CPT 31500: Emergency Endotracheal Intubation Procedure

Welcome to our comprehensive guide on CPT 31500, the medical billing code that describes the emergency endotracheal intubation procedure. In this article, we will delve into the description, procedure, qualifying circumstances, usage, documentation requirements, billing guidelines, historical information, similar codes, and provide examples to help you understand the nuances of CPT 31500. Whether you're a healthcare professional or a patient seeking information, this article will equip you with valuable insights into this essential medical procedure.

What is CPT 31500?

CPT 31500 is a crucial medical billing code used to characterize the emergency endotracheal intubation procedure. This life-saving procedure involves the insertion of a flexible tube into the trachea, commonly known as the windpipe. Its primary purpose is to establish and maintain an open airway in patients with compromised respiratory function, typically in emergency situations where immediate intervention is necessary.

31500 CPT Code Description

The official description of CPT code 31500 is succinct yet meaningful: "Intubation, endotracheal, emergency procedure." This concise description captures the essence of the procedure while highlighting its critical nature in emergency scenarios.


The emergency endotracheal intubation procedure (CPT 31500) comprises several essential steps to ensure the successful insertion and maintenance of the endotracheal tube. Here's a breakdown of the procedure:

1. Laryngoscope insertion: 

The healthcare provider begins by inserting a laryngoscope, a specialized instrument, to visualize the vocal cords and the upper part of the windpipe.

2. Endotracheal tube insertion: 

An endotracheal tube is carefully inserted through the patient's mouth and positioned within the trachea, just above the bifurcation leading to the lungs.

3. Balloon inflation: 

To secure the tube in place and prevent choking due to blood or secretions, a balloon at the tip of the tube is inflated.

4. Laryngoscope removal:

 After the successful placement of the endotracheal tube, the laryngoscope is removed.

5. Ventilator connection:

 Depending on the patient's condition, the endotracheal tube may be connected to a ventilator to provide assistance with breathing.

6. Monitoring and assessment:

 The healthcare provider utilizes a stethoscope to listen for any abnormal breathing sounds, ensuring the tube's proper positioning and the patient's respiratory well-being.

7. General anesthesia administration: 

In certain cases, the patient may be administered general anesthesia during the procedure to ensure their comfort and cooperation.

Qualifying Circumstances

CPT code 31500 applies to patients who exhibit compromised airway function due to severe illness, major surgery, or the inability to breathe independently. There are various conditions and situations that necessitate emergency endotracheal intubation, including:

- Head trauma:

 Severe head injuries can result in compromised airways, making emergency endotracheal intubation necessary.

- Airway obstruction: 

When the airway becomes blocked, either partially or completely, endotracheal intubation ensures an open passage for breathing.

- Respiratory failure: 

Patients experiencing respiratory failure, where their natural breathing mechanisms are insufficient, may require emergency endotracheal intubation for respiratory support.

- Respiratory arrest:

 In cases of respiratory arrest, where breathing ceases altogether, emergency endotracheal intubation becomes critical to sustain life.

- Coma:

 Comatose patients with compromised airways rely on emergency endotracheal intubation to ensure proper ventilation.

- Endoscopic surgery of the airways:

 Some surgical procedures involving the airways may necessitate the temporary use of endotracheal intubation to maintain a clear and secure airway passage.

- General anesthesia: 

Patients undergoing surgery under general anesthesia often require emergency endotracheal intubation to facilitate the procedure while maintaining a patent airway.

Please note that the decision to perform emergency endotracheal intubation should always be made by qualified medical professionals based on the patient's individual circumstances and medical necessity.

It is crucial to have sufficient medical documentation that supports the medical necessity when billing CPT code 31500. If an anesthesiologist is involved, please be aware that this procedure is typically included in general anesthesia services and should only be billed separately when the documentation clearly justifies its medical urgency.

Documentation Requirements

To ensure accurate billing and reimbursement for CPT 31500, proper documentation is essential. The following information should be meticulously recorded:

1. Indication for emergency endotracheal intubation: 

Document the specific reason or condition that necessitated the emergency endotracheal intubation procedure.

2. Patient's medical condition and history:

 Record detailed information about the patient's medical condition, including relevant medical history that influenced the decision to perform the procedure.

3. Procedure details:

 Describe the procedure performed, including the type and size of the endotracheal tube used. Any complications encountered during the procedure should also be documented.

4. Outcome and patient response:

 Provide an assessment of the procedure's outcome and the patient's immediate response. Any notable observations should be included.

5. Provider's signature and credentials: 

To authenticate the documentation, the healthcare provider should sign the medical records and indicate their professional credentials.

Billing Guidelines

Accurate billing and adherence to guidelines are vital for proper reimbursement when using CPT code 31500. Ensure that the medical documentation unequivocally supports the medical necessity of the emergency endotracheal intubation procedure. For anesthesiologists, please remember that this procedure is typically included in general anesthesia services and should only be billed separately if the documentation explicitly substantiates its medical urgency.

Historical Information

CPT 31500 was incorporated into the Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) system on January 1, 1990. Since its addition, there have been no updates or revisions to this code. Its longstanding presence and stability demonstrate the established and standardized nature of this essential medical procedure.

Similar Codes to CPT 31500

While CPT code 31500 describes emergency endotracheal intubation, there are other related codes that encompass specific diagnostic procedures and interventions. Here are five similar codes and their differentiating features:

1. CPT 31505: 

This code corresponds to a diagnostic laryngoscopy, which involves examining the larynx without the insertion of an endotracheal tube.

2. CPT 31510:

 If a diagnostic laryngoscopy involves the removal of a foreign body, growth, or tissue, this code, 31510, is applicable.

3. CPT 31511: 

For a diagnostic laryngoscopy with a biopsy, healthcare providers would utilize code 31511.

4. CPT 31512: 

When a diagnostic laryngoscopy involves the insertion of a laryngeal stent, CPT code 31512 accurately represents the procedure.

5. CPT 31513: 

Lastly, if a diagnostic laryngoscopy entails the removal of a laryngeal stent, healthcare professionals would utilize code 31513.

These codes highlight the nuanced variations in diagnostic and interventional procedures involving the larynx and surrounding structures.

Examples of CPT 31500 Procedures

To provide further clarity, here are ten detailed examples that illustrate the diverse scenarios in which CPT code 31500 may be utilized:

1. A patient with severe head trauma presents with a compromised airway, necessitating emergency endotracheal intubation to establish and maintain an open airway.

2. In the case of respiratory arrest due to an opioid overdose, emergency endotracheal intubation is performed to assist the patient's breathing.

3. A patient experiencing a severe asthma attack and airway obstruction requires emergency endotracheal intubation to ensure an unobstructed airway.

4. A comatose patient with compromised airway function requires emergency endotracheal intubation to ensure proper ventilation and oxygenation.

5. During major surgery performed under general anesthesia, emergency endotracheal intubation is employed to maintain a clear airway throughout the procedure.

6. In a patient suffering from respiratory failure caused by pneumonia, emergency endotracheal intubation is performed to assist with breathing.

7. An individual experiencing an anaphylactic reaction with significant airway swelling necessitates emergency endotracheal intubation to establish and maintain a patent airway.

8. A patient with a foreign body obstructing the airway requires immediate emergency endotracheal intubation to ensure proper ventilation and prevent further complications.

9. During bronchoscopy performed under general anesthesia, emergency endotracheal intubation is employed to secure the airway during the procedure.

10. A patient with severe smoke inhalation and airway burns requires emergency endotracheal intubation to assist with breathing and protect the airway from further damage.

By examining these examples, we can appreciate the versatility and life-saving potential of emergency endotracheal intubation in a wide range of critical situations.


Emergency endotracheal intubation (CPT 31500) plays a vital role in managing compromised airways during emergency medical scenarios. We have explored its description, procedure, qualifying circumstances, documentation requirements, billing guidelines, historical information, and similar codes. By understanding the intricacies of CPT 31500, healthcare professionals can deliver timely and effective interventions, ensuring the best possible patient outcomes. If you have any further questions or require additional information, please consult with your healthcare provider or a qualified medical professional.