A health insurance company, hospital or independent organization can conduct a retrospective review.

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Types of Utilization Reviews

Much like precertification reviews, concurrent reviews are used for approval of medically necessary treatments or services. However, concurrent reviews happen during active management of a condition, be it inpatient or ongoing outpatient care. The focus of concurrent review is to ensure that the patient is getting the right care in a timely and cost-effective way.

This process is much like that of precertification. After you begin a medical treatment, any new treatments found on the insurance company's preapproval list are submitted to the insurance company for approval. Information on the care you've received, along with your current clinical status and any progress you've experienced, is collected. Once the insurance company or an independent review organization reviews the information, the physician and other providers are notified with the decision.

An important part of concurrent review is the assessment of the patient's needs after a hospitalization. Because concurrent review is used to decrease the amount of time you spend in the hospital, the first concurrent review often determines a discharge plan. This plan can include transfers to rehabilitation, hospice or nursing facilities. While discharge plans often change due to complications or abnormal test results, establishing an early time frame for hospitalization is key to keeping health insurance costs down.

So what happens if you didn't get preapproval but got the medical care anyway? That's where retrospective reviews come in.

The retrospective review involves the review of medical records after your medical treatment. The insurance company can use the results to approve or deny coverage you have already received, and the information can also be used in a review of the insurance company's coverage guidelines and criteria for a particular condition. The insurance company looks through your records for evidence of appropriate low-cost health care. It then compares your records to those of other patients with the same condition. It will then review, and possibly revise, its treatment guidelines and criteria to ensure that the provided care is adequate, and medically current, for the condition. This first type of retrospective review can be conducted by the health insurance company, an independent review organization or the hospital involved in the treatment.

The other function of retrospective review is the approval of treatments that normally require precertification but were done without approval. This can happen if a patient is unresponsive and has not been able to obtain precertification. Emergency services like surgery also may be eligible for this type of review. The review takes place before any payment is made to the provider or hospital. Therefore, most hospitals or providers are actively involved in the review process by providing clinical documentation that supports their treatment decisions.

What happens when a utilization review is denied? We'll explain the appeals process in the next section.