Can EHRs actually save time for medical practices?
Posted On April 19, 2017
Electronic Health Records (EHRs) have a bad reputation. With emerging complaints about the many hours spent on EHRs from healthcare providers, one may question whether electronic health records might not be the solution that was promised to guarantee higher productivity and better patient care. If EHRs don’t save care providers time and improve profitability, you must wonder why anyone would want to switch to an EHR system from paper records?
EHRs, like all software and systems, are not necessarily to blame. When leveraged correctly, they can change practices for the better. EHR productivity gain or loss is specifically linked to how well the practice takes the time to determine what they want out of their software and strategize implementation. Customization of the product further optimizes productivity and without it, costs specialists’ effectiveness or time. With those two things in mind, doctors should know that going digital really can help save them time and deliver better health outcomes.
The loss of productivity often can come even before a practice implements an EHR. When office managers, the spouse of the doctor, or the medical staff in a practice is given the responsibility to, “Find us an EHR and let me know when I can start using it,” the practice is already in trouble. They shop around, compare prices and product features with the current processes the practice uses, and select an option for the practice. Sometimes, the doctor(s) come in at the last minute to approve or sign. This guarantees a practice will lose productivity and profit before using the EHR software. Without well thought through priorities, a practice won’t be able to either select the right EHR or implement it properly to meet its specific needs or both.
Selecting a product solely based on the way the practice currently is run is like buying an iPad with dial-up internet; the two aren’t very compatible, if at all. Providers and practice staff should pay close attention to how each vendor suggests and shows the use of their product. Seeing demonstrations from different EHR software companies will indicate how the vendor’s product can accommodate the practice’s needs. Resolving differences between how the EHR software is designed and how their practice will run determines whether the product is compatible and if it will improve or decrease practice productivity. Next a practice should look at specific EHR functionality.
First, being able to build templates specific to a provider’s intake and specialty should be a basic function everyone looks for in their electronic health records software. A key reason for moving to an EHR software is to save provider’s time. The more EHR software can be customized to provider’s specific needs, the higher the provider productivity will be. Having macro building tools as a part of medical templates is another time saver. The macros when built correctly can reduce charting time to seconds or merely a few minutes. An EHR is as good as how it’s customized to fit the practice needs, so investing time and effort to learn and utilize the available tools in the beginning will go a long way to minimizing time spent on documentation.
One question that not many providers ask is how modern and integrated the underlying software is. This is a very important question to ask for two reasons. One, systems built on old legacy software programs don’t talk to each other that well. When this happens, EHR software will not pass the patient health records automatically to other parts of the system such as medical billing, lab ordering, etc. Then staff or providers will have to enter data multiple times which will incur more time and prone to data entry errors. Watch out for the EHR companies with separate medical billing and other systems as they will likely require you to do multiple data entry and that will not improve productivity. Two, an EHR system built on old software program will likely not be able to integrate with other apps or programs well and quickly. This will be problematic when a practice needs to integrate with a third party scheduling app or other services that will help you certify for meaningful use, or provide telehealth or digital health program. And the list goes on.
Being able to electronically order labs and imaging and receive them directly into patient chart can improve patient experience as well as save a huge amount of time and money spent on fax machines, direct mailing or travel between labs and practice. This makes finding an EHR compatible and connected with a large network of labs and imaging centers very important. Digital is truly the answer in getting quality clinical information faster, but interoperability is what that rests on. So, look for an EHR company that has capability and business process to easily integrate with external partners.
The right EHRs can and do help practices save time and can improve profitability when utilized correctly. For private practices, being able to automate menial tasks and see more patients will directly influence their survival. In addition, automated tasks and improved patient experience can lead to better patient healthcare. To choose the right EHR, the practice has to ask the right questions. The worse situation for any practice will be having to switch to another EHR later because the first one was a poor fit. Do you have the right EHR that fits your practice and are using it correctly?
Daniel drives direction, brand vision, and business strategy for drchrono. Daniel’s focus has been in the technology space since 2001, as a software engineer and entrepreneur. Daniel holds an M.S. in Computer Science and a B.S. in Computer Science & Psychology from Stony Brook University.