National Coverage Determination (NCD)



Expand All | Collapse All

Tracking Information

Publication Number
Manual Section Number
Manual Section Title
Version Number
Effective Date of this Version

Description Information

Benefit Category
Diagnostic Tests (other)

Please Note: This may not be an exhaustive list of all applicable Medicare benefit categories for this item or service.

Item/Service Description

Plethysmography involves the measurement and recording (by one of several methods) of changes in the size of a body part as modified by the circulation of blood in that part.

Plethysmography is of value as a noninvasive technique for diagnostic, preoperative and postoperative evaluation of peripheral artery disease in the internal medicine or vascular surgery practice. It is also a useful tool for the preoperative podiatric evaluation of the diabetic patient or one who has intermittent claudication or other signs or symptoms indicative of peripheral vascular disease which have a bearing on the patient's candidacy for foot surgery.

The oldest form of plethysmography is the venous occlusive pneumoplethysmography. This method is cumbersome, time consuming, and requires considerable training to give useful, reproducible results. Nonetheless, in the setting of the hospital vascular laboratory, this technique is considered a reasonable and necessary procedure for the diagnostic evaluation of suspected peripheral arterial disease. It is unsuitable for routine use in the physician's office.

Recently, however, a number of other plethysmographic methods have been developed which make use of phenomena such as changes in electric impedance or changes in segmental blood pressure at constant volume to assess regional perfusion. Several of these methods have reached a level of development which makes them clinically valuable.

Indications and Limitations of Coverage

Medicare coverage is extended to those procedures listed in Category I below when used for the accepted medical indications mentioned above. The procedures in Category II are still considered experimental and are not covered at this time. Denial of claims because a noncovered procedure was used or because there was no medical indication for plethysmographic evaluation of any type should be based on §1862(a)(1) of the Act.

Category I - Covered

Segmental Plethysmography - Included under this procedure are services performed with a regional plethysmograph, differential plethysmograph, recording oscillometer, and a pulse volume recorder.

Electrical Impedance Plethysmography

Ultrasonic Measurement of Blood Flow (Doppler) - While not strictly a plethysmographic method, this is also a useful tool in the evaluation of suspected peripheral vascular disease or preoperative screening of podiatric patients with suspected peripheral vascular compromise. (See §50-7 for the applicable coverage policy on this procedure.)

Oculoplethysmography - See NCD on Noninvasive Tests of Carotid Function, §20.17.

Strain Gauge Plethysmography - This test is based on recording the non-pulsatile aspects of inflowing blood at various points on an extremity by a mercury-in-silastic strain gauge sensor. The instrument consists of a chart recorder, an automatic cuff inflation and deflation system, and a recording manometer.

Category II - Experimental

The following methods have not yet reached a level of development such as to allow their routine use in the evaluation of suspected peripheral vascular disease.

Inductance Plethysmography - This method is considered experimental and does not provide reproducible results.

Capacitance Plethysmography - This method is considered experimental and does not provide reproducible results.

Mechanical Oscillometry - This is a non-standardized method which offers poor sensitivity and is not considered superior to the simple measurement of peripheral blood pressure.

Photoelectric Plethysmography - This method is considered useful only in determining whether or not a pulse is present and does not provide reproducible measurements of blood flow.

Differential plethysmography, on the other hand, is a system which uses an impedance technique to compare pulse pressures at various points along a limb, with a reference pressure at the mid-brachial or wrist level. It is not clear whether this technique, as usually performed in the physician's office, meets the definition of plethysmography because quantitative measurements of blood flow are usually not made. It has been concluded, in any event, that the differential plethysmography system is a blood pulse recorder of undetermined value, which has the potential for significant overutilization. Therefore, reimbursement for studies done by techniques other than venous occlusive pneumoplethysmography should be denied, at least until additional data on these devices, including controlled clinical studies, become available.

Additional Information

Other Versions
Title Version Effective Between
Plethysmography 1 11/15/1980 - N/A You are here