disease
process and knowing these different pieces
to know what to look for in the record. Because
yeah, the doctor may have said down here HIV
positive, but in the history they may have
said “HIV positive with a history of histoplasmosis.”
Well, I got news, histoplasmosis is almost
always HIV-related.
You need to know when to ask the questions
of your providers and by asking those questions,
you’re going to begin to – I know this
sounds funny – you’re going to begin to
train most providers as to what needs to be
there when they’re diagnosing AIDS and HIV.
Another common question I get is, “What
if our doctor doesn’t know that they’ve
had one of these Opportunistic Infections
and just write ‘HIV positive’ and I coded
it as a Z21.” We already have that problem
with the ICD-9 codes that we did before we
went to ICD-10, the same process is likely
to occur. If you’re not familiar with that
process, when you report those codes to the
insurance company they’re looking at their
files and they’re going, “Oh, but we showed
that this patient actually has AIDS.”
More than likely, what happens is you get
a letter from the insurance company saying,
“According to our records, this is a patient
with full-blown AIDS. Please verify your documentation
so that you know, “Oh! We need to get clarification
from the patient or from the patient’s past
medical records, but it looks like we need
to adjust our diagnosis because they don’t
really just have HIV, they have full-blown
AIDS.” Oftentimes, is that the provider
doesn’t know the nuances and the differences
from a coding perspective, because remember,
coding and clinical don’t always match 100%.
We’ve got to come to that common language
and explain how it’s different from a coding
For AIDS and HIV, when we talk about B20 and
Z21, it’s all about are they symptomatic
or asymptomatic, which comes down not to their
blood cell counts but have they had an Opportunistic
Infection or HIV-related illness.
Laureen: Just a few clarifying questions that
came in.
Lina is asking if the patient is being treated
for cancer, we don’t need to report their
HIV status?
Chandra: I would disagree with that statement.
Every insurance company and actually the coding
rules, the way that they have always been
explained to me, even if you look in the ICD-10
guidelines, HIV is the only condition that
is considered to always be clinically significant.
It’s expected to be reported on every encounter
for every provider that sees that patient
from the time of diagnosis until the time
they expire because it does factor in to so
many things and there’s such a high risk
around transmission, but that is the one disease
that they track extremely closely. I would
encourage you to report it on any HIV patient
that you see.
Laureen: Debbie said, “So, HIV is either
asymptomatic or symptomatic, no personal history
Chandra: Correct; because we can’t cure
it yet.
Laureen: Candy said “I’ve always heard
that if the patient has HIV in their past
history, you always have to code for HIV.
Is that true?”
Chandra: Yes. Because again, HIV never goes
away. At this point in time, it can’t be
cured. It can be controlled with medications
especially if we catch it in the asymptomatic
phase, but once they have HIV, like I said
because we don’t have a cure yet, they have
HIV for life. It’s the one condition that’s
always considered clinically significant,
so it needs to be reported any time that patient
is seen. The order simply changes depending
on why they’re there.
If you have a patient coming in and this goes
back to the ICD-10 guidelines, those Chapter
1 guidelines. You have a patient coming in
for an HIV-related illness, maybe they’re
coming in for histoplasmosis, maybe they’re
coming in for a Kaposi sarcoma. Those are
things that are inherently HIV-related. The
guidelines tell you, “OK, the HIV has to
go first.” If they’re coming in for something
completely unrelated, maybe they sprained
their ankle, “Oh, I sprained my ankle, I
need you to take a look at my ankle,” but
they find out during the intake this patient
is HIV positive. They don’t have AIDS, they
have HIV or if they did have AIDS, that still
needs to be reported but the main reason they
were there was the ankle sprain, the HIV would
be kind of an “Oh, by the way,” at the
end that we get put on there.

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