Indoor Tanning ICD-10 Codes May Be Underused

Evaluation of a large insurance claims database has provided some insight into how ICD-10 indoor tanning codes are being used in practice, according to a study presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Investigative Dermatology.

“Since indoor tanning ICD-10 codes were only recently universally implemented in 2015, and providers may still be using other codes that cover similar services, we think our data likely underestimate the number of encounters and sequelae associated with indoor tanning,” Alexandria M. Brown, BSA, of Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, said in her presentation. “We think increased usage of these indoor tanning exposure codes in coming years will strengthen this body of indoor tanning literature and data.”

Using insurance claims data on about 43 million patients from Truven Health MarketScan, Brown and colleagues analyzed patient encounters with ICD-10 indoor tanning codes W89.1, W89.1XXA, W89.1XXD, and W89.1XXS between 2016 and 2018 for about 43 million patients. Overall, there were 4,550 patient encounters where these codes had been recorded, with most (99%) occurring in an outpatient setting. The majority of providers at these encounters were dermatologists (72%). Patients were mostly women (85%); and most were ages 25-34 years (19.4%), 35-44 years (20.6%), 45-54 years (22.7%), and 55-64 years (19%). Almost 5% were 65 and over, 11.7% were ages 18-24, and 1.6% were under age 18.

The use of indoor tanning codes were most common in the Midwest (55 per 100,000 encounters with dermatologists), compared with 16 per 100,000 in the Northeast, 21 per 100,000 in the West, and 28 per 100,000 in the South. CPT codes for “destruction of a premalignant lesion” and “biopsy” were the most frequently used codes entered at visits where indoor tanning codes were also entered, and were present in 15.1% of encounters and 18.4% of encounters, respectively.

“This suggests that many of these encounters may have been for skin cancer surveillance and that indoor tanning exposure may have been coded as part of a patient’s skin cancer risk profile,” Brown noted.

The study shows how these codes are being used and could help determine health care use patterns for these patients as well as their comorbidities, behaviors, and risk factors, according to the authors, who believe this is the first study to look at the use of ICD-10 indoor tanning codes.

“Any effort to reduce indoor tanning requires knowledge of the population at risk. It has been shown that the ability to recognize and provide counseling to at-risk patients can improve sun protective behaviors and reduce indoor tanning,” Brown said. Claims databases can be a “valuable tool to better understand patients who have been exposed to indoor tanning and their associated risk factors, comorbidities, behaviors, and health care utilization.”

In an interview, Adam Friedman, MD, professor and chair of dermatology at George Washington University, Washington, said the study was interesting and “provides some guidance with respect to who, when, and where in the U.S. to target educational initiatives on the harms of tanning beds.”

Friedman, who was not involved with the research, agreed with the authors’ assertion that their study was underestimating the use of indoor tanning beds. “Using a large database provides the means to better generalize one’s dataset; however in this case, it relies on proper coding by the practitioner,” or even using the code for tanning bed use at all.

“There also could be some inherent bias given most of the cases for which the code was used was for skin cancer surveillance, and therefore tanning bed use was top of mind,” he said.

While he believes this study may not be most efficient way of determining demographics of at-risk individuals using tanning beds, Friedman said the results “should serve as the impetus to develop public health campaigns around this information, following which research can be conducted to evaluate if the intervention had an impact.”

Brown and Friedman reported no relevant financial disclosures.

This article originally appeared on, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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