EHRs Target Quality, Safety, Efficiency & Access

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By Brian O’Neill

Just a decade ago, the adoption of electronic health records and other health information technology (such as computer physician order entry) was minimal in the United States. Fewer than 10 percent of American hospitals had implemented HIT while a mere 16 percent of primary care physicians used any form of EHRs. But that is all changing.

The HITECH Act, part of the 2009 economic stimulus package passed by Congress, aimed at inducing more physicians to adopt EHR as a way to improve quality, safety, efficiencies and access. Title IV of the act, in fact, promises maximum incentive payments for Medicaid to those physicians who adopt and use “certified EHRs” beginning in 2011. On the flip side, physicians who do not convert to EHRs by 2015 will be penalized by a reduction in Medicare payments.

In order to be eligible to receive the stimulus money, providers must use EHR technology that has been certified to allow providers to achieve “meaningful use.” These are categorized as technology that improves care coordination, reduces healthcare disparities, engages patients and their families, improves population and public health, and ensures adequate privacy and security.

This combination of financial incentives, political pressure, and the rapid acceptance of communication technology is causing physicians here in Pennsylvania and around the rest of the nation to scramble to get their electronic health records programs up and running as quickly as they can. But these physicians would be well-advised to heed the words of former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden who counseled his players to “be quick but don’t rush.” For in migrating from paper to electronic, some common mistakes are beginning to emerge.

Here are five things physicians should keep in mind when making this conversion:

  1. Convert slowly. When initially converting to electronic records, a physician’s productivity will likely drop until he or she gets “into the flow” of how to enter charts into the system. Therefore, it is best to start by only adding new patients to the electronic system. Then, as productivity and comfort improves, add perhaps every fifth patient and then every third until you are able to confidently move all your patients into the electronic chart system.
  2. Upgrade your internet server. It is imperative that your internet connectivity be constant and high speed. And so while recognizing that for many physician offices cost is a potential barrier to conversion, this is one investment worth making and one you will be glad you did in the long run.
  3. Purchase the right tools. Having the correct EHR system only addresses half the solution. The other half is making sure that you obtain the correct ancillary tools such as tablet PC, voice recognition, handwriting recognition, etc. If, for example, you are accustomed to handwriting into your charts, then be sure to purchase a tablet PC that allows you to write your notes into the system. This will greatly reduce the chance of failure and make the transition that much easier.
  4. Use an integrated practice management/EHR system. Some providers purchase a new EHR system but insist on continuing to use their existing practice management system. Going down this path increases the risk of failure. Using an integrated model allows everyone to see ALL the information needed to track every aspect of office flow including calendaring, benefit information and accounting.
  5. Electrify all ancillary services. Some providers make the mistake of processing labs, prescriptions and referrals on paper while the charts are being handled electronically. But continuing to have segments of the practice on paper misses the whole point and adds huge inefficiencies. When these ancillary processes are done on paper, the staff has to scan the initial order and then scan again when results comes back in order to add this information to the charts. Doing everything electronically eliminates many unnecessary tasks.

Brian O’Neill is President and CEO of Office Ally, the only organization in the country offering providers a full complement of revenue cycle management services including a patient portal, electronic health records, a practice management system, a clearinghouse and a billing service. Its “EHR 24/7” product has been certified to help providers achieve meaningful use requirements and thus qualify for funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. For more information, visit www.officeally.com.