BlueCross and BlueShield of Montana Medical Policy/Codes
Cranial Electrotherapy Stimulation (CES) and Auricular Electrostimulation
Chapter: Therapies
Current Effective Date: April 18, 2013
Original Effective Date: April 18, 2013
Publish Date: January 18, 2013

Cranial electrotherapy stimulation (CES), also known as cranial electrical stimulation, transcranial electrical stimulation, or electrical stimulation therapy, delivers weak pulses of electrical current to the earlobes, mastoid processes, or scalp with devices such as the Alpha-Stim®. Auricular electrostimulation involves the stimulation of acupuncture points on the ear. Devices, including the P-Stim™ and E-pulse, have been developed to provide ambulatory auricular electrical stimulation over a period of several days. CES and auricular electrostimulation are being evaluated for a variety of conditions, including pain, insomnia, depression, and anxiety.


Interest in cranial electrotherapy stimulation (CES) began in the early 1900s with the theory that weak pulses of electrical current would lead to a calming effect on the central nervous system. The technique was further developed in the U.S.S.R. and Eastern Europe in the 1950s as a treatment for anxiety and depression, and use of CES later spread to Western Europe and the U.S. as a treatment for a variety of psychological and physiological conditions. Presently, the mechanism of action is thought to be the modulation of activity in brain networks by direct action in the hypothalamus, limbic system and/or the reticular activating system. One device used in the U.S. is the Alpha-Stim CES, which provides pulsed, low-intensity current via clip electrodes that attach to the earlobes. Other devices place the electrodes on the eyelids, frontal scalp, mastoid processes, or behind the ears. Treatments may be administered once or twice daily for a period of several days to several weeks.

Other devices have been developed that provide electrical stimulation to auricular acupuncture sites over several days. One device, the P-Stim™, is a single-use miniature electrical stimulator for auricular acupuncture points that is worn behind the ear with a self-adhesive electrode patch. A selection stylus that measures electrical resistance is used to identify 3 auricular acupuncture points. The P-Stim™ device connects to 3 inserted acupuncture needles with caps and wires. The device is pre-programmed to be on for 180 minutes, then off for 180 minutes. The maximum battery life of this single-use device is 96 hours.

Regulatory Status

A number of devices for CES have received marketing clearance through the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) 510(k) process. The Alpha-Stim® CES device (Electromedical Products International) received marketing clearance in 1992 for the treatment of anxiety, insomnia, and depression.

The P-Stim™ (NeuroScience Therapy Corp) received marketing clearance through the FDA’s 510(k) process in 2006. The P-Stim™ is intended for use as an electro-acupuncture device to stimulate appropriate auricular acupuncture points.

The E-pulse received 510(k) marketing clearance in 2009, listing the P-Stim™ as a predicate device. The E-pulse is a microprocessor-controlled battery-powered unit designed to administer auricular point nerve stimulation treatment for pain therapy over a 96-hour period.


Each benefit plan, summary plan description or contract defines which services are covered, which services are excluded, and which services are subject to dollar caps or other limitations, conditions or exclusions. Members and their providers have the responsibility for consulting the member's benefit plan, summary plan description or contract to determine if there are any exclusions or other benefit limitations applicable to this service or supply.  If there is a discrepancy between a Medical Policy and a member's benefit plan, summary plan description or contract, the benefit plan, summary plan description or contract will govern.


Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana (BCBSMT) considers cranial electrotherapy stimulation (also known as cranial electrostimulation therapy or CES) and electricial stimulation of auricular acupuncture points investigational.

Policy Guidelines

There are no CPT codes that are specific to electrical stimulation of auricular acupuncture points. The following CPT codes would probably be used:

  • 97813
  • 97814 (List separately in addition to code for primary procedure)

The following specific HCPCS code for auricular stimulation became effective April 1, 2012: S8930.

There is no specific code for cranial electrotherapy stimulation. An unlisted code would likely be used.


Cranial Electrotherapy Stimulation (CES)

A number of randomized controlled trials and systematic reviews have been published on CES. In 1995, Klawansky et al. published a meta-analysis of 14 randomized trials of CES versus sham. (1) Most of the studies were small, with fewer than 50 patients. Meta-analysis was conducted for the treatment of 4 different psychological and physiological conditions: anxiety (8 trials), brain dysfunction from drug or alcohol use (2 trials), headache (2 trials), and insomnia (2 trials). Meta-analysis showed CES to be significantly more effective than sham for anxiety and headache. Of the 8 studies included in the meta-analysis for anxiety, the sample size was generally small, the populations studied were diverse, and only 2 of the studies independently showed CES to be better than sham treatment. For headache, there was a high risk of bias for 1 of the studies and a poor quality rating for the second according to a Cochrane review (see below). (2) Meta-analysis did not find CES to be more effective than sham for brain dysfunction or insomnia.

Anxiety: The largest randomized study on anxiety that was included in the 1995 systematic review was a 1976 report by Passini et al. (3) Sixty psychiatric patients with a variety of diagnoses (e.g., alcohol addiction, unipolar depression, bi-polar disorder, anxiety, schizophrenia, personality disorder) and with either anxiety or depression were included. Thirty-minute treatments on 10 successive workdays resulted in significant improvements in both the CES and sham groups on self-ratings of anxiety, depression, and hostility, indicating a large placebo effect. Improvements were not significantly different between the groups, but tended to favor the controls rather than the active CES group.

Headache: A 2009 Cochrane review of non-invasive treatments for headaches identified 2 poor quality randomized placebo controlled trials on CES for migraine or tension-type headache. (2) The trials provided limited evidence that CES is superior to placebo in reducing pain intensity from headache.

Chronic Pain: A 2010 Cochrane review of non-invasive brain stimulation techniques for chronic pain identified 8 randomized trials (5 parallel study design and 3 cross-over design with a total of 391 participants). (4) Chronic pain conditions included osteoarthritis of the hip and knee, chronic back and neck pain, fibromyalgia, and chronic pain following spinal cord injury. Meta-analysis of 3 trials (133 participants) where it was possible to extract data, found no difference between active CES and sham stimulation on pain at short-term follow-up, leading to the conclusion that CES may be ineffective for chronic pain.

In 2011, Tan et al. published a multi-center randomized double-blind sham-controlled trial of CES for chronic neuropathic pain following spinal cord injury. (5) The study of 105 participants was funded by the Veterans Affairs Rehabilitation Research and Development Service. Sub-perception CES or sham CES was applied for 1 hour daily at home over 21 days, followed by a 6-month open-label phase to assess “as needed” CES usage. The primary outcome measure was daily pre- to post-session changes in pain ratings. The active and sham groups did not differ significantly on average daily pain ratings before (active=5.60, sham=5.41) or after treatment (active=5.00, sham=5.00), but the active CES group had a statistically greater decrease in pain (0.60 vs. 0.41). This is not a clinically significant difference. The only outcome measure that showed a significant group by time interaction after 21 days of treatment was pain interference, although this measure was not comparable between the groups at baseline. Baseline to post-treatment changes in pain intensity, pain quality, pain beliefs and coping strategies, general physical and mental health status, depressive symptomatology, perceived stress, and anxiety did not differ between groups. Eighteen participants (17%) reported that they were using the device by the sixth month of the open-label phase.

Parkinson’s Disease: Shill et al. found no benefit of CES with the Nexalin device for motor or psychological symptoms in a crossover study of 23 patients with early Parkinson’s disease. (6)

Smoking Cessation: In 1997, Pickworth et al. reported that 5 days of CES was ineffective for reducing withdrawal symptoms or facilitating smoking cessation in a double-blind randomized controlled trial of 101 cigarette smokers who wished to stop smoking. (7)

Conclusions: A number of randomized double-blind sham-controlled trials along with several systematic reviews have been conducted on CES for a variety of conditions. In spite of the number of trials, there is a lack of evidence for improvement of health outcomes.

Auricular Electrostimulation

Acute Pain: In a 2007 review, Sator-Katzenschlager and Michalek-Suberer found that studies on the use of the P-Stim in acute pain (e.g., oocyte aspiration and molar tooth extraction) are contradictory. (8) A 2011 randomized trial from Europe tested the efficacy of the P-Stim in 40 female patients undergoing gynecologic surgery. (9) Patients were randomly assigned to receive auricular acupuncture or sham stimulation. Patients in the control group received electrodes without needles and the P-Stim devices were applied without electrical stimulation. The P-Stim device was placed behind the ear at the end of the operation on all patients while they were still under general anesthesia, and the dominant ear was completely covered with identical dressing in both groups to maintain blinding. Postoperatively, patients received 1,000 mg paracetamol every 6 hours, with additional piritramide given on demand. Needles and devices were removed 72 hours postoperatively. A blinded observer found no significant difference between the 2 groups in consumption of piritramide during the first 72 hours postoperatively (acupuncture vs. placebo: 15.3 mg vs. 13.9 mg, respectively) or on visual analog scale (VAS) scores taken at 0, 2, 24, 48, and 72 hours (average of 2.32 vs. 2.62, acupuncture vs. placebo, respectively).

Chronic Low Back Pain: At the time this policy was created, use of the P-Stim had been reported only in European trials. In 2004, Sator-Katzenschlager et al. reported a randomized double-blind controlled study of auricular electro-acupuncture compared to conventional manual auricular acupuncture in 61 patients with chronic low back pain (duration of at least 6 months). (10) All needles were connected to the P-Stim device; in the control group, devices were applied without electrical stimulation. Treatment was performed once weekly for 6 weeks, with needles withdrawn 48 hours after insertion. Patients received questionnaires assessing pain intensity and quality, psychological well-being, activity level, and quality of sleep using VAS. There was a significant improvement in pain at up to 18 weeks’ follow-up. Auricular electro-acupuncture resulted in greater improvement in the outcome measures than that of the control group. For example, at 18-week follow-up, VAS pain intensity was less than 5 in the control group and less than 2 in the electro-acupuncture. This study is limited by the small number of participants. In 2003, this group of investigators had reported similar effects in a small randomized study of 21 patients with chronic cervical pain. (11)

Rheumatoid Arthritis: In another European study from 2008, Bernateck et al. reported the use of the P-Stim device in a randomized controlled trial of 44 patients with rheumatoid arthritis. (12) The control group received autogenic training, a psychological intervention in which participants learn to relax their limbs, breathing, and heart. Electro-acupuncture (continuous stimulation for 48 hours at home) and lessons in autogenic training were performed once weekly for 6 weeks. In addition, the control patients were encouraged to use an audiotape to practice autogenic training every day. The needles and devices were removed after 48 hours. Seven patients withdrew from the study before beginning the intervention; the 37 remaining patients completed the study through 3 months of follow-up. The primary outcome measures were the mean weekly pain intensity and the disease activity score (DAS-28). At the end of treatment and at 3-month follow-up, a statistically significant improvement was observed in all outcome measures for both groups. There was greater improvement in the electro-acupuncture group than the control group (e.g., VAS pain 2.79 vs. 3.95) during the treatment period. This difference did not persist at the 3-month follow-up. The clinical significance of a 1-point difference in VAS from this small trial is unclear.

Conclusions: Studies evaluating the effect of this technology on acute pain are contradictory, and evidence on chronic pain is limited. For example, a comparison of auricular electrostimulation with manual acupuncture for chronic low back pain did not include a sham-control group. In another study, auricular electrostimulation was compared with autogenic training and resulted in a small improvement in VAS pain scores of unclear clinical significance. The evidence available at this time is insufficient to evaluate the effect of auricular electrostimulation on health outcomes, including acute and chronic pain.

Clinical Input Received through Physician Specialty Societies and Academic Medical Centers

While the various Physician Specialty Societies and Academic Medical Centers may collaborate with and make recommendations during this process, through the provision of appropriate reviewers, input received does not represent an endorsement or position statement by the Physician Specialty Societies or Academic Medical Centers, unless otherwise noted.

In response to requests, input on auricular electrostimulation was received through 3 physician specialty societies and 5 academic medical centers while this policy was under review in 2011. There was consensus that auricular electro-stimulation is investigational.


CES and auricular electrostimulation are being evaluated for a variety of conditions, including pain, insomnia, depression, and anxiety. The literature on CES consists of a number of randomized controlled trials and systematic reviews, which provide little support for the efficacy of this treatment approach. The literature on auricular electrostimulation is limited. Additional randomized studies with a larger number of subjects are needed to evaluate the efficacy of this treatment approach. Therefore, CES and auricular electrostimulation are considered investigational.

Medicare National Coverage

There is no national coverage determination. 


Disclaimer for coding information on Medical Policies

Procedure and diagnosis codes on Medical Policy documents are included only as a general reference tool for each policy. They may not be all-inclusive.

The presence or absence of procedure, service, supply, device or diagnosis codes in a Medical Policy document has no relevance for determination of benefit coverage for members or reimbursement for providers. Only the written coverage position in a medical policy should be used for such determinations.

Benefit coverage determinations based on written Medical Policy coverage positions must include review of the member’s benefit contract or Summary Plan Description (SPD) for defined coverage vs. non-coverage, benefit exclusions, and benefit limitations such as dollar or duration caps.

ICD-9 Codes
Investigational for all diagnoses.
ICD-10 Codes
Investigational for all diagnoses.  8E0H300, 8E0H30Z
Procedural Codes: No specific codes. 97813, 97814, S8930
  1. Klawansky S, Yeung A, Berkey C et al. Meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials of cranial electrostimulation. Efficacy in treating selected psychological and physiological conditions. J Nerv Ment Dis 1995; 183(7):478-84.
  2. Bronfort G, Nilsson N, Haas M et al. Non-invasive physical treatments for chronic/recurrent headache. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2004; (3):CD001878.
  3. Passini FG, Watson CG, Herder J. The effects of cerebral electric therapy (electrosleep) on anxiety, depression, and hostility in psychiatric patients. J Nerv Ment Dis 1976; 163(4):263-6.
  4. O'Connell NE, Wand BM, Marston L et al. Non-invasive brain stimulation techniques for chronic pain. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2010; (9):CD008208.
  5. Tan G, Rintala DH, Jensen MP et al. Efficacy of cranial electrotherapy stimulation for neuropathic pain following spinal cord injury: a multi-site randomized controlled trial with a secondary 6-month open-label phase. J Spinal Cord Med 2011; 34(3):285-96.
  6. Shill HA, Obradov S, Katsnelson Y et al. A randomized, double-blind trial of transcranial electrostimulation in early Parkinson's disease. Mov Disord 2011; 26(8):1477-80.
  7. Pickworth WB, Fant RV, Butschky MF et al. Evaluation of cranial electrostimulation therapy on short-term smoking cessation. Biol Psychiatry 1997; 42(2):116-21.
  8. Sator-Katzenschlager SM, Michalek-Sauberer A. P-Stim auricular electroacupuncture stimulation device for pain relief. Expert Rev Med Devices 2007; 4(1):23-32.
  9. Holzer A, Leitgeb U, Spacek A et al. Auricular acupuncture for postoperative pain after gynecological surgery: a randomized controlled trail. Minerva Anestesiol 2011; 77(3):298-304.
  10. Sator-Katzenschlager SM, Scharbert G, Kozek-Langenecker SA et al. The short- and long-term benefit in chronic low back pain through adjuvant electrical versus manual auricular acupuncture. Anesth Analg 2004; 98(5):1359-64, table of contents.
  11. Sator-Katzenschlager SM, Szeles JC, Scharbert G et al. Electrical stimulation of auricular acupuncture points is more effective than conventional manual auricular acupuncture in chronic cervical pain: a pilot study. Anesth Analg 2003; 97(5):1469-73.
  12. Bernateck M, Becker M, Schwake C et al. Adjuvant auricular electroacupuncture and autogenic training in rheumatoid arthritis: a randomized controlled trial. Auricular acupuncture and autogenic training in rheumatoid arthritis. Forsch Komplementmed 2008; 15(4):187-93.
November 2012  New 2013 BCBSMT medical policy.  considered investigational.
®Registered marks of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, an association of independent Blue Cross and Blue Shield Plans. ®LIVE SMART. LIVE HEALTHY. is a registered mark of BCBSMT, an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, serving the residents and businesses of Montana.
CPT codes, descriptions and material only are copyrighted by the American Medical Association. All Rights Reserved. No fee schedules, basic units, relative values or related listings are included in CPT. The AMA assumes no liability for the data contained herein. Applicable FARS/DFARS Restrictions Apply to Government Use. CPT only © American Medical Association.
Cranial Electrotherapy Stimulation (CES) and Auricular Electrostimulation