The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act of 2009 prompts physicians and other health care shareholders to adopt health information technology (HIT) to help improve efficiency and cut costs. Under the act, physicians even have received incentive payments for implementing Electronic Medical Record (EMR) systems at various levels of “meaningful use.”
As a result, most practices have implemented some version of EMR. However, whether this implementation has indeed led to more efficiency, safer patients and reduced costs is up for debate.
Three Ways to Make it Work
Here are three ways to optimize your EMR system:
- Explore the Possibilities. Many software programs, such as Microsoft Word, have multiple functions that most people never discover. Similarly, EMR systems contain functionality that no one uses. Why? If a physician and staff are happy with their workflow — or at least, accustomed to their system — chances are that implementing an EMR system will have minimal impact. This may be fine, because the system should follow the practice’s workflow. However, when implementing an EMR system, it is important to take the opportunity to evaluate the practice’s workflow and decide whether there is a better way of doing things. If so, the EMR system may help improve the practice’s operations. Vendors can help by demonstrating particular functions; however, they do not have all the answers. If you think your practice could benefit from some process improvements, ask the vendors specific questions about whether their system would support your ideas.
- Get in Sync. Most EMR systems now have full, or nearly full, functionality, meaning they also have billing and practice management features. However, this does not necessarily mean all modules of an EMR system are as good as what a practice may already be using. It is important to evaluate whether the physicians, or others in the practice, need to relearn every aspect of its workflow to use a subsystem. For example, if the practice uses excellent billing software and the EMR’s billing subsystem is not as good, can the EMR system sync with the system the practice already uses? And in this case, would the practice want to continue using this system?
- Automate. Most EMR systems contain some form of automation, macros and templates. When there is a template, you might use it to enable physicians to spend more time with patients. Macros, especially ones already in the system, can be major timesavers after your staff becomes proficient in their use. Clicking on one item instead of five is a great way to optimize your EMR system. However, not all systems work the same. It is best for your staff to know how to optimize the system and stay current with changes and updates. Many physicians find that using voice recognition software is efficient and saves time.Practices often have several different types of consent forms that patients need to sign. Typically, the paper forms are scanned into the EMR system, shredded or sometimes even stored. Buying several digital signature pads and creating fillable PDF versions of the consent forms can be a good strategy. Staff then upload signed forms directly into the EMR system, saving on paper, ink, wear-and-tear and time.
Time Well Spent
The HITECH Act was designed to improve health care by helping physicians become more efficient and cost effective. It is an admirable goal, but technology often has a difficult learning curve that can undermine this objective. Taking the time to learn an EMR system’s intricacies and its potential effects on the practice’s workflow, however, can be a significant step toward hitting the HITECH Act’s goals and improving patient care in general.
Sidebar: Medicine on the Move
The practice of medicine has always been mobile. Physicians rarely sit in one room and have patients come to them. Even in a small practice, physicians usually move from a private office to an exam room and then perhaps to the front desk to inquire about administrative matters. The digital world supports this with laptops, smartphones, tablets and now, watches.
Many EMR systems are designed to be accessed via mobile devices, though this functionality is not yet an industry standard. The biggest concern here is security and privacy, as many high-profile data breaches involve a stolen or lost laptop.
Mobile devices other than laptops typically do not store medical data, but it is important that unauthorized individuals not be able to use the device to gain access to patient information. Therefore, it is vital to require a secure passcode to unlock the device before use and that the device, or just the app, can be remotely deleted in the event that it is lost or stolen.