Cracking the Code

Coding MRIs

An MRI or Magnetic Resonance Imaging is the most frequently used imaging test for the brain and spinal cord. MRIs are noninvasive and use strong magnetic fields, magnetic field gradients, and radio waves to generate images. Doctors may use MRIs to help diagnose many conditions within the chest, abdomen, and pelvis. This form of image testing can also assist in diagnosing tumors, diseases of the liver such as cirrhosis, and abnormalities of the pancreas and bile ducts. Inflammation of the bowel caused by Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, malformations of blood vessels, and assessing a fetus in a pregnant patient can also be assessed using an MRI.

Keep in mind in our CPT code books, radiology codes by anatomical location are grouped together based on the type of image used (MRI, CT, x-ray, etc.).

Q: A 35-year-old female patient presents to the physician with stiffness and numbness in her neck, shoulders, and arms. The physician orders an MRI of the cervical spine, without and with contrast, to rule out cervical spinal stenosis. Let’s code the MRI.
A: 72156. Rationale: Look in the CPT Index for Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)/Diagnostic/Spine/Cervical, 72141-72142, and 72156. Because both without contrast and with contrast were used for this cervical MRI, CPT code 72156 is selected.
Reference: FY 2023 CPT code book, Mayo Clinic
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