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 Health Record (EHR) systems at various levels of “meaningful use.”
As a result, most practices have implemented some version of EHR. But whether this implementation has led to more efficiency, safer patients and reduced costs is up for debate.
4 Ways to Make it Work
Here are four ways to optimize your EHR system:
Explore the possibilities. Many software programs, such as Microsoft Word, have multiple functions that most people never discover. Similarly, EHR 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 EHR system will have minimal impact. This may be fine, because the system should follow the practice’s workflow.
But when implementing an EHR system, it’s important to evaluate the practice’s workflow and decide whether there’s a better way of doing things. If so, the EHR system may help improve the practice’s operations. Vendors can help by demonstrating particular functions — but they don’t have all the answers.
Evaluate workflow. “We’ve always done it that way” might be your practice’s motto, but doing things the same way for a long period doesn’t always lead to success. Obviously, the EHR system should support workflow, rather than the other way around. But flaws in that very workflow might be harming efficiency and costing money.
Efficiency isn’t necessarily the only goal — higher-quality patient care or providing more time with patients should also be important. An EHR system can provide many benefits, but each practice needs to take the time to evaluate whether specific functionality could help it achieve its goals, or whether it would be better off keeping the status quo.
Get in sync. Most EHR systems now have full, or nearly full, functionality — meaning they also have billing and practice management features. But this doesn’t necessarily mean all modules of an EHR system are as good as what a practice may already be using.
It’s important to evaluate whether the physicians, or others in the practice, need to relearn every aspect of its workflow to use a subsystem. If the practice uses excellent billing software and the EHR’s billing subsystem isn’t as good, can the EHR system sync with the system the practice already uses — and may want to continue to use?
Automate. Most EHR systems contain some form of automation, macros and templates. When there’s 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 EHR system, but not all systems work the same. It’s 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 EHR 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 EHR system, saving on paper, ink, wear-and-tear and time.
Time Well Spent
The HITECH Act was designed to improve healthcare by helping physicians become more efficient and cost effective. It’s an admirable goal, but technology often has a difficult learning curve that can undermine this objective. Taking the time to learn an EHR 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 Electronic Health Record 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 — many high-profile data breaches involve a stolen or lost laptop.
Mobile devices other than laptops typically don’t store medical data, but it’s important that unauthorized individuals are unable to use the device to gain access to patient information. Therefore, it’s 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’s lost or stolen.
Contact Kathy Walsh at email@example.com for more information.
Cohen & Company is not rendering legal, accounting or other professional advice. Any action taken based on information in this publication should be taken only after a detailed review of the specific facts and circumstances.