Navigating the Denials Management Unknown: Strategies for Dealing with Ghost Denials

Navigating the Denials Management Unknown: Strategies for Dealing with Ghost Denials

December 7, 2023
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In today’s blog post, we delve into the intricate area of what is colloquially referred to as “ghost denials.” While the terminology might sound unconventional, we aim to shed light on these “phenomena,” unravel their implications, and explore how they are impacting healthcare organizations. This article will guide you through the current landscape of clinical denials, providing insights into challenges faced by organizations of all sizes and geographical locations pertaining to ghost denials.

What is a ghost denial?

A ghost denial is a denied claim that is not easily defined by payers, necessitating thorough analysis and investigation for accurate identification by the provider. The lack of clear communication from payers, absence of supporting documentation, and ambiguous Explanation of Benefits (EOB) or Remittance Advice Remark Code (RARC) make these claims denials particularly challenging.

Given the complexities of ghost denials, organizations face the dilemma of how to address these ambiguous challenges. When confronted with scenarios where information is scarce, organizations can adopt the following strategies:

1. Identify the Denial: The First Crucial Step

The foundation of effective denial management lies in accurately identifying the denial. Organizations may need to invest time and resources in conducting in-depth analyses of the claims. This may involve scrutinizing claim details, understanding payment patterns, and reverse-engineering the reimbursement decision. This entails a meticulous review of the claim, examination of the Explanation of Benefits (EOB), and any available documentation or denial letters. 

However, when these sources fall short, proactive communication and maintaining an open line of communication with the payer becomes imperative. Engaging in dialogues to seek additional information, clarification, or an explanation for the denial can be instrumental in resolving uncertainties. By initiating dialogue to seek clarification and details, recognize that this might require escalation to a claims supervisor in some instances.

2. Research the Validity: Agree or Disagree?

Once the denial is identified, the next step is to research the validity of the denial. Providers must determine whether they agree or disagree with the denial reason. This involves a thorough review of the claim, potentially incorporating insights from coding reviews or clinical team assessments. Understanding the validity of the denial on the claim is critical to deciding the next course of action.

3. Assessing Arguments for Denial Overturn: Strength and Likelihood of Success
For denials that the provider chooses to dispute, the assessment of arguments for overturning the denial is paramount. This evaluation should encompass the strength of both clinical and procedural arguments. Consider the overall strength of the case and the likelihood of success. Unravel any potential procedural defects that might have contributed to the denial status.

4. Crafting a Compelling Dispute or Appeal: Utilizing Documentation and Contractual Arguments

Utilizing data analytics to identify patterns, trends, and potential discrepancies can empower organizations in disputing ghost denials. With a comprehensive understanding of the denial, it’s time to craft a compelling dispute or appeal. Leverage all supporting documentation gathered during the research phase, including contractual arguments. In instances where legal arguments are applicable, consider including them at a high level to reinforce your case. This could involve referencing relevant federal laws or acts that support your position. Armed with comprehensive data, organizations can make a compelling case for fair reimbursement.

5. Overturning the Denial: Implementing the Process
The final step in this high-level approach is the execution of the dispute or appeal process. This involves submitting the well-crafted dispute or appeal along with all pertinent documentation to the payer. 

Provider relations play a crucial role in escalating denials. Aggregating lists of accounts with trending denials and collaborating with provider relations can lead to more productive meetings. Strengthening pair-provider relationships fosters a collaborative environment where challenges are addressed collectively, leading to more efficient resolution of denials.

Effective escalation efforts involve collaboration with payers through joint operating committee (JOC) meetings or regular discussions. Collaborating externally with other hospital systems, either directly or through networking groups, provides valuable insights and shared experiences. Peer-to-peer reviews, internal appeal avenues, external appeal avenues, and even considerations for arbitration or litigation are aspects to explore based on the severity and persistence of denials.

While facing the unknowns of ghost denials may seem daunting, a structured and systematic approach can empower healthcare organizations to effectively manage these challenges. By understanding the nuances within clinical denials and developing targeted approaches for addressing ghost denials, healthcare organizations can navigate these challenges with resilience and efficiency. Stay tuned as we explore further insights and solutions in our upcoming post, “Strategies for Denials Management: Tracking, Prevention, and Continuous Improvement.”



For over two decades, Aspirion has helped healthcare providers maximize their hospital revenue recovery by focusing on their most challenging reimbursements. Aspirion’s experienced team of healthcare, legal, and technical professionals combined with industry-leading technology platforms help ensure providers receive their most complex RCM revenue so that they can focus on patient care.

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